Mrs. Beasley pulled her shawl more tightly around her shoulders as she entered Detention Room 1-A. “Robert didn’t even want me to teach the literature course,” she chuckled to herself, thinking of her overprotective son.
“Mom,” he’d lectured, “once you cross that bridge, you’re entering a different world. I’ve heard that school isn’t even safe! It may be a girl’s school, but they have some real tough chicks over in that neighborhood.” She’d laughed at him, thinking she was a tough old biddy herself! Wouldn’t he have a fit when he found out she was substituting in Detention! Mrs. Beasley wrote on the chalkboard, tacked some things on the wall, and sat patiently waiting for the students to arrive.
Just then the door creaked dramatically as it was eased slowly open, finally revealing the timid eyes of a teen-age girl peeking around it. She took in the frail woman at the desk, and seeing Mrs. Beasley gazing back at her with interest, she quickly averted her eyes and scuttled past the desk as if afraid she’d be squashed like a bug if she went too slowly. Choosing the farthest seat from the front, she sat down quickly and looked at her lap.
Mrs. Beasley quietly observed her sole student, slumped down as if to make herself smaller. Her paperwork said the girl was in detention because she would not participate in class. The girl’s hair was looped and swirled elaborately around her small head. Her makeup was applied flawlessly and a bit dramatically. A series of increasingly larger earrings cascaded down each ear. Her animal-print blouse began with criss-crossing straps, became form-fitting in the bust and ended with a fluttery scarf-like point over dressy black slacks. Her feet were enthroned on 3″ platform heels with gold cords affixing them to her ankles. As Mrs. Beasley took in the full picture, the girl seemed to shrink from her gaze.
“Well, shall we begin our assignment?” Mrs. Beasley asked softly, but the girl jumped as if she’d shouted.
“No,” she quavered, a small note of panic in her voice. “Please, let’s wait for the others. My cousin will be here soon.”
“All right, I suppose we can wait. I only hope your cousin is as stylish as you are, dear,” Mrs. Beasley commented casually. A strange look composed of pleasure and suspicion struggled across the girl’s features. She sat up a little straighter, placed her hands carefully on her lap, and studied an old playbill of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” featuring a fashionable actress in elaborate costume, with frank interest. Mrs. Beasley quietly waited.
Suddenly the door banged open and a screaming young lady flew, laughing, into the room. Before the door could slam shut behind her, an eraser zoomed across the room, smacking the window on the far wall, a cloud of chalk dust hanging suspended above it in the vibrating air. A young face, eyes crossed and tongue out, appeared briefly in the small window set in the door, causing the girl to laugh even harder. Suddenly aware of Mrs. Beasley observing her, the girl said, “Oops, hello!” and with a wave of her hand to her shy cousin, she flopped into a seat in the front. “I suppose we have to sit and be quiet for an hour,” she spoke flippantly to Mrs. Beasley, mischief dancing in her merry eyes.
“Oh, no, not at all,” Mrs. Beasley replied, nodding toward the chalkboard.
“Oh, no way!” the girl shrieked, noting the slogan there. ‘She who does not work, neither shall she leave,’ was emblazoned in Spencerian penmanship. “You mean we got to work? In detention?” as if detention were strictly a leisurely activity.
Mrs. Beasley smiled at the girl’s incredulous look. Indeed, you couldn’t not smile at this pixie, and Mrs. Beasley could plainly see how the girl must have disrupted the class, resulting in her detention. “Well, we better get started!” she began, but the second girl was shaking her head no before she even finished speaking.
“No, we got to wait for my friend. Can’t start without her,” she insisted.
“Okay,” Mrs. Beasley acquiesced. ” I only hope she has the delicious sense of fun you bring to the class.” The girl’s eyes widened in disbelief. She sat quietly contemplating this for a full five minutes, when the door opened, revealing a tall girl with a commanding presence. She stood calmly surveying the room. She absorbed the atmosphere for a moment, taking in the frail, quiet substitute, the timid, lovely girl in the back and the merry, exuberant girl in front. She read the chalkboard, glanced at the playbill, and spent a few moments on a poster of Sally Field in “Norma Rae.” She even noticed the eraser thrown to the ground. After she’d satisfied herself with looking, she sauntered into the room, the unmistakable challenge of authority in her eyes that had landed her in detention in the first place. She chose a chair in the exact middle of the room, and instantly the other two girls joined her, one on each side. In a clear, commanding voice, she stated, “I’m here. We can start now.”
“Ahhh,” breathed Mrs. Beasley slowly, with evident satisfaction in her tone. “A natural leader. How wonderful!”
The girl looked questioningly at Mrs. Beasley to see if she was being made fun of, but Mrs. Beasley beamed back at her with such delight that she relaxed. “What would you like us to do?” she asked.
That afternoon, walking back over the bridge to her apartment building, Mrs. Beasley smiled at the memory of the three girls’ enthusiasm as they read the parts in the play she’d brought with her. “How funny to see the looks on their faces when they found out I was the actress on the playbill!” she reminisced joyfully. “Now, when I have them in literature next term, they’ll set the tone for the whole class.”
Mrs. Beasley had a rollicking good time teaching literature at that school, and those three girls became her best students. The other teachers, who sat and glared for an hour at the silent kids in Detention, could never figure out what magic enabled her to manage those three tough chicks from that ‘hood!