He was loitering by the west-facing windows when I came in the kitchen. He put his back to me and looked out through the glass at the souvlaki restaurant below. You could see where the snow had collected in heaps on the roofs of the connected buildings. Roofs rose up behind roofs, creating levels and ladders and crawl spaces. I remembered once when the students had watched a maintenance worker attending to some chore up there, standing and listening for the directions coming from the sidewalk. He bout to jump, my students said, and no one had bothered to disagree, though clearly he was just doing his job.
I got my lunch out of the fridge. One of David’s classmates came in to fill up a cup of water. You know they started class, she said. David turned slightly to show a sliver of face. I’m coming, he said.
You stay in here too long you know they gon lock the door on you. That’s what you trying to do. You trying to be too late so they lock you out. Then you don’t gotta go.
I’m bout to go right now, he said, looking back down at the cops in front of the hair salon.
He had come into my math class earlier, wandering around the back of the room while my students practiced using the distributive property. They were playing the same three songs on loop out of one student’s phone. The rapper was bending his voice in such a way that I couldn’t make out what he was saying. David sat down in the chair next to me and leaned back. I asked him what he was doing, and he told me they’d locked him out because he’d come an hour late.
We’re doing math, I told him. What kind of math are you working on in your class?
I don’t know. He leaned back further, as though trying to snap the back of the chair off.
I showed him a worksheet. How about these?
He looked at the problems. His eyes grew big and he found a pen in the middle of the table. He started to write something, then stopped. No, he said. I don’t know these.
I gave him something easier. This time he wrote the first problem on the pad of paper in front of him and then puzzled over it. I taught him the procedure and he followed the instructions, writing the answer on the right side of the page. I wrote four more problems for him. Do these, I said. One of the other students pushed her paper toward me for me to check. David started the next problem and then leaned back and looked at me. I remember these, he said.
I used to do these. Before I got off track.
I nodded, let him talk while I glanced at my student’s work. I haven’t seen these in… He shook his head. I need to get focused. My brain, shit. My brain got stupid. I need to get focused.
I passed the sheet back to my student and complimented her work. Move on to the next sheet, I told her. I looked back at David. He had written half of a two-digit number and let the pen drop. He knew how to do the problems but he had come to a moment of revelation, had reached some understanding about himself. What are you thinking right now, I wanted to ask him, but I didn’t, it being the first time we had ever really talked. He wasn’t in any of my classes. He got up and went back into the hall, leaving the materials on the table.