by Craig Fishbane
Before Enrique was deported last month—if he did, in fact, get deported—I liked to joke that he was my one student who did his best work when he was not on Earth. I remember how during his last day in school, he leaned across his desk, gawking at the icy image of Jupiter’s moon Europa that was projected from a laptop. The vista of a crystalline horizon shimmered across a screen in front of my darkened classroom and Enrique spoke—as usual—before he could even consider raising his hand.
“There’s really an ocean in there?” he said.
“That’s what scientists think,” I said. “Can you tell me why?”
I could have reminded Enrique not to call out but I didn’t want to waste this opportunity. He was an 11-year-old reading at a third grade level. We had worked painstakingly over the last two years to build up his vocabulary and transform his curiosity into something resembling scholarship. It all seems so pointless now that he’s gone, but I still had hope for him as a student.
“It’s gravity,” he said. “The gravity of Jupiter.”
The hands from several other children shot up but I sat on the corner of Enrique’s desk and waited for him to finish the explanation.
“The gravity heats up the ice and turns it to water,” he finally said. “And maybe there’s something alive down there.”
I gave Enrique a high five and peppered the rest of the class with questions. As we speculated about what aliens might be hovering in that dark sea, Enrique nudged his tablemates and whispered jokes.
As far as I was concerned, Enrique was entitled to savor a rare triumph. I even refrained from delivering a reprimand when, after the first part of the lesson was over, Enrique bolted from his seat and pushed Yin Lin and Mohammed out of the way so he could get across the room to complete his science project.
Enrique swaggered across the floor like an undersized street hustler, moving in a bravado dance of hips and shoulders that was as amusing as it was unnerving. There were rumors about Enrique’s family, loose talk in the teacher’s lounge about an uncle who sold heroin. Most of my coworkers took this gossip as gospel but I liked to give Enrique the benefit of the doubt. For all I knew, he had crafted his persona by watching too many episodes of The Wire with his older brother.
I could picture the two of them sprawled out on the living room carpeting, jockeying over the remote when the immigration agents knocked. I like to think Enrique remained calm through the ordeal, hugging his little sister and helping to dry his mother’s tears. It’s also possible he went into his tough-guy routine and got himself smacked down onto the floorboards.
Enrique nearly got into a fight during that final lesson. He was partnered with two other children to create a bulletin board display. Once he sorted out the construction paper, loose leaf pages and magic markers, Enrique began barking out directions. He told Yasmin to finish coloring the picture of Jupiter and reminded Antonio to copy his paragraph about the Great Red Spot neatly so that everyone could read it.
When Antonio decided to help with the coloring instead, Enrique grabbed him by the collar and waved a fist in his face. I hurried to the table and before Enrique could actually throw a punch, I told him to go back to his seat and write the definitions for all the new vocabulary on index cards.
“Hey Mr. Moody,” Enrique said as he let Antonio go. “When do you think they’re going to send a rocket to Europa?”
I sighed and made an exaggerated glance at the heavens. I had come to think of Enrique as a character in a science fiction film, a powerful apprentice who was struggling to overcome his dark side. My job was to teach him how to resist his worst impulses. Sometimes all I could do was flash pictures of brave new worlds onto the wall and show him the words he needed to describe them.
Those words are probably of no use to Enrique now. Like so many other aspects of his life, the information about Enrique’s whereabouts is sketchy. There never was an official discharge from the school. He simply stopped showing up. The secretary tried to call his mother but her phone was out of service. When I went with the guidance counselor to his apartment building, the super told us that they had moved out weeks ago, leaving behind three rooms filled with battered furniture and dying plants.
“Who knows what happened?” he said. “Maybe they were late with paperwork. Maybe something else.”
The children still talk about Enrique. Yasmin tells me his family went back to Ecuador while Yin Lin insists they’re hiding in a cousin’s basement near Philadelphia. Antonio is just glad he’s gone—a sentiment, I suspect, that is shared by most of the faculty.
When I stare at his empty desk, that ink-stained space of conspicuous silence, I keep thinking back to the way he grinned at me at the end of that lesson when I shuffled through his index cards and told him that if he kept doing his work, he could be the first person to visit Europa.
Enrique took his pencil and guided it like a rocket directly onto the white landscape that he had drawn on black construction paper. He held the pencil between his palms and started to grind the sharpened point like a drill, digging into the valley between the jagged slopes of magic marker mountains. When I plucked the pencil from his hands, Enrique shrugged like I should have understood what he was going to do all along.
“I’ve got to make some holes when I get there,” he said. “I want to find out what’s living in the water under all that snow and ice.”
Category: Poetry, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing