Hiroki's Tree

Hiroki's Tree

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Chapter 1

Chapter 1

The first time I saw Hiroki Barker, I was sitting in front of a room with twenty-six children staring at me. It was my sixth year teaching at that particular elementary school; my tenth altogether. The room was small in a cozy way, the sunlight shining brightly. I was looking over all of my students, as I always did, when I saw his calm face gazing straight ahead. There was an Anne of Green Gables moment for me, and I knew he was different.

"Hello, class," I said, standing in front of all of them. They all turned towards me, too young to be rebellious, too old to be stupid. I have always loved this age. "My name is Ms. Sawyer, and I will be your teacher for the rest of the school year. I hope that each of you will learn the many things I will show you here. School is a wonderful place." They each agreed with me in their joyful ways, nodding and murmuring and smiling happily.

"So, before we begin class, I would like you to stand up and tell your name." I pointed to a girl with bright red hair and freckled skin. "Why don't you begin, and we can go down the row."

The girl stood and said solemnly, "My name's Lizzy." She sat down and looked as if she had just survived a bomb attack. The boy beside her began to clamber out of his seat.

It took a while to get to the boy that I had a feeling about. When we finally did, his classmates all began to murmur among themselves. He was different from everyone else because he was Asian.

"My name," he said in a voice that startled me, it was so profound, "is Hiroki Barker." He had a slight accent that made him hard to understand. At this, the murmurs grew louder, and the confusion was palpable. How did one pronounce a name like that?

"Could you repeat it?" I asked kindly, foreseeing a difficult year for the boy.

"He-row-key," he said again. "It means 'tree' in Japanese." He took a seat.

I admit it, I couldn't help showing my favoritism towards him. After all, on what planet would he not get teased for his ethnicity? "What a nice name. Class, we are lucky to have such a unique member with us."

As another child said his name, my thoughts remained with Hiroki. I was surprised by my affection for this stranger. At forty years old and unmarried, I didn't allow myself much room for personal liking besides my students. They were undoubtedly the most important thing in my life. How was this person so special, more so than all of them, when I didn't even know him?

When that stage had finished, I passed out the rubrics for the school year and explained my expectations. I disliked the other third-grade teacher because she treated her students like babies. I believe they have enough brains to understand language.

"Now, we are going to have a test," I said. There were groans from all around the classroom. I hid my smile and spoke firmly. "This will show you what you need to work on and what you already do well. It consists of a little of every subject we will be studying in here. Yes, Lizzy?"

"What does 'consist' mean?"

I wasn't mean enough to make them look it up in a dictionary. Not on their first day, at any rate. "Made up of. I need volunteers to pass these out. George?" He smiled and leaped out of his seat, eager to do as I had asked.

I set a timer and retired to my desk. There was no homework to check, which was nice. I pulled out a romance book and began to read. After a little while, though, I couldn't help peeking over at a certain student. His tongue was sticking out as he tried to do well. I smiled and went back to reading.

After a while, the last person had turned in their test, and I assigned a coloring piece for them. I began to look over the sheets. Most people hadn't done very well, but nearly all were talented in one subject. Except for one.

Hiroki had gotten every single question wrong.

I leaned back in my chair, confused. He wasn't even close on some of the answers. Had he not understood the instructions somehow? A nasty suspicion creeped up on me. The teachers weren't the type to gossip about their students, but news of a Japanese boy in a school this small would have spread around quickly. I'd have to ask the other staff members, but-was he newly foreign?

That would mean a lot of extra tutoring. I gave an inward sigh. Apparently, my intuitions about the boy were right-in a bad way.

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