She's in my homeroom and my first period class. She often comes in and asks for food immediately. Half her face is a purple stain birthmark. She is in 6th grade and weighs perhaps 40 pounds, a tiny wisp moving about the room. Sometimes she bangs a frozen plastic bottle on her desk when I am teaching, trying to dislodge chunks of ice to eat. Students are not allowed to have water or any food or bottles in school. I reprimand her.
The first couple times I refuse her requests for food. "Go to the free breakfast. We have free breakfast here," I tell her. She has the same name as my niece. She is in trouble and I know it. I think she gets lunch at school and only lunch at school. I am sure she gets no other food anywhere. She gets no food at home. Does she even have a home? When I tell her I'm calling her guardian for not doing her school work she is desperately afraid. "You don't know. Don't do it, please. You don't know." Her eyes are enormous. The one on the birthmark side is vivid.
She appears in my dreams, flitting around the dream school halls. I can see through her.
In class today I can't get her focused on work. "My stomach is growling. I'm hungry." She tugs the hairs on my arm. "Does it hurt?" she asks. During independent reading time she has a version of Sister Carrie re-written for sixth graders. Her selection breaks my heart. She won't read it, so I ask her to sit next to me and tell me about it. On the cover is a haggard white woman between two darker men.
"I seen all the Sister Carries. I seen Sister Carrie I, II, and IV three times. I never seen Sister Carrie III until last night. Sister Carrie has her own clothing line and I like to buy them. My mom wears Sister Carrie perfume."
"Does she wear it on her ears or on her wrists?"
She points at her wrists.
"What does it smell like?"
"It smells like grass and sunshine. Sister Carrie is really black but she is light-skinned. Her perfume is called Rainbows."
She moves in my dreams, crying her hunger. I can't take it.
She is staying after school to work on the art project team. They are making things for Ed Reed's 30th birthday bash. Ed Reed gives lots of money to the Book. She appears in my room at 2:40. I am glad the Panamanian teacher is there, the one who flirts with me, because I don't feel comfortable when I'm working in my room alone and female students stop in. I always quickly move to the hallway. "I'm hungry" she says. "My stomach hurts."
The Panamanian tsks with her pouty mouth. I get my treat bin and give her some cookies and chips. "Can I have BBQ?" she says. I give her BBQ. I am breaking my own rules about my treat bin. Treat bin is for Fridays only, when students cash in their good behavior stamps.
Making dinner I see her and she is translucent, hovering above the skillet. I can't take it. I'm buying PopTarts tomorrow.