In the little school on the other side of the dam, a classroom of children sat and stared blankly at the brand new white boards that had just been installed the night before. Their teacher, a short, stout man with a mustache like a roly-poly caterpillar, was excitedly lecturing about how this was the way of the future. ”No more chalk dust,” he enthused, “no more mess!” His mustache wiggled whenever he spoke.
This class was a new addition to the curriculum, entitled “Engineering the Future” and made mandatory to all students. The school committee had the idea that perhaps their little town could be put on the map if maybe one or two of the five-hundred fresh-faced children could learn a generic spoonful of physics and science and math. At the very least, it would raise their test scores and get them a meager handful of the government’s spare change. The teacher, once a mechanical engineer at the local factory, took up teaching in attempts to recruit new workers. The factory was the last of its kind and may have been the largest gear in the machinery of the town; the wheel needed some new cogs to keep things spinning.
A girl in the front row slumped over her desk, bored ten times over and falling half-asleep. The novelty of white boards was lost on her, as this school was the last in the district—the last in the city—to have updated. She already realized the uselessness of this class, but went along with it for the sake of her own transcripts, because maybe after four years of this drudgery she could get out and enter the world of higher education where she could shape her future and never have to use any of this again. But it did serve a bit of a purpose, she guessed, in teaching the young brain-dead how to “think outside the box”, as their teacher was always blathering about.
A boy in the back row watched the girl in the front, as she leaned on her hand. Her head dipped down here and there as she dozed, and he was surprised. She was the best student in their class, and sometimes he envied how she could just snap the answers out of thin air. Mostly it disgusted him. He would let his mind wander from time to time and wonder if he’d ever be able to hold on to knowledge as effortlessly as her. The other boys would throw papers and even books at her, and call her the class butch, claiming she was so ugly she’d scare a guy’s nuts back up into their sack. He never joined in their teasing though, not unless they badgered him into it. Mostly he sat in the back of the class, and wondered more about why he was here—why anyone was even there.
Both the boy and the girl were startled out of their respective thoughts by a loud thump. The class stirred alive, with students running to the back of the room to find the source of the sound. It appeared that a bird had flown into the window, straight into the plexiglass, ensuring its death. The teacher eventually was able to calm the students down. Still, the boy and the girl, who’d left their seats to see the small carnage, remained standing at the window.
"I wonder why it flew into the window," the girl asked. "I always thought birds were very smart and knew where they were supposed to be going."
"Maybe it did know where it was supposed to go," the boy said, without turning away from the window. "Maybe it knew that it was supposed to die."
The girl’s cheeks flushed red.
"Very funny," she said.
"Oh, no! I didn’t mean it like that," the boy stammered an apology. "I just like to wonder about these things sometimes.
"It’s okay. I know when I’m being mocked," she said, and returned to her seat.
"Wait—" he started to say, but gave up. The teacher was yelling at the boy now, his mustache practically flailing. He kept saying, it’s just a bird, it’s just a dead bird.
The boy slowly returned to his seat, and said nothing.