The Trick

Delta Winds cover 2007Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


The Trick

Paula Cordova

I've never told anyone this before, but it is with great pain that I will recount it for you. In the sixth grade, we had a witch of a teacher. She had an angry shade of auburn hair and the most piercing eyes. We all knew her tolerance level was very low and her patience nonexistent.

But it didn't seem to stop me from giving her a new victim in class.

Our desks had been clustered in small groups of five, and I had been sandwiched amongst a few well-known students, and directly in front of me, with the top edge of his desk kissing mine, was Elijah Cleek.

It's funny how I could never tell you the names of the other students, or even what color their hair was, or the kind of clothes they wore, but I sure remember everything about Elijah Cleek. Enrolled mid-year, Elijah Cleek was a doe-eyed, slightly lumpy kid with a mess of brown hair. His clothes appeared unwashed and tattered. His shoes grimy and well worn in.

Kids (probably the one sitting with us that very moment) had laughed at him and remarked that they saw him and his mother scrounging in dumpsters near their homes. Rumors flew like facts that he was homeless and wore stolen clothes. Even the teacher razzed him and his grungy wardrobe. Daily she would point her bony finger and send him to the bathroom to get himself "cleaned up and respectable looking".

Our teacher briefly explained the project that we would be working on. Seemingly bitter, she chewed over the details quickly and sat herself quietly at her desk for twenty minutes to herself. The group, instead of hashing out the project, spoke jestingly at Elijah Cleek. This was nothing new to him. He always offered them suspicious eyes.

They taunted him that they had seen him and his mother at the gas station scrounging money off people. He denied their accusations with his wary eyes while he sucked on his bottom lip. Fortifying himself, Elijah Cleek did not let these young kids in. His pride was intact.

I didn't say anything to stop them.

Not only that, I did something much worse.

Feeling as though this were a competition into Elijah's fortitude, I began to think of ways to gain entry.

I suggested a game. An old Indian game.

He looked at me, his eyes softening, trusting, for I had never spoken to him before.

"Sure," he conceded.

The crowd around me squirmed with delight. What was I going to do?

"First I'll need a quarter," I said, to which the boy next to me was happy to dig out of his pocket.

I explained to Elijah Cleek that he must lay the quarter flat on a piece of paper. Then he was to take his pencil and trace the quarter's edge repeatedly, over and over. The other students leaned in, anxious to see "the trick." And so, he traced the quarter, his pencil spinning around its edges quickly.

"Now what?" he asked.

I could have turned back. My mind screamed at me to turn back. But the awe on the students' faces told me I couldn't back out now. I had to finish what I started.

And despite the tug in my heart to desist, I instructed, "Now, you take the quarter and sweep its edges on your face, over and over."

Suspecting nothing, he did as I said, and proceeded to roll the quarter along his already dingy face. Streaks of pencil lead trailed the quarter, marking his face with distinguishable lines. The students around me burst with eruptive laughter, but I just sat there, eye to eye with Elijah Cleek.

Not understanding why they laughed, he looked to me to fill him in, and I could do nothing but stare back at him.

The raucous explosion of laughter quickly alerted our teacher who stamped over to us.

"Elijah Cleek, again you come to class filthy," she said, spitting out the word "filthy" as if it really were.

"Go to the restroom and clean your face. I am tired of telling you everyday not to come to school so dirty," she yelled, again spitting out the word "dirty."

Elijah Cleek pushed his chair back and rose, all the while staring me in the eyes, expressionless. And as he walked to the door, eyes glued on mine, my heart tore as if he held a piece of it. He opened the door, gave me one last sad gaze, and exited the class. Encompassed in the laughter of my peers, the snickering smirk of my teacher, I felt completely torn out of myself.

I ached, and to this day I still do. I'll never forget the way his eyes looked like wells when they stared at me, like wells filled with the depth of wisdom. And though now he's probably forgotten me, he'll never know that he has taught me so much.



When competition arises, many people conform to the indecorum of competition in order to simply win, despite the costs.