Dogs were useless, Alyssa thought gloomily, rubbing the dirt off her palms. Try as she might, she couldn’t get Frankie, the neighbours’ border collie, to chew even one corner of her homework. Usually, the neighbours complained that they couldn’t get Frankie to stop chewing things, but Frankie just wasn’t going for it this time. Alyssa had tried everything; waving it under Frankie’s nose, trying to pry his mouth open and stuff it in, rolling it up and throwing it for him to fetch, even wrapping it around his favourite chew toy. Frankie just turned his nose up at her each time. Alyssa would have wondered if something was wrong with him, but he snatched his chew-toy and ran off with it as soon as it wasn’t covered by her worksheets anymore. Alyssa sighed. Maybe Frankie just hated geography as much as she did.
Ordinarily, Alyssa would never try to get out of doing her homework, no matter how much she hated it. She was a conscientious girl, almost always doing what was expected of her. That was the problem. Everyone took it for granted that Alyssa would always be good, would always do what was expected of her. The last time she hadn’t turned in her homework, last week, Ms Reynolds had just smiled at her and said, “That’s okay, Alyssa. I’m sure you finished it and did a magnificent job, as always. You were probably just in the bathroom or something when it was collected. I won’t count it against you.” This happened to be true, but it bothered Alyssa all the same. What if she hadn’t done it? Ms Reynolds had no way to know. What was the point of doing her homework at all if nobody even cared when she didn’t do it? She wondered if it was just with her homework that everyone expected the best of her. She decided to conduct a scientific experiment.
When Ms Reynolds asked a question in class, Alyssa deliberately gave a wrong answer. Ms Reynolds smiled at her and said, “Very good, Alyssa! Class, did everyone hear what Alyssa said?” and then proceeded to detail the right answer. Alyssa was appalled. That wasn’t what she had said at all! Was anyone even listening to her? Did it matter if she even existed? Ms Reynolds wasn’t seeing what was actually happening at all; she was just seeing what she expected to see.
Alyssa continued her experiment at home. When Mom asked her to sweep the kitchen floor, she didn’t do it. Later that night, Mom thanked her for doing such a good job. “I didn’t actually sweep it,” Alyssa told her mother, bracing herself for an upset response. “It didn’t really need sweeping anyway.”
Her mother beamed at her. “That’s my girl. Swept it even before I asked you to, did you? Good job.”
Alyssa was disappointed. “Did you hear me? I didn’t sweep it at all!” Her mother didn’t seem to even notice that she had spoken.
The worst of it came that weekend, when Roger, Alyssa’s little brother, came home rather dishevelled; his clothes were torn, his hair mussed, and one eye blacked. “What happened to you?” Mom shrieked when she saw him. Roger, who had been trying to sneak in, looked startled, then shrugged nonchalantly.
“You should have seen the other guy.” He laughed, trying to act like it was no big deal. Mom saw right through the act.
“Why can’t you be more like Alyssa?” she asked with a sigh. “She never gets into fights. And her clothes are always neat.”
Alyssa frowned, deliberately turning her jacket inside-out and untucking half her shirt. Nobody noticed or said a word. She unbraided her thick brown hair and shook it into a frizzy mess. Mom turned and saw her standing there. “You look nice today, Alyssa,” she said, beaming at her daughter. Alyssa fled up the stairs to her room.
She was tired of everyone assuming she was perfect. She was tired of everyone beaming at her. She was tired of people seeing what they expected to see instead of the real her. “I’M NOT PERFECT!” she shouted, flinging herself onto the neatly-made bed. “I’M JUST A HUMAN! WHY DOES EVERYONE THINK I’M SOME SORT OF ANGEL? AAARRRRRRRGGGHHHHH!!!” Once she had screamed herself hoarse, Alyssa actually felt a little better. She decided she had to do something drastic to prove to the world she was just a regular person. She was just starting to have the beginnings of an idea when Roger came into the room. He had cleaned himself up a little, but his eye was still black.
“Was that you singing?” Roger asked. “It sounded really good.”
After that, Alyssa had decided that the only way to get anyone to notice her as a human rather than an angel was to do something so drastic that they HAD to pay attention. Since it had been her homework that had brought her attention to this whole mess, Alyssa had started by attempting to do something with her homework. She had seen the excuse “my dog ate my homework,” used in books, and decided to use it because of its inconceivability. Not wanting to lie, she determined that she would actually get a dog to eat her homework so she could honestly tell Ms Reynolds that it had been eaten by one. Now, crouching in her neighbours’ yard after she’d failed to get Frankie to even sample the worksheet, Alyssa realised that it was just as well that Frankie wouldn’t eat it. With her luck, Ms Reynolds wouldn’t even ask for an excuse, just beam at her and tell her she must have had a good one, like last time. Alyssa flopped dejectedly onto the grass, her crumpled worksheet in one hand, not even caring when Frankie came closer and, slobbering a little, started sticking his nose in her face. Getting the dog to eat her homework was too small anyway, Alyssa decided.
Over the next few days, Alyssa did everything wrong that she could think of. She set all the clocks in the house back one hour, forgetting it was the end of daylight savings. She tried to pull all the carrots out of her mother’s vegetable garden and got thanked for “thinning the rows”, a concept she hadn’t known existed until that moment. She turned her science worksheet on aerodynamics into a paper aeroplane and was praised for her “masterful demonstration”. Everything Alyssa tried to do wrong turned out to be something right. Well, if that was the way it was going to go, Alyssa was going to go with it. She was going to do something so wrong there was no way anyone could think she did something right.
There were a few steps to Alyssa’s plan. Step one- skip school. If she was going to go looking for trouble, she may as well look for all the trouble she could get. Step two- ride her bike downtown. She had briefly considered taking the car even though she was much too young to drive and didn’t know how but decided that it was too dangerous. She didn’t want to hurt anyone. Step three- rob a bank. Or try to, anyway. Alyssa didn’t think it would work, but she figured if she didn’t get in trouble for attempted robbery, she could get away with anything.
On Tuesday morning, Alyssa dressed all in black and stuffed a ski cap and a banana into her backpack. She’s read about someone robbing a bank with a banana before, and while she was sceptical about it actually working, she didn’t have anything else that even slightly resembled a gun. “I’m taking my bike today,” Alyssa called to her mom, careful not to admit where she was taking it. She felt a tiny doubt niggling inside her. Could she really do something so reckless?
“That’s really sweet of you to think of me, Alyssa. Trust you to know I don’t have time to drive you today without me even saying anything,” Mom beamed at her. That did it. Alyssa’s resolve hardened inside her like water turning to ice. She pedalled quickly in the general direction of her school, then turned onto a different street as soon as she was out of sight. She didn’t care what the consequences would be.
It took longer than Alyssa thought it would take to reach the bank. By the time she got there, she was panting, red, and sweaty. She locked her bicycle to a telephone pole and, stumbling just a little, walked to the big double doors of the local Chase branch. Taking a deep breath, Alyssa pulled the ski mask out of her backpack and pulled it over her head. The holes weren’t exactly lined up with her eyes, but she was too impatient to fix that. Finally, she was about to show the world that she wasn’t perfect!
Alyssa groped for the door to the bank and pulled it open, stepping carefully inside. She could see a little bit out of one of the eye-holes, just enough to see where she was going. With the banana firmly clutched in her right hand, Alyssa marched up to one of the windows and told the teller, “I’d like to make a withdrawal.” She expected the teller to ask her how much she wanted to withdraw. When that happened, she planned to say, “All of it,” then to pull the banana up and point it at the teller.
Instead, the teller just smiled down at her. “I’m going to need you to come back with your mother, little girl.”
How dare he? Was the teller mocking her? Alyssa tried to pull the mask up over her head so she could see the teller’s face, but it was caught on a bobby pin in her hair and refused to come. She pulled again, this time a little too hard and a little too fast, and the mask slid off the bobby pin and went flying across the room, just as the doors to the bank opened and someone walked in. Alyssa turned to see where her mask had gone and saw a burly black-clad figure standing on the doorway. He held a real gun, not anything like a banana.
“Right,” barked the newcomer. “Everyone on the floor.” He waved the gun in the air.
Alyssa sank quickly to the floor, trembling slightly. Before last week, she had never done anything purposefully wrong in her life. To Alyssa, this man was the opposite of everything she had ever been. He looked like he robbed banks for fun. Which was exactly what you were going to do, a niggling voice reminded her. She shuddered. How could she have ever wanted to be that?
“I’ll tell you what’s going to happen,” the man in the doorway went on. He pointed at a teller. “You’re going to fill some bags with money. Nobody else is going to move. I’m going to take the money and leave, and then you can all get on with your day. If everyone does as I say, nobody will get hurt. Clear?”
Nobody moved. Alyssa thought her heart might be trying to escape, it was thumping so hard. She could hear steel in the man’s voice, and she had no doubt that he would hurt any or all of them without a second thought if he didn’t get what he wanted.
“Well? Get on with it!” The man gestured with his gun. The teller he’d been pointing at jumped and started filling some bags with cash.
Alyssa felt fingers on her wrist. She shifted her eyes to her right. A tall, blonde woman was on the floor next to her, reaching for her hand. Alyssa thought it was a little weird, but didn’t pull away. Maybe this woman was just scared. She sure was. Then the woman pulled the banana out of Alyssa’s hand. Their eyes met. The woman’s blue eyes had a question in them. She wanted the banana. Strange time for a snack, thought Alyssa, but she relinquished the banana. The woman smiled at her, then waited.
When the teller finished filling the bags, the man took a step towards her to collect them. That was the moment the woman next to Alyssa had been waiting for. In two quick motions, she tore a strip of peel off the banana and slid it across the floor, aiming for the man’s feet. In another moment, he tripped on it and came crashing down with a loud Whump! A moment after that and the woman from the floor was on top of him, wresting the gun from his hands. Other patrons and tellers whipped out cellphones and started dialing 9-1-1. Sirens were heard outside the bank, and Alyssa, who had not known she was holding her breath, started to breathe again.
The next morning, Alyssa came downstairs to see both her parents beaming at her instead of just one. “I can’t imagine what you were doing in town when you were supposed to be in school, young lady,” her father told her in a stern voice that didn’t match his smile. He showed her the headlines of that day’s paper. On the front page was a picture of Alyssa crouched on the floor of the bank, holding a banana, followed by one of the would-be bank robber on the floor with the banana under his foot. LITTLE GIRL WITH BANANA STOPS BANK ROBBERY, the headline proclaimed in big letters. Alyssa was wondering how anyone had gotten a picture of her holding the banana when her father clapped a hand on her shoulder.
“We’re so proud of you, honey!” Mom told her.
“But you’re still grounded for skipping school yesterday,” Dad added, then pulled her in for a hug. “Mom’s right. We’re so proud of you.”
Alyssa felt both elated and guilty. Her plan had worked. Someone had seen that she wasn’t perfect. She was grounded! She was weirdly glad about that. But she was even more glad that her plan had failed. She’d seen firsthand how someone who robbed banks acted, and she didn’t like it. Now that she had proven to herself that she could get in trouble for not being perfect, Alyssa was determined to go right back to being perfect. After all, it was rather nice to be in the paper. Even if it was for something she hadn’t actually done.