0 comments

Fiction

Twenty. There are twenty rows of wooden floorboards.

Each row appeared to contain ten or so planks.

Two-hundred pieces.  

Which one was the biggest?

There was one towards the middle of the room that seemed a little longer than the others.

But was it the biggest?

Maybe if calculated by area.

What’s the area of a rectangle again?

The sides aren’t equal in length. 

It’s definitely a rectangle.

Jay has his foot near the one end and he wears a size 15 shoe.

What if he just so happened to place his other foot right behind the other?

C’mon, Jay, make the measurement easier. Do it for math!

Does shoe size tell you how long your foot is in inches?

Why would the British have it one or two numbers different?

Do they use the metric system?

What about the other countries on the shoe tag?

If they used the metric system wouldn’t their size be the same as the British size?

Maybe the British have another shoe measuring system.

They do use their own money. No Euros for them.

Why would they have their own system?

Is that why their soccer teams got such good players?

Can they buy better players at lower prices? 

I still don’t get why the LA Galaxy paid all that money for David Beckham. 

Dude trash.

Does he get paid in Euros? Pounds? Dollars?

Why’d he name his kid Brooklyn?

Seriously, the fuck is that about?

I’mma name my kid Harlem.

No, scratch that…. wait, if Beckham named his kid Brooklyn, is that why everyone now naming their kid London?

Seriously, you see how many people are naming their kid “London” now?

London, Paris, Milan…. same names you see on every wannabe boutique and salon in the city.

This one dude in NY was trying to sell my mom a bag and it said: “From Millanne”.

Shit funny.  

Like that guy down at City Hall selling Ray-Bans. Should be called Ray Bums.

Save that for later.

Snap!

Jay’s moving his other foot!

Come one, come on…… damn!

Crossing over.

Why are dudes always crossing their feet under their desks?

I’ll try it.

Just have to move my leg up and then lift my check off the chair….

“Mr. Davies.”

Shit.

“Can you come up here and fill in the family tree?”

The what?

“You’ve been quiet this whole class. I figured you were taking everything in. Here, come up.”

This shit….

“Okay, so we have the bottom portion mostly done. Why don’t you start at the top?”

No need to panic. Think I’ve got this.

“Alright, so, at the top, we’ve got….”

Think.

“Alfred! Yeah, Alfred, getting it started with the A, alphabet style.”

Now what? Aren’t most of these people so vain that they name all their kids after themselves? Like George Forman but at least they let the girls be “Alfreda” and not all “Alfred”?

“I’ll give you one, Mr. Davies. The next one is Edward.”

“Right! WASPy name number two!”

Okay, hot streak here.

“Then there’s the guy with the Elon Musk name….”

“The what?”

“You know, with the funky letter, kind of similar to Elon Musk’s kid….”

“Excuse me?”

“Jay, what’s his name?”

“Æthelstan.”

“My man!”

“Now, Mr. Davies….”

“Quick, group project, let’s speed through this. Emma, who else?”

“Really?”

“C’mon!”

“Edmund and Eadred.”

“…. Okay! Again, the WASPy names….”

“Okay, Mr. Davies, we’re done.”

“But we only did four names.”

“Thank you, Mr. Davies.”

_______________________

Back to measuring the floorboards.

Wait, does this mean Emma digs me? She totally digs me! Nice.

“Mr. Davies, hang back for a few minutes.”

Standard procedure.

“I know that you know that completion of the family tree is mandatory. It’ll be on the semester final.”

“And it’ll be done. Even the Elon Musk guy!”

“Mr. Davies, you also need to understand the significance of the various figures. Once you learn more about each individual, you can fit everything together that much better.”

“Right, put a face to it.”

“Precisely.”

“Makes sense.”

“It’s how we make sense of humanity while studying the complex narratives of history.” 

He totally stole that from a movie.

“Right.”

“History is fascinating when it’s not all about dates and infantry, Mr. Davies. Don’t let video games fool you.”

What? Is he talking about Call of Duty? Not worth it, let it be.

“I’ll keep that in mind. People and personalities, I’ll make it a thing.”

“You’ll benefit.”

“Can I ask a question?”

“You can ask two. Your inquiry is one as it is and now you can ask another.”

This guy….

“Okay. So, you tell me how important it is to humanize history and put a face to it.”

“Yes.”

“But we only seem to be putting a face to the British. The class is European history but we haven’t learned anything about Spain, Italy, Romania, Croatia….”

“None of those places existed yet, Mr. Davies.”

“Maybe not in name, but they were still physically there.”

“We’ll get to them eventually.”

“Okay, but let’s even look at what we learned last year and what we’re supposed to learn for the next two years.”

“You mean the curriculum?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s wrong with the curriculum?”

“The only faces we see are British, US-“

“American.”

“No, because, if it were American, we’d include Native Americans, Mexicans, Canadians, Central AMERICANS, South AMERICANS. We don’t even do America correctly.”

“Well-“

“The only faces are basically western European and US-based. Maybe some French.”

“What is your point, Mr. Davies?”

Was it worth going for the jugular? If he wasn’t getting it by now, would it even matter? Screw it, keep it plain.

“It’s boring. There’s little to no variety.”

Why hasn’t he answered? He’s just staring at me. Did I break him? Is he questioning his career and life choices? Are we having a moment? Am I now the teacher?

“Mr. Davies, when you go to college, get a bachelors, then a masters, work at three of the most prestigious museums the world has ever seen, and then obtain a doctorate, we can have this discussion. Otherwise, you’re wasting my time.”

He’s getting his stuff. He’s going out the door. Fuck it.

“Just like you waste my time with a group of men and women who inbred generation after generation and then wonder why their offspring wear Nazi costumes in Vegas!”

_______________________

Saturday detention.

Not morning detention.

Saturday detention.

The man got so worked up about a family he isn’t even connected to.

Seriously, what’s his deal?

We’re supposed to spend the day spreading fertilizer and preparing the fields.

Private schools, you know?

“Here’s your punishment, young man, manual labor!”

At least they’re letting us listen to something while outside.

“Yo, Andrea, how’s it going over there?”

Man, even when flipping the bird, she’s cute. She’s got that black nail polish on today.

“Oh, come on, ‘Drea, misery loves company!”

“Shut up, I’m listening to my podcast.”

Podcast? Now?

“Don’t we get enough of that during the week?”

Now she’s pissed. The earbuds have been yanked out. Her scowl is heavenly.

“Look, numbnuts-“

Wait, did she just quote my mom?

“This, this program right here, it's mine. It’s my peace, my meditation, whatever the fuck you wanna call it. Don’t ruin it.”

“What’s it about?”

“All the shit they don’t tell you in history class.”

“Right on, so what are we talking about?”

She stares. Her foot is tapping. Does she like me?

“How the CIA kills people around the globe.”

“Oh, like how they plotted to kill Patrice Lumumba, right?”

Damn, her eyes got wide like an owl.

“You know about that?”

Of course, why wouldn’t I?

“Yes. It’s not a secret.”

“How do you know?”

“Well, documents have been declassified for a while….”

“No, dipshit, how do you know about Lumumba?”

“My dad told me.”

Why is she looking at me like that?

“Why would he care?”

“About what?”

“About Lumumba.”

“I don’t know, he loves the DRC.”

“DRC?”

“The Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

For someone who gave off an “I hate government” vibe, she was giving off some serious FBI energy.

“What can you tell me about the DRC?”

“I dunno. There’s a lot.”

“What should I know?”

“I’m no expert….”

“For our age and at our school, you’re the closest thing I’ve got. So, what should I know?” 

This is where it gets tricky.

Where do you start?

“Well, I should say how, you know, there was obviously a ton of history before colonialism.”

“Not so obvious to everyone.”

“Yeah.”

“What stands out about it now?”

“It’s a large country with linguistic and cultural diversity. There’s a ton of different forests, hills, mountains, and different environments. Lots of natural resources.”

“Hmmm. Rubber, right?”

“Yeah. That and other things.”

“You don’t want to talk about Leopold, do you?”

“Not really.”

“Okay. I get it.”

Did she though?

“You know how we’re learning all about kings and queens?”

“Of course. How they all marry each other, etc.”

“That’s what I said!”

“Uh, yeah, I’m, pretty sure the whole hallway knows how you feel about the royal families.”

“Right. Anyway, before the Congo Free State was created, there were some empires, kingdoms, etc.”

She altered her pose. Think she’s telling me to go on.

“So, there was one this one kingdom, the Luba Empire, and they were around for hundreds of years. The rulers valued art, had a system of government capable of surviving for generations, utilized complex trading systems, and, you know, were basically killing it.”

Her head tilted. She’s in.

“The part I find the coolest, however, is the Mbudye Society.”

“The what?”

“The Mbudye. They were a group of men trained to keep the history of their people alive.”

“So, what did they do? Were they like monks sitting in a monastery or something?”

“No, they kept history alive with their words. Think about it, they were the gatekeepers of the empire’s history. They were walking history books.”

“Sooo, no shaving heads?”

“No.”

“They would get up and just start talking?”

“They used a device called a Lukasa. It’s pretty dope, actually. They would hold it in their left hand and then trace over it with their right.”

“Like an Ouija board?”

Really?

“Uh, not quite.”

“But how does it help them remember anything?”

“You’re thinking of it like we’re learning in class.”

“What?”

“It’s not meant to be a Point A to Point B to Point C thing.”

“Well, then what kind of thing is it supposed to be?”

“The Mbudye could recite history in their own way. It didn’t all have to be…. you know, like a line.”

“Linear.”

“What?”

“The word you’re looking for. Linear.”

"That’s the Point A to Point B….”

“Yeah.”

“Gotcha. Okay, so part of what makes the Mbudye even cooler is how they incorporated myth into their histories. You didn’t have to be all cut and dry with it.”

“Anyone in particular who stands out?”

“What do you mean?”

“Any particular Mbudye?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because that’s not the point.”

“Says you.”

“Well, yeah, in my opinion, that’s not the point.”

“Why?”

“Cause the role was greater than the individual. Is greater. It’s not about lineage and name-brand recognition.”

“You saying Prince Harry has a brand?”

“Of course, he has a brand, all those royals have a brand.”

“Aren’t the Mbudye a brand?”

Before I could respond she flashed a smirk.

“I’m fucking with you. I think I get what you mean. The role of history preserver is valued more than individual glory.”

Yeah, she more or less got it.

“If that’s just a piece of what the DRC has to offer, I can see why you enjoy it so much.”

“There’s a lot to it. Especially before Captain Big Beard comes along.”

“Does your family have a connection to the country?”

“Not necessarily. My dad learned about Lumumba in college and he went down the rabbit hole of learning more about the country. Lumumba gave way to Leopold, but he wanted to know more about what existed beforehand.”

“Curiosity, eh?”

“Just that.”

How long had we been talking? Shit, it was almost noon.

“I’m gonna finish up over here. Figure we only have a few minutes left until purgatory’s over.”

She placed her earbuds back into place and went back to work.

Mr. Knolls came over.

“Damn it, Davies, can you at least pretend you’re finishing up? If anyone sees you slacking off, I gotta stay here longer to supervise your ass.”

“Sorry, Mr. Knolls.”

“Just finish up. Penn State plays in an hour and I wanna get home.”

_______________________ 

Back in class.

There’s that family tree again.

I wonder what a family tree would look like for the Luba Empire.

Better yet, who were those different men who were part of the Mbudye? What were their stories? Where did they come from?

“Yo, note.”

Who was passing me a note? Who did that anymore?

There’s no name.

Probably some asshole jotting down “you gay” again.

Let’s see, unfold, take a look….

Wait, what?

It’s…. a Lukasa?

Andrea.

Where’s she sitting?

Okay, not too obviously, turn a little, maybe act like your adjusting yourself.

Where is she?

There, the other side of the room.

Damn, that note took a trip.

She doesn’t see me looking. What if she doesn’t care?

Wait, why wouldn’t she care, yet, send me a drawing?

It’s pretty decent, actually. Not too different from the photos dad showed me.

The beads, the intricacies, the grooves. 

She got it.

“Mr. Davies, are those notes you have?”

Aaand just like that.

“Sorry, I was trying to locate ‘em and pulled this out of my bag.”

“Hurry up then.”

Move the bag around a little, pretend to be invested, pull out a random notebook, and back to not giving a shit.

More battles, more conflicts, more marriages.

All moving as fluidly as my aunt’s Pinto on the highway.

How does this man get up and lecture us about how important it is to understand history to comprehend the present, yet, has no desire to make sense of the majority of the world’s population?

“And as you can see, we are now entering into the origins of the British Empire.”

Didn’t we break away from said empire?

Why do we keep learning about these people?

“We’ll pick up with this tomorrow.”

Okay, exit as normal but saddle up causally outside the room.

“I liked your drawing.”

“Oh, thanks. I looked up some pictures when I got home and figured it be worth trying to sketch one.”

“Cool. Here.”

“No, no, it’s yours.”

“Really? Thanks.”

“Thank yourself. I’d never heard of it if it wasn’t for you droning on about it.”

Sarcasm and a smile. Could she stop finding ways to be so pretty?

“Listen, I gotta bail, but can you and your dad teach me more sometime? I read an article on the website where the picture was about the Kingdom of Lunda and it sounded pretty cool.”

“Sure. Anytime.”

October 02, 2020 18:57

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

0 comments

RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.