In a universe where everyone saw staid brown horses, Tali saw unicorns, shimmery pink and prancing
All the first-year students came early, walking with their parents into the auditorium.
Tali’s eyes widened as she entered the large room. There were more people inside than she’d ever seen before. Parents and their children, all first-year students, sat in the hard, plastic, navy chairs that filled the room.
Tali and her parents found their seats in the eighth row, three seats from the left. There was some chitchat, all adult talk, which Tali ignored as she studied the room. What a strange place, all navy tiles and navy trim and navy chairs and navy skirts. She looked around at the room, at the ceiling, and at the other girls, each waiting excitedly.
Then the principal walked onstage, clad in navy from blazer to heels. The crowd grew quiet.
There were many words: speeches about how the curriculum was carefully planned and the academics were up to par and would stretch the students’ minds. Words about obedience and compliance and respect and good behavior. The parents listened carefully while the young new students squirmed in the chairs.
Finally, finally, it was time for the Hand Outs. Each grade received a special item that was unique to their year’s level; it would help them adjust to their new status, the principal explained.
First-grade students each received a headband, navy blue and perfectly coordinated with the matching uniform skirts all the students wore. It was ribbed with a bow on the corner, to be worn to the left.
They were called up in alphabetical order. Tali watched in fascination as each name was announced, and one by one, the girls walked up the steps and received a gift. Mrs. Jaye, one of the first-grade teachers, a sweet older woman perfectly suited to the job, handed each girl an identical package. Each girl beamed as she received her present and eagerly, carefully, placed it on her head.
Then it was Tali’s turn.
Tali skipped up the stage. No matter that it was navy, no matter that the whole room was navy, this was her moment to shine. But then something different happened. Because Tali’s parents had spoken to Mrs. Jaye.
Tali lived in a bright world, her parents always said. In a universe where everyone saw staid brown horses, Tali saw unicorns, shimmery pink and prancing. In a classroom of brown-gray desks, they knew she’d see the glow of the lustrous sheen. In a world of grays and navys and blacks, Tali’s world was glittery and bright and shiny.
She’d been given a gift, her parents had told Mrs. Jaye. Their Tali was imaginative, inquisitive, and oh, so creative.
Mrs. Jaye had smiled, crinkling her kind green eyes. “That’s perfectly all right. Our system does great work with these kinds of girls.”
And although her parents knew that Tali wasn’t just one of “these kinds of girls,” she was in a class — no, a world — of her own, they were thrilled to offer their daughter the opportunity for this elite education.
Mrs. Jaye stood onstage with something different in her hand. It was not a navy headband, it was an orange one, bursting with color and life and magic, Tali thought. And although the room was full of navy and the principal was shaking her head with a look of disapproval, Tali knew it would all be okay.
Tali took the headband and pushed it on her unruly dark curls, skipping down the steps back to her parents in the eighth row, three seats from the left. Her headband was hers — it was orange and sparkly, and just wonderful. She beamed.
The rest of the Hand Out ceremony was uneventful, to the relief of the remaining students and their parents. One by one, each girl walked up the steps, received the navy headband that matched her skirt and all of the other students (all but Tali of the orange headband), and made her way back to her seat. And then, it was over and the audience was free to go home, their first day of their very first year behind them.
Learning changed Tali. It quenched her curiosity and fed her love for new information. It gave her more to think about. She learned that there were more questions than those in her head, and that every question could have many answers, and that sometimes all the answers could be correct.
She learned that the world was so much bigger than she’d ever imagined, and that just because she could only see so far did not mean there was nothing beyond.
But slowly, Navy began creeping into her world.
First it was the second-grade teacher who made Tali get another pencil case. The PE instructor was next. She forbade Tali from bringing her favorite spikey ball to the gym. It didn’t take a year, or even two or three, but slowly, orange began to fade.
As Tali entered the auditorium, her thoughts turned, as they always did, to the first time she had entered the room, five years before. She smiled — she’d been so little! — but it was the same kind of morning today as it had been then, the sun shining through the window and setting everything in the room aglitter. Sixth-grade students came without their parents, so she’d arranged to walk the 20 minutes to the building with her friend Sarah.
As always, the room was full of excited chatter; even though the routine was so familiar, there was still something exciting about how new and fresh the upcoming year felt. Tali and Sarah sat down together, fourth row, fifth seat from the right.
After a few minutes, the principal walked onstage, wearing her intimidating navy first-day suit perfectly pressed and new, glossy patent-leather navy pumps. She stood behind the podium, ramrod straight. The girls quickly quieted down.
“Welcome to your sixth year. It’ll be a year of good work, of stimulating learning, and lots of studying. You aren’t children anymore, and I am sure you’ll live up to our expectations.”
She cleared her throat. “As you may have heard, our longtime sixth-grade teacher has retired. May I welcome Mrs. Jaye, who will be moving up from first grade, as the homeroom teacher for class 6-B.”
The girls smiled. Many of them had wonderful memories of their first-grade year spent with Mrs. Jaye. The teacher walked up the stage stairs and gave her trademark wave. Her green eyes had a few more laugh lines, but otherwise she looked exactly the way Tali remembered her. She was “grateful for the privilege of teaching her students for a second time,” she told the girls, and was “looking forward to another great year together.”
Then the Handing Out started. Sixth grade was the year for loose leafs, the grown-up student accessory. The girls were called up one by one, in alphabetical order. Finally, it was Tali’s turn to receive her gift. Waiting hadn’t gotten any easier, she reflected, as she walked up to the stage.
“Tali?” Mrs. Jaye gave her a quick smile and a wink as she handed her a brand new loose leaf. Brand new and perfectly stiff and useful and… orange. Orange?
She looked up. Her faced burned.
“May I please have a navy one instead?”
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 669)