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Cover Story


Air Raid!



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The words were repeated in whispers around the classroom. “Air raid! We’re going to have an air raid!”

“What’s an air raid?” asked Marcy Fletcher, who had just transferred from another school.

“Don’t you know there’s a war?” asked Mike, striking his forehead.

“War?” squeaked Sanford in a Mickey Mouse voice.

“Not a real war, silly,” said Kim, giving Sanford a withering look.

“Marcy, it’s great fun. It’ll be absolutely, positively hysterical. See, what we do is—”

“Talk fast!” hissed Mike. “He’s coming. Where is he, Shaun?”

The tall boy stationed at the classroom door answered, “He’s passing the biology lab.”

Tina took over Kim’s explanation. “Just watch Shaun. It won’t happen till the class is about half over. Shaun’ll jump up and yell ‘Air raid!’ Then everyone’ll hit the floor and crawl under their desk.”

“It’s a scream!” laughed Kim.

Marcy was giggling. “What a crazy idea! What do you think Mr. Teal will do?”

“Have a nervous breakdown!” said Tina. “I never saw such a walking basket case in my life.”

“We’ll have to spoon him off the floor,” said Mike happily. “And a basket won’t hold him. Mr. Teal will be a bucket case!”

Two rows away, Andrea hung her head over her notebook, scribbling pictures all over her homework paper. She was wishing she were somewhere else. Anywhere else. For this was one air raid she was not going to be able to do. She felt the old burning in her cheeks, but knew from experience that she didn’t blush visibly.

Maybe it was her rigid doodling that alerted Kim. “Andrea, you will do it, won’t you?” she asked.

Tina and Marcy followed Kim in surrounding Andrea. “It won’t work unless every single one of us goes down on the floor.”

“You’ll spoil it if you don’t,” said Marcy.

Tina spoke in a winning voice. “You’re our friend, Andrea. We want you in on this with us.”

Andrea looked up. They were not her friends. Her silent, unresponsive attitude discouraged friendships. Andrea couldn’t help it. She wanted to be friendly, but every time she tried to speak, the friendly words froze in her throat. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I can’t.”

Mr. Teal was coming through the door. “Please, please,” whispered Tina desperately. “We’d really like you to.”

“I’m sorry,” she whispered back, feeling tears sting behind her eyes.

 

Code of honor

As the girls hurried to their seats, Andrea frowned down at her sketches, not seeing them. It was her code of honor. 

My stupid code, she thought. She wasn’t even sure when she had come up with an idea like her code of honor. Maybe it was back when she built tree houses and formed secret clubs. That was a long time ago, when it had been easy to make friends, before life got tough. Before she was silent.

Andrea’s code of honor was a list of vows. She had pledged them to herself at different times in her life. One vow was never to show fear. Another was always to remember a kindness. And never to betray a friend.

Her latest vow, the one that was causing the problem today, had been made three years ago among some of these same classmates. One afternoon when she was humiliated on the playground, she had looked at the silence within and had made the vow: “I will not humiliate another person.”

Looking up at Mr. Teal through her tousled hair, she thought he was a ready-made victim. He was not capable of handling the unexpected.

The funny thing was that Andrea didn’t like Mr. Teal any more than her classmates did. He was an irritable, rabbity-looking man who didn’t seem to like the students any more than they liked him.

Andrea had never heard him say anything nice to anyone. He needed a good laugh to loosen him up. But as Tina and Mike had noticed, he appeared to be under a lot of stress. 

“Vulnerable,” she said to herself. That was the word. The air raid was not meant to loosen him up and make him laugh. It was the crowning effort of several weeks of confrontations.

From the playground she had learned the difference between fun and meanness. This was mean, and she was scared. Her code of honor wouldn’t let her join the air raid. But what would happen to her after class?

She looked longingly at the exit. If she could leave, they could have their air raid. She could save her code of honor by not being present. But seven rows of students were between her and the only door of escape. She would have to stay and make a choice. There was no compromise.

Mr. Teal was well into his lecture. His nasal voice went on and on. Andrea did not hear a word of it.

When would Shaun yell?

What then?

Code of honor, Andrea chided herself. No one else knew she had this code. It wasn’t tacked to a wall for everyone to see.

I can’t stand Mr. Teal, she mourned, as the black pointers on the clock moved forward. Why take this risk for him? And once I do, what clever punishment will Tina think up for me after class?

She remembered eighth grade, when Tina and friends decided to shadow her. They pursued her everywhere she went. She couldn’t even go to the bathroom in privacy.

Their laughter echoed after her even now. To this very day she still had no defense against them but her silent will not to give in.

The code of honor is all I have, thought Andrea. I can’t talk back cleverly. Can’t stand up for myself. Sometimes I can hardly look up at all. But I take pride in making my own decisions. It’s all I have.

Suddenly a tall form flashed up out of his seat. Shaun yelled in a terrible voice, “Air raid!”

 

Rebels

Without a word the class members plunged out of their chairs and huddled under their desks. Andrea sat rigidly in her place, staring straight ahead. She felt cold all the way through. She was an exile in a desolate plain of desktops. She felt as if she were in Siberia.

A slight movement to the left caught her eye. Someone was still seated in one of the desks in the row by the wall. To her right she saw another sitting form. She wasn’t alone! Out of 30 students, she was not the only rebel. She was one of three! Who else?

She turned quickly to identify one, then the other. Her companions were a boy and a girl. The boy’s name was Toby, but that’s all she knew about him. She had secretly nicknamed him “the little sea captain” because his coloring was that of sand and sea. And he was short but stocky and walked as though he could master rolling ship decks. The girl was Celeste, daughter of a rich man. Celeste had once tried to be her friend, but Andrea had not been able to be friendly in return. But she remembered, and always would.

She shook herself out of her amazement to see how Mr. Teal was doing. He had not fallen apart. They were not going to have to spoon him into a bucket. He was angry.

“Very funny, very funny,” he snapped. “Not one of you move for 15 minutes. That’s right. Stay under your desks just as you are.”

He looked at the three rebels. “I see we have three mature people in our class. I am awarding bonus points to the grades of Toby, Andrea, and Celeste.”

Scribbling pictures on a clean sheet of paper, Andrea avoided his eyes. “You’ve missed the point, Mr. Teal,” she wanted to say. “I don’t need your reward. I know who I am and that I can stand on my own. That is better than bonus points.”

But, as ever, the words that stood so crystal clear in her mind would not come out. Andrea sat with bowed head, sketching in her furious silence. Then a little smile softened her tense features. Out of the flowing ink of her pen had soared three winged horses.  

 

This story originally appeared in the February 4, 1989, issue of Insight. At that time Debra Wint was a freelance writer who also worked in the social work department at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She’s the author of several books under the name Debra Anne Wintsmith, including Precious Jewels: A Seventh-day Adventist Family Saga and Church School Blues.

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