I wait longer than I should.

Instead of walking over to him — to ask if he’s OK, suggest he take a walk, encourage him to join his peers — I watch. My other students’ chatter and laughter brightens today’s grayness, but he stands alone, forehead pressed against the window. From across the room, I imagine that he’s looking between, rather than at, the falling rain. I wonder what draws him to the dimness, why he feels that’s where he should be.

The next time I see him transfixed is the morning I bring plants to school. Not only is he the only one who notices, he walks toward one — off to the side, on top of a filing cabinet — as if he already knew exactly where it would be. He stands close enough to it that its leaves brush his nose. This time, I don’t wait.

“Hey, lovely,” I say, walking over to him. “I didn’t know you like plants.”

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“Yeah.” He doesn’t move. “My mom loves them.”

I think of the time a few months ago when I called his mother but spoke with his older brother instead. “My mom’s dealin’ with some stuff right now,” he’d said. “You can just tell me what’s goin’ on.”

Touching my lovely’s shoulder, I say, “I do, too. We gotta start class, but, if you want, I’d love for you to help me take care of the plants.”

He doesn’t look at me, but he nods. “That’d be cool.”

Weeks pass of him following our schedule of watering and pruning. Some days, I need to remind him the plants need his attention; when I offer to do it instead, he always shakes his head. “No, I want to.”

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One day, his social worker pulls me aside in the hall. “I’m just curious how he’s been doing in class,” she says quietly. “He’s got a lot going on at home, you know, with his mom relapsing a few months ago and everything.”

“No, I didn’t know about his mom,” I almost say. But instead, I pause. Think about the gentleness with which he’s handled the plants. The times I’ve seen him sitting, leaving, reading — alone.

I wonder if, maybe, somehow, I actually did know.

I only bring up his mother once: The day he stays after school to complete make-up work. He’s almost finished when I say, “I hope you know how much I appreciate you taking care of the plants, lovely.”

He doesn’t look at me, but he nods.

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“How about you take one home for your mom?” I pick up the pot closest to me. “Didn’t you say she loves plants?”

Again, he nods.

“You should give her this one.” I place it beside him on the desk. “And make sure she knows you’ve been the one taking care of it. I bet she’d love that.”

“All right,” he says. “Cool.”

I smile. “I need to go make copies real quick. If you finish before I come back, you can just leave your work right there, OK?”

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I wait to leave until he nods one more time. When I return a few minutes later, he’s gone, his work sitting on his desk.

And beside it, the plant that was meant to be his mother’s.

kerry.graham@thebaltimorebanner.com

Kerry Graham is a Baltimore City Public Schools teacher and a creative in residence for The Baltimore Banner.

Kerry Graham is part of The Baltimore Banner's Creatives in Residence program, which amplifies the work of artists and writers from the Baltimore region. 

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