There are 33 of them set in pairs, in three neat columns. There used to be 34, but shortly into the year, one disappeared. I know this because it makes the columns uneven, and one loner never has a partner.
I watch them go from orderly columns into a sea of waves every day. I push each chair in at the end of the day, thinking about how tomorrow someone will only push them out again. I sweep the dark brown hair away from the chair legs, finding inevitably more hair later. I erase the drawings, markings, and words as best I can on the desks, knowing that tomorrow something new will take its place. Maybe it will be in English, maybe not. I pull out the trash from inside, leaving the “useful phrases” lamination only. I shake my head at the chip bags and odd assortment of wrappers I pretended not to notice during their consumption.
Every morning I raise the blinds with “English” pictures on them and open the windows to allow in some cool, fresh air. Later the room will get stuffy and hot with sweat. I glance at the AC unit mocking me in its silence, guessing at least five people will ask me to turn it on today, although I have no control over it (and it never goes on). I push the whiteboards open, ignoring the fingerprints all over my TV powerpoint screen (the glare is so bad anyways), and again wonder what the shiny green board is for. I may never know.
These desks and chairs aren’t particularly exceptional pieces of furniture; they are durable and functional, places too small to rest a person’s legs comfortably. But I’ve fallen in love with them because my students sit in them. They remind me of a life, a moment of learning, and the possibility of illumination. They remind me of 50 minutes of English struggle and overcoming or a battle for another day. In their unsuccessful attempt to constrain, they remind me that youth is energetic adventure and that education is an exploration.
So, I love these blinds with their stupid pictures and the windows that hint at freedom. I love the teasing AC unit, the TV glare that makes it impossible to watch movies, and the sound of the whiteboards sliding into place at the end of the day. They are witnesses and sidekicks to the happenings unfolding in this room.
I think about how in 3 days, I’ll say goodbye to this room. To these desks and chairs. To the girls who sit in them or don’t sit in them. It’s strange to realize that this room feels like home. In about a month, another person will stand in my place and push 33 orange chairs into 33 desks. It feels like trespassing.
These desks don’t notice who is cleaning them, and the chairs don’t notice whose hands are moving them. The windows will continue to open and shut without me there to do it; someone else will unlatch them. This room and the things in it will grow changed—dirty, used, and broken, but it won’t care. It will silently bear the history within these walls as an indifferent witness. As students come and go, they will etch records on the surface of this room, dents deepening over the years with no reproach or celebration.
This room is so impartial, impassive. A part of me fears these desks and chairs for their impassiveness. They don’t realize that they inhabit a space that has seen more battles than any battlefield will, victories and defeats hashed out in the name of growth and education. I want them to feel my joy, sorrow, struggle, and laughter as I felt it each day. I want them to remember the girls who sat in their seats and graced them with their presence. But they don’t remember and the room doesn’t notice. It doesn’t notice the haircuts, hear the hilarious workings of language, or smell the sometimes intolerable stench of summer and youth.
And because it doesn’t notice, this room will pull traitor and say nothing when someone comes to take my place. This room, empty and apathetic, is a cold reminder that this space isn’t really mine. There is no fence, nothing to trespass over.
I feel the room staring at me, unapologetic, reminding me it’s time to leave. The last bell has rung, the night is seeping in, and the bits of dust are settling. But I don’t want to go, not yet. I want to wait a little longer and will this room to remember me.
An orange chair beckons me to sit; the standoff is broken. We understand each other. In a little bit, I will pack up and turn off the lights. I will close the door and slide the lock into place. Turning, I will move through the darkened hallway past the rooms of sleepy, studying students and go out into the cool, forgiving night. I will walk away from the 33 desks with the 33 chairs and I will remember the students who chose to sit in them each day.