The Time to Listen
For anyone who has felt like screaming at the top of their lungs in a crowded room, knowing that no matter how loud they are, no one will listen to them, I have a story for you. My name is Jordan, and I am a blue Techo, and when I was in Neoschool I had an experience that I will treasure and despise for the rest of my life.
It was my first day at Neoschool. My owner took me up the front steps, and I was pretty scared. At the time, I was very young and particularly small for my age. Just climbing stone steps themselves seemed like ascending a steep, rocky mountain, at the summit of which was a roaring blizzard. Actually, at the top of the stairs were two double doors, but as soon as my owner led me inside, I found myself wishing for snowfall after all.
Instead, I was surrounded by an overwhelming cacophony of young voices shouting loudly and charging throughout the room like wild beasts. It took me several seconds to process the information, but I eventually realized that I was in a crowd of young Neopets like myself who were arriving for their first day of Neoschool with their owners. They seemed like giants to me, jumping up and down and yelling several inches above my head. Of course, the owners were so tall that their heads seemed to be lost in the clouds, but the towering young Neopets were enough to make me latch onto my owner’s arm for dear life.
My owner’s words from the night before flashed through my mind. “Don’t worry. Everyone will be trying to make friends right away. Just introduce yourself, and everything will be fine.” Glancing up at him, I saw my owner give me a gentle smile, so I released my grip on his arm and took a step into the fray. Looking around nervously, I tried to find a classmate who was not actively involved in trying to win what appeared to be a race to see who could circle the room the most times. A red Acara caught my eye. She was holding onto her owner’s hand, much like I had been a moment before, although she seemed more calm than scared. I approached.
“Hi, I’m Jordan, and it’s my first day here too,” I said, happy to get the sentence out without being knocked over by one of the rampaging Neopets.
“Hi,” she said, or at least, I thought that was what she said. I could see her mouth move, but a nearby Shoyru had let out a shriek that had drowned out any other sound.
“What’s your name?” I asked the Acara, but apparently I had stood in the same spot for too long, and a big Buzz had decided that I ought to get moving like the rest of the Neopets and flew into me, knocking me over like a bowling pin.
“Jordan!” My owner hurried to my side and helped me up. I brushed off my arm and turned to face the Acara, but she was now facing the opposite side of the room. I felt rather annoyed at first, but then I noticed that several of the owners had scooped up their Neopets and silenced them. Turning to face in the same direction as everyone else, I peered through the jungle of legs to see a Pteri standing at the other side of the room.
“Welcome, everyone!” she said loudly. The murmurs of the young Neopets died away. “I hope that all of you are ready to learn, because today is our very first day of class!” A perpetual smile had drawn wrinkles across the teacher’s face, and I was not eager to be alone with her and a classroom of rowdy Neopets. “Say goodbye to your owners, everyone, and be ready to make lots of new friends!” she continued. “Today we’ll get to learn all about the letters of the alphabet, so I hope you’re ready for a fun day! Pickup will be at two o’clock.”
As the owners bent down to bid farewell to their Neopets, I could hear a chorus of tears erupting from around the room. Willing myself not to do the same, I remarked to my owner, “I already know the alphabet.”
“I know,” he said. “Just try to have fun today, okay? I’ll be back in a few hours.” He smiled at me and followed the other owners outside, and I watched them go as if they had just dropped us all off at the pound.
Reluctantly, I turned back to face those who remained. Several faces were damp with tears, and others were wide-eyed and frightened, and still others seemed not to mind whatsoever that they had just been left to spend the day tracing letters on pieces of construction paper. The teacher motioned for us to come closer. I did not want to obey. “Well, class, I hope you’re ready for a fun day!” I distinctly thought I remembered her speaking the same words just moments ago, and they were even less convincing now. “If you will all sit down please, we can begin.”
For the first time, I noticed the room that we were all standing in. The walls were covered in blank chalk boards that had titles such as “honor students,” “class rules,” and “today’s exercises.” The ground was covered in a checkered carpet, with each colorful square containing a different shape. I sat down on top of a purple trapezoid as the teacher moved over to the board entitled “today’s exercises.” Picking up a piece of pink chalk, she wrote a large letter “A” on the board. “Does anyone know what this is?” she asked the class.
Nearly every Neopet in the room raised their hand, including myself. A Zafara suddenly burst into tears, apparently because she did not know the answer. “Yes?” asked the teacher, pointing to the red Acara I had noticed earlier.
“It’s the letter A,” said the Acara with a wide smile.
“Very good!” cried the Pteri with unnecessary enthusiasm. “Now who can tell me what this letter is?” Realizing that I was in for an incredibly boring day, I scanned the rest of the room for anything of interest. The rest of the students were fidgeting on their carpet squares, and the teacher seemed to be absorbed in her lesson, so I felt quite safe tuning her out for a while.
The room was filled with bright colors, but nothing I saw seemed to be the least bit entertaining. There were posters on the wall with tiresome slogans such as “Be Nice to Everyone” and “H.I.G.H. – Homework Is Great Help.” There was a pile of wooden blocks stacked neatly in one corner, and the teacher’s desk sat against a wall, empty except for an apple sitting on top of it that seemed to be made of plastic. A little barn contained a mountain of old plushies, and the names of all the students were written on stars that were pasted onto the windows.
Turning to the rest of my classmates, I found little satisfaction. The Zafara who hadn’t known the letter “A” was wiping her eyes, the Buzz who had knocked me over was twitching his wings as if he were about to explode at any moment, and a yellow Mynci was probing his ear with a grubby finger. The red Acara was sitting closest to the teacher, naming letters of the alphabet, and the rest of the students were either listening carefully or nodding off. Overall, I could find nothing in the whole room that was interesting in the least.
Since I was sitting close to the barn full of plushies, I inched quietly off of my purple trapezoid to occupy a box with a teal octagon, which was closer to the barn. Perhaps I could find a Jeran toy to play with, or maybe Lord Kass. Unfortunately, as I opened the little red door, the first plushie I saw was a rosy-cheeked Illusen doll who smiled and stared blankly at me with her green eyes. Moving her aside, I realized that the teacher had been anticipating a class full of either infants or all girls, because there was not a single plushie in the entire barn that could offer me any enjoyment. Frowning, I tried to shove them all back through the red door, but apparently Illusen was happy to be free of her prison, because I couldn’t shove her back inside with all the others. Leaving her to lean against the door, I turned back to see that the teacher had started on the numbers, and the red Acara was counting slowly from one to ten.
I glanced at the clock, but the big blue hands only reminded me that I had not yet learned to tell time. Hoping that it was nearly two o’clock, I turned back to the little red barn. The Illusen doll slumped against the closed door, as if she had just been dropped from a great height. I glared at her, as if accusing her for all of my boredom. She winked.
At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Blinking, I glanced around the room. None of the other students seemed to have noticed anything out of place; they were still listening to the teacher at the front of the room. I stared back at the Illusen doll, but she remained motionless. Now, I was very young at this time, and so it made perfect sense for me to lean over to the Lupe next to me and say, “I think that doll just moved.”
He stared at me like I was some sort of alien. Without a word, the Lupe turned back around to resume tapping the carpet with his paws. “No, I’m serious,” I insisted. “She winked at me.”
“Maybe she likes you,” he said without turning around.
Frowning, I turned back to glare at the doll once more. Thanks a lot, I thought at her. She waved.
This time, I was sure that it was real. I actually saw her stuffed arm rise into the air and wave at me. As her hand dropped back to her side, I leaned back over to the Lupe and hissed, “Did you see that? Did you see that?”
“See what?” he asked, still absorbed in his paw-tapping.
I sought help from the Xweetok behind me. “Did you see that doll move?”
“No,” she said. “Maybe it’s a magical plushie.”
“Yeah,” sniggered the Lupe. “Why don’t you play with it? Maybe it will turn you into a girl.”
The Mynci in front of me giggled. “What’s going on back there?” asked the teacher, pausing in her demonstration of how to properly form the lowercase letters.
“Nothing,” said the Lupe, prodding the carpet with his paw.
“Do you think it’s magical?” I asked the Xweetok in a low whisper. I’d heard of magical plushies before.
“No,” she said quietly. “I think you imagined it.”
“I didn’t imagine anything!” I insisted, and the Lupe and Mynci suppressed more giggles. “I’m telling the truth! Why doesn’t anyone believe me?” I felt myself turning a little bit red, but it didn’t matter. Why did everyone think I was lying?
A few heads turned in my direction. Obviously, the news was spreading in classic Neoschool fashion. By the time the whispers reached the other end of the room, I was sure that the story would have evolved to include Doctor Sloth and a weapon stolen from the hidden tower. Frustrated, I glared back at the Illusen doll. She didn’t move.
“Hey, look,” whispered the Mynci sitting in front of me. Glancing warily at the teacher, he leaned back and pulled a pink Cybunny plushie from the barn. “This plushie is going to fly me out the window.”
Giggles erupted from the nearby area, and the teacher put down her chalk. “What is going on over there?” she demanded, threading her way across the checkered carpet to stare reproachfully down at me.
Not yet accustomed to common Neoschool etiquette, I told the truth. “That doll moved.”
There was no effort at suppressing the laughter this time. The whole room seemed to explode into hysteria, and I was sure that my head was going to burst. What was their problem? I wasn’t making anything up.
“The doll moved?” repeated the teacher, inspiring a new wave of giggles. “I think you were just imagining things,” she said, forcing a mechanical smile over her face.
“Actually, I’m pretty sure—”
“That’s all,” she said, moving back to the front of the room. I stared angrily at the rest of the class, who watched me with barely-concealed smiles. “Now, if I can continue without interruption, we shall practice writing the alphabet on the board.”
As the red Acara stood up to write on the chalk board, I fumed on my teal octagon square. That Illusen doll had moved, I was sure of it. But how to prove it? I glanced at her again, and she gave me the slightest nod. I knew that no one else had seen it. Her rosy complexion mocked me, and I leaned forward and grabbed her arm.
I don’t know what I had been expecting. Perhaps I was hoping that she would draw back from me, or make some sort of motion when I touched her. Instead, as I stood up with the doll dangling from my fingers, the teacher said, “Jordan, I think that’s quite enough!” She stormed over toward me, her false smile gone from her face, as the class sat wide-eyed. “Give me that,” she said.
“Doesn’t anyone believe me?” I asked helplessly. I caught the red Acara’s eye. “Don’t you believe me?” I asked.
“No,” she said quietly, and I felt the world collapse around me.
“Why doesn’t anyone believe me?” I yelled at the top of my lungs. The teacher grabbed me and dragged me out of the room as the students looked on in silence. I felt like everyone in the world was against me. For the first time in my life, I felt truly alone.
The teacher talked to me for a minute outside, and then she let me come back in. I don’t even remember what she said, I was so mad. Even at that young age, I could wonder why other Neopets were so quick to judge, and so keen on finding fault. I wasn’t lying, and they had no proof that I was. So why were they so eager to giggle at me? I was convinced that if another student had told me they’d seen something interesting, I would believe them.
But as I walked back into the room, I couldn’t find a single sympathetic face. The teacher sat me back down on my octagon, and then she resumed the lesson. I threw the Illusen doll back at her red barn, where she landed awkwardly against the door.
Although I was very young at the time, I was still able to realize what a shame it all was. My discovery could have been something brilliant and exciting. It should have been. As a very small young Neopet, I could still reflect on the fact that so many of life’s joys and mysteries are lost simply because no one will take the time to listen.