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Freedom Reader: Part Three

by little_bunny_heart


I ran to Mr. Griffith's office the next morning, eager to share what I thought of his book. I'd have to keep it casual, though, not make it seem like this was the first book I'd ever really been able to talk about with somebody else.

      “Hey, Mr. Griffith.” I smiled as I stepped into his office.

      Mr. Griffith looked up from the paperwork on his desk and smiled when he saw me. “Feivel, this is a nice surprise. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

      “I just wanted to tell you I read the first chapter of your book last night. I really liked it. Especially the part where Captain Pike tricked those robbers into giving him all their loot.”

      Mr. Griffith chuckled. “I'm very glad to hear you liked it; it gets even better as it goes on. Just wait til you get to chapter five –”

      He was cut off by the morning bell ringing, the students' final warning to get to class on time. “Well, I gotta go, but thanks for recommending that book to me, Mr. Griffith, I really like it.” I smiled as I walked off, feeling good about reading for the first time since I could remember.

      That feeling was not to last, however.


      As our reading lesson came around, Ms. James stated, “Boys and girls, I have an important announcement to make. For the next two months, we will be working on a very important literary project. You will be writing a story about a victory, either fiction or fact, but something that has to do with either winning something, overcoming an obstacle, achieving something, things like that. These stories must be twenty-five thousand words minimum, and when you are finished with them, you will read them to the rest of the fourth grade classes, who will be reading you their stories as well. This is a big project, and you'll go through many drafts before you get one that's just right, but I know you can all do it, I'm very proud of how hard you've worked this year, and this will just be a good way to cap off everything we've learned about reading and writing.”

      For about two seconds, my heart stopped beating entirely. I heard a sharp ringing in my ears, and I started seeing green and purple spots in front of my eyes. My breath was choked off and I couldn't think straight. Write? Twenty-five thousand words? Read? In front of over a hundred other fourth graders and five teachers? This was a disaster. It was bigger than a disaster, it was the end of my life as I knew it!

      They were all going to discover my secret, the one I'd been trying to hide for almost six years. They were all going to find out I was nothing but a dummy, a slorg-brain, a baby. They were gonna find out I had a cirrus living in my head where my brain should have been. I was no Brain Tree, I was about as bright as a pet rock.

      I thought about what all that meant, about the ostracism, the merciless teasing, the shame. I was going to be an outcast for the rest of my life because I couldn't read.

      I felt my eyes welling with tears behind my glasses, and ducked my head so no one would see. They saw anyway.

      My neighbour, Decker, the yellow Mynci, looked at me, surprised. “Hey Feivel, why are you crying?” he asked, loud enough for the whole class to hear.

      Heads started to turn in my direction as I jumped from my chair and ran from the room, racing down the hallway so my teacher couldn't catch me.

      I didn't know where I was going, but eventually my feet carried me to the most sensible place I could think of. Mr. Griffith's office.

      Not bothering to knock, I burst into the room, which, fortunately, was void of occupants save for the counsellor, and collapsed onto his blue sofa, pulling off my glasses and burying my face in my paws.

      Mr. Griffith was obviously very surprised to see me, especially in my current condition. “Feivel, what's wrong?” he asked, “What are you doing here?”

      For several moments I didn't say anything, I just sat there sobbing quietly as the hot tears coursed down my furry face. Eventually, though, I managed to tell him about the new writing project we'd been assigned.

      Mr. Griffith didn't understand. “I don't get it, Feivel. Are you worried about the amount of work it's going to require? Twenty-five thousand words is a lot, but you have two months to do it in; it won't seem so hard once you –”

      “No!” I snapped, brushing my tears away angrily. I sighed and tried again, “I-it's not the workload. I-I...” I stopped. Did I really want to do this? Did I really want to tell him? What choice did I have? Finally I took a deep breath and said very quietly, “I can't read.”

      Mr. Griffith sat rigidly, staring at me for several minutes before asking incredulously, “What?”

      “I can't read!” I repeated, bursting into tears again. “I've never been able to! I managed to fool everybody, even you. I carry those books around with me to make it look like I can, so nobody asks any questions, but I can't! I barely know half the alphabet, I've never spelled a word right in my life, none of my letters ever go round the right way consistently, and I didn't read that pirate book last night, my mama read it to me! I can't read! I can't read!”

      Mr. Griffith stayed quiet for a long time, thinking. Finally, I stopped crying, and he spoke. “Well, Feivel, I must say, I have no idea how you managed to hide this for six years, but you seem to have done too good a job. Don't worry, though; I think I can help you.”

      “How?” I sniffled, wiping the rest of my tears away as I put my glasses back on, and brought the counsellor's face back into focus.

      He smiled. “It's not going to be easy, but if you're willing to work with me, I think I can teach you to read before your project's due. We'll start tomorrow. I'll explain to your teachers that there are some things I need to work with you on, and pull you out of your reading class every day. Together we'll start with the alphabet, and once you know all of it, we can start on the words. I think that has been the root of your troubles; nobody checked to see that you knew the whole alphabet before trying to teach you to read. No wonder you couldn't learn; you didn't even know the letters. So what do you think? Will you work with me?”

      I nodded eagerly. For the first time, I was excited at the prospect of trying to read. I really believed I could do it this time.


      The very next day, with my hall pass gripped tightly in my paw, I bounded down the corridor with excitement and anticipation. I was going to learn to read!

      I stepped into Mr. Griffith's office more gracefully than I had done the day before, and sat down on the blue sofa.

      Mr. Griffith, who was organising a pile of cards on his desk, turned around and smiled when he saw me. “Hello, Feivel, it's good to see you. You ready for our lesson today?”

      I smiled and nodded. “I'm really gonna do it this time,” I said with as much determination as I could muster.

      “Excellent. Let's begin. I want you to identify as many of these letters as you can,” Mr. Griffith said, holding up the pile of flashcards he'd been organising. He held up a card with a picture of a letter, below which was a picture of a red Acara.

      I recognised this one easily, “'A',” I recited.

      Mr. Griffith nodded. “Good. And this one?” He held up the next card. A bumpy letter and a picture of a Christmas Bori. It looked familiar; I'd seen it on the cover of the book Mama had tried to get me to read the other night.

      “'B'?” I asked tentatively.

      Mr. Griffith smiled. “Yes, very nice.”

      It took a long time, but eventually I got through the whole alphabet, not by myself of course; there were at least a dozen letters Mr. Griffith had set aside to reintroduce in our next lesson, but with him to help me, I'd gotten all the way from A to Z. It was a start, and I was proud of myself. I couldn't wait for my next lesson. I was going to go home and have Mama help me too, so I'd be prepared.

      “Can I have a list of the ones I need to practise?” I asked as I packed up to return to class.

      Mr. Griffith smiled. “Sure, here.” On a piece of paper, he printed neatly with his blue Draik pencil the twelve letters I had missed and handed it to me.

      I folded it up and slid it into my bag. “Thanks,” I said as I left for the day, “Thanks... for everything.”


      That evening, while my siblings were upstairs doing their homework, I showed my list to Mama and asked her if she'd practise with me. She was delighted that I was finally starting to learn after all this time, and readily agreed, fishing through drawers and bookshelves until she had located the stack of old letter flashcards she'd put away once I'd finally declared myself a hopeless case.

      As we sat down on the floor together, Mama asked, “Why didn't you tell me you didn't know all the letters, love? No wonder you could never read when I asked you to; you didn't recognise the shapes, or the sounds they made.”

      I shrugged a little guiltily and tugged absently at the fibres on the carpet. “I dunno,” I mumbled. “I guess I didn't want you to know what a baby I really was. It was bad enough that I couldn't read; I didn't want to make it worse by letting you know I didn't even know my alphabet.”

      We both sighed heavily; every time the issue of my illiteracy came up, it seemed to get more and more complicated.

      Mama, who had arranged the cards so that the ones I didn't know were on top, showed me the first letter; a curvy one with a picture of blueberry jelly on it. It couldn't be a B, I knew, because I knew what a B looked like. I thought about the picture some more. “'J'?” I said after a moment.

      Mama smiled and nodded, revealing the next card. This one was tricky; it was sticking out all over the place. Beneath it was a picture of a yellow Kyrii. I tried the sound out. Kyrii, Kyrii, 'Cu,' 'cu,' 'cuh.' Then I remembered what Mama had said about letters changing their sounds. But this didn't sound like it was going to be 'Keh,' like 'ell' had been.

      Eventually I sighed, “I don't know.”

      Mama looked at it, then said, “'K'.”

      'K', 'K', 'Kay'. So it did have a different sound by itself. I was going to have a hard time remembering all these.

      By the time bedtime came around, I had only gotten through half the letters I was supposed to have practised, but of the ones I had studied, I was definitely improving on. I was going to be able to recognise words in no time.

      After Mama tucked me in and went to bed, I dug my Techo torch out from under my pillow and hid under the covers with a pile of books, identifying as many letters as I could in the titles. It was very late by the time I got through them all, but it was well worth the effort.


      One week later, I bounded into Mr. Griffith's room with very exciting news. “Give me those flashcards, I want to show you something,” I said, grinning with excitement.

      Mr. Griffith obliged me, and I shuffled them so they were out of order, covered up the pictures with my paw, and proceeded to recite each letter in turn. I made it through all of them, out of order, and without pictures. I'd never felt prouder.

      Mr. Griffith beamed when I finished, and reached over and hugged me warmly. “I'm so proud of you, Feivel, when did you learn to do that?”

      “Last night,” I said proudly. “Mama and I worked on them til I could do them perfectly.”

      “That's wonderful,” Mr. Griffith said, releasing me. “You know what that means, don't you?” He reached for his bookshelf. “You're ready to start reading.”

      “Really?” I asked. I was so excited I could hardly speak. For the first time in my life, I'd be able to sound out words properly because I knew what all the letters were.

      Mr. Griffith pulled a thin green book from the shelf and came to sit down with me on the blue sofa, holding it out for me to see. “Okay,” he said. “What's the first word?”

      It was short, only two letters, that I now recognised as 'M' and 'Y'. “M-m-m-m-y-y-y...” I dragged it out slowly. “My?” I asked, looking up.

      “Yes!” Mr. Griffith said excitedly, “Right!” He slid his finger down to the second word, and I started again.

      “F-f-f-i-i-i-i-r-r-r-s-s-s-t-t-t.” I pronounced it 'fyrst', but something didn't sound right. Then I remembered what Mama said about how I's can sometimes sound like short U's. “First?” I tried again.

      “Exactly! You're doing great!” Mr. Griffith was practically jumping out of his seat. He had to compose himself a moment before sliding his finger down to the final word on the page.

      “B-b-b-o-o-o-o-o-o-k... book.” Looking at the title again, I realised I remembered every word. “My First Book,” I recited, smiling.

      And that was only the beginning. I got through four whole pages that day. In one hour, I'd read over twenty words. It was more than I'd ever read in my life.

      As I packed up to go, my eyes shone with tears of gratitude for my teacher, who had become my friend. “Thank you,” I murmured, dropping my blue Jeran backpack on the floor as I reached out to hug Mr. Griffith, “I never could have done it without you.”

      “Nonsense,” Mr. Griffith replied as he returned my embrace, his voice thick with emotion, “You had it inside you all along; all I did was help it come out. You have the strength to learn anything you want to, Feivel. Don't ever forget that.”

      As we parted, I pulled off my glasses to wipe my eyes, and nodded. I'd never forget any of this, that much was certain.

      As the next two months progressed, so did my reading, and subsequently, my writing. I still couldn't spell very well, but all my letters were the right way round, and I knew how to use all of them, so I was able to start my project, and I knew exactly what I was going to write about.

      I read a lot more too; I was able to complete entire children's books in my allotted time with Mr. Griffith, and my record so far was one and a half. I was growing more every day, as a reader, and as a person.

      The day before the project was due, and I was to get up in front of everyone and read what I'd written, I fretted over my work. “It's only five thousand words long,” I said. “I'm twenty thousand words short; I'm gonna fail.” I buried my face in my paper miserably as I sat in Mr. Griffith's office.

      My friend, who had been busy plugging numbers into his computer, turned around and rested his hand on my shoulder. “No, you're not. Once you read that story to everybody, they'll see, they'll understand. And if your teacher does fail you, she'll have me to deal with.” He chuckled his light-hearted threat, and I looked up.

      “Really?” I asked. “You-you're sure they'll understand?”

      “Absolutely. They'll do more than understand; they'll be proud. They'll be proud of how hard you've worked and the incredible feat you've accomplished in such a short time, just like I am. And there's something else I haven't told you.” He smiled.

      “What's that?” I asked, more curious than nervous.

      “I'll be there too. I asked Ms. James if I could sit in and watch, and she said yes, so I'll be there to watch your moment of triumph.”

      I beamed and hugged my teacher, too overcome with emotion to speak. This odd, kind, wonderful blue Zafara with the fascinating taste in bow ties, who had become my best friend and given me everything, his time, his compassion, his love, was going to be there to support me in my final hour. Win or lose, he'd be there to see me through my final battle.

      And he was. As I made my way to the front of the cafeteria and stood behind the microphone to address my one hundred young peers and teachers the next morning, I could see him, sitting with Ms. James in the back row, watching me intently, his eyes shining with tears of joy at our mutual success.

      Then, pulling the microphone from its stand, I looked out at the audience and began shakily, “M-my story isn't as long as yours; it-it's only five thousand words long. But when I'm done with it, you'll see why. This is a true story, it is... my confession, my shame, but also, my greatest triumph. Never before now have I experienced a victory as great as this one, never before have I come as far as I have in so short a time.

      “As I stand here in front of you, I reach the end of my journey, the peak of my success. It is today that will measure how much I have accomplished, and so, I give you... my story.”

      With that preamble, I took a deep breath, looked down at my neatly typed, correctly spelled paper, and I read, “'Hey, here comes ol' freakazoid!'

      “'Look out, guys, it's the walking Brain Tree!'

      “'Hey there, Window-Eyes, read any good dictionaries lately?'

      “I sighed, keeping my head low as I slunk past my tormentors and up the stone steps to school, using the book I was holding as a buffer. The cruel names didn't phase me much anymore; I'd since gotten used to them. In fact, I heard them so often at school that I sometimes forgot my own name.....'”

The End

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» Freedom Reader: Part One
» Freedom Reader: Part Two

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