“Ugh, of all the stupid assignments…”
She grumbled to the wet asphalt below her stomping feet, as the water splashed around her already drenched sneakers. In one hand she held her open umbrella, knuckles white and straining. In the other she clutched a camera bag protectively to her chest.
If this thing gets wet, Brianna’s going to kill me for sure, she thought as she continued her trek to stand in front of the
downtown university building.
She tried to gather her courage to approach an umbrella-wielding man in white shorts and black T-shirt who walked out of the university building, but lost her nerve as he slid past her and entered the bookshop next-door. She grit her teeth and resolved to ask the next person to exit. A relieved sigh escaped her lips when she saw a young woman around her age struggling to open a bright pink umbrella.
“Hi! I’m sorry to interrupt you. My name is Sarah and I’m a student here with an assignment I could use your help–”
She let her voice trail away as pinky pushed past her once the umbrella was open without so much as an “excuse me”. Resigning herself to get an “F” for this assignment, Sarah shuffled past the bookstore and stopped when something caught her attention. She looked in through the display window. The man she had seen earlier made his purchase and was about to walk out the door. Her squishy shoes spluttered little fountains of water as she nervously shifted her weight. The man had walked out with his bag and taken two steps before her mouth listened to her brain.
“E-excuse me, sir.”
She swallowed the rest of her rehearsed speech. So many minutes in front of the mirror practicing, completely wasted. She really hated her professor right then.
Sarah blinked, blood rushing to her face. In her panic, she hadn’t heard a single thing he said. She looked up at his bearded, smiling face and found a little courage stuck somewhere in her drenched sneakers.
“I-uh. Have this assignment where…I need to take a picture.”
She held up the camera bag for him to see. He looked confused but nodded for her to go on.
“I’m studying to be a teacher, you see, and this professor I’m taking class with thought it was a great idea to interview other students from the university about their school experiences. We’re supposed to wait outside the building and interview people who step out. I saw you and…he said to ask…um…it’s silly. He said to ask you to think about the happiest school moment you had while growing up and to…express your happiness in a way that can be caught with a camera…”
Again she held up the camera case and felt like crying. She focused her eyes on his black umbrella to avoid his gaze.
“So let me get this straight. I have to think about the happiest moment I had in school as a kid and then I have to…act out how I felt so you can take a picture of it?”
She nodded. “Yeah, and then I ask you what that moment was and we take it from there.”
His sudden laughter surprised her and she looked up. His wide smile was contagious so she smiled back.
“That is the weirdest assignment I’ve ever heard of, but I’ll help you out. Take out that camera and get ready to take that picture.”
Her eyes widened to match her smile.
“Really? Oh, thank you so much! You have no idea what this means to me.”
Nervous and excited fingers fumbled to get the camera out.
“The name’s Mark. Get ready!”
Sarah held the camera ready and almost forgot to snap the picture when Mark smiled as widely as his face allowed, jumped into the air, books, umbrella and all, and clicked his heels together before landing again and letting out a Tarzan-like howl.
She couldn’t stop laughing even when she saw the people around her making wide berth or crossing the street as they came near. Mark joined her and she thought his reddening ears were really cute.
“Maybe we should get off the street”, he suggested, pointing to the bookstore. Sarah nodded and tried to get her giggling under control.
Mark bought her some coffee and they sat down to enjoy the instrumental music in the bookstore.
“Mark, I have to know, what was your happiest moment in school? An “A” on a test? You won a medal? A girl you liked agreed to go out with you? You single-handedly won a sports game? What?”
Mark was smiling and shaking his head.
“Nothing as grandiose as all that, but something better.” He stared into his coffee cup for a few seconds before looking at her again.
“I was that happy the day I learned to read.”
Sarah blinked, uncomprehending.
“Read? You mean, you could read before everybody else? It was some kind of competition for you in Kindergarten or something?”
“Hardly…I had this learning disability–still do, actually–and no matter how hard I tried I just didn’t get reading and I hated it. Then one day, I think it must have been when my mom was close to losing all hope, that something clicked and I finally got it and I read an entire sentence without help. And I actually understood it! It was as if I had been a cactus in the middle of a desert and then suddenly surrounded by an oasis…It was the most wonderful feeling in the world. I felt I could do anything after that. That happened in fourth grade.”
Sarah sat in stunned silence. She tried wrapping her mind around what Mark told her. Suddenly she understood what this assignment was all about. She looked at his open, friendly face, his bag of books, his casual attire and his deep brown eyes, sparkling with intelligence and something else…
Sarah leaned towards him.
“Tell me more.”