An hour and a half. That was all the time that remained of having to pretend I was paying attention to the horrid lesson over video conferencing. Everyone’s faces were drawn with similar dull gazes, looking into the several-years-behind webcams built into the mass produced laptops we had been provided. The teacher was no different, save being contractually obligated to make sure every minute of the session was crammed with an entire day’s worth of knowledge. The best we could do to appease her was to nod our heads in response to her provocations of our knowledge.
“Alright, I’ll move on then.”
“Davy, are you chewing gum?”
Nodding- wait no.
I struggled to hit the unmute button to make my case. “I uh, sorry, I just-”
It had long since lost its minty flavor after being gnashed around between my teeth since before the meeting began. The movement of my jaw to appease my ancient carnal instincts as well as my more modern anxiety had become secondary at that point. “You know the school rules, no gum at school.”
“I’ll just spit it out-” I said, darting back and forth just at the edges of the camera’s field of view, looking for the wrapper or a scrap piece of paper.
“No, you’ve wasted enough time for us this week already,” Mrs. Kay huffed. “You were late Monday, and you had no answer for me when I called on you Wednesday.”
“And now you’re talking back to me. You’re off to the principal,” she glared at me, or at least the camera she was sat in front of. “You have his link? I’m sending him an email right now, so you better be there ASAP, buddy.”
Before I could defend myself, I heard the jingle of the call disconnecting me. Somewhere deep in my emails encompassing weeks of assignments and communications, I found the link to the principal’s own ‘disciplinary’ meeting. The waiting room welcomed me with a message of ‘Please wait to be dealt with. Do not minimize or exit out of this screen, and do not leave your device unattended.’
Five minutes passed. And then five more. And then just when I was about to fall asleep at the wheel, the jingle rang out. I was let in. There was the principal; round-faced, bald-headed, and complexion red as could be. I held my breath as he looked at me through his camera with studious eyes. When his mic unmuted, I heard the chuckling in the background, followed by the man’s final guffaw and a huff to catch his breath.
“Funny ladies here in the office,” he mentioned. “Uh, what brings you here?”
“Mrs. Kay probably sent you a message.”
The principal bit at his lip. “Don’t tell me what probably or didn’t probably happen. You’re here for a reason, aren’t ya?”
“Here it is,” he interrupted. “Davy, three strikes. Disruption, insubordination, violation of decency standards. What’s this last one?” He asked with a puzzled tone.
“Gum chewing, proba- it was for chewing gum.”
The principal looked at me with a disappointed look. “You’re a junior, you should know that rule by now. And in class, too.”
“I’m-” I began, glancing behind my back to the corners of the room that was certainly none other than my bedroom in a house whose mortgage was solely being paid for by my parents. “I’m at home.”
There was a finger snapping through the camera and mic at me. “Look at me when you’re speaking. Your house, my house, the school- no gum. Anywhere. If that were it, I could get you out of here, but that seems like it was the final straw this week. Do you know how much Mrs. Kay and the other teachers work to keep things together, to keep teaching in these trying times?”
“Sure.” He repeated, leaning back in his chair. “Well, as per the rules, we’re giving you an at-school suspension.”
“I’ll give you the link for Mr. Butch’s detention room, it will have to do. Finish up the day there, and the rest of the week for good measure. Any questions?”
“What.. should I do?”
“It’s detention, son.” The principal clicked his tongue. “No talking to each other. Just sit there and do your work. No goofing off on other sites.”
A hopefully farewell to all the zoom meetings held this year.