One student, Cindy, will leave our class next semester. She’s the oldest of 3 and as a result, is often left to her own devices. Her English is extremely poor but she tries her best considering she has no support at home. She spent most of the semester sitting next to a high-achieving trilingual Russian girl and the two of them became a very good team. Cindy loves to sing and dance and was supposed to be the star of our class’s Christmas show, but around the holiday her mom randomly decided our school was not a good fit and that other obligations trumped St. Paul. As a result, she had another dance show she was supposed to participate in on the same day and her mom took her to that show instead, much to Cindy’s disappointment. An understudy sang her part.
The children usually eat lunch in our classroom, but Cindy can always be found getting seconds in the cafeteria downstairs. When they serve egg and tomato I eat the cafeteria food, and on one such day Cindy came and sat with me. I was reading Breakfast of Champions using a 50 yuan note as a bookmark. She was dismayed by the money in the book and told me her mom had given her the perfect solution, she would give it to me after lunch. Later I was allowed to pick from a small assortment of animal bookmarks a dog page-saver of my very own.
The last day of the semester I again ate lunch with her and we spoke in Mandarin about her next adventure. She told me her mom didn’t like our school and thought it was too hard, but she didn’t want to leave. In our conversation when I was uncertain of a grammar pattern I would ask her “Teacher Cindy, should I say it this way or that way?” and she would patiently pronounce each word back to me. I told her I started learning Mandarin much later than she is starting to learn English, and that even though it’s hard if she practices every day, eventually she will speak English much better than I speak Mandarin. She laughed at the idea.
After the bell finally rang to signal the semester was entirely over, Cindy loitered around the classroom. Lily and I let her and encouraged other students to hug her goodbye. Cindy asked me if I had her mom’s WeChat.
No, but Lily has my WeChat.
Oh, can she give it to my mom?
Of course Cindy!
She must have said goodbye a dozen times. She would poke her head in the open doorway, “Miranda, bye bye! Lily, bye bye!” and slowly begin walking away, only for her to reemerge through the same door but a minute later. After so many (so many!) goodbyes, I offered to walk her to her bus. She held my hand the whole way.
Cindy will be missed.