Late and Afraid
By Luke Zhang
I open my eyes. The sun is shining brightly on my face… Wait, the Sun? School starts way before when the Sun is this bright. In an instant, I jumped up and searched for my watch frantically. After a few seconds of digging through the pile of papers and notebooks, I found my watch, and it read 8:29. I’m late for class! Not wanting to waste a second, I grabbed my school uniform, changed into it, and ran out the door.
I’m a 4th grade student in China. My school starts everyday at 8 AM. I’m usually one of the earliest risers in the school, getting the key and opening the classroom first nearly everyday at 7 AM. My house is a 10 minute walk away from the school, so I go to school alone. Today was one of the rare instances when I woke up late for school. To make the situation worse, my first class today will be taught by Ms. Liu, who is my Chinese teacher and extremely strict. I’ve seen multiple instances of her scolding my classmates to the point of tears. I have no idea how bad being late to class would seem to her. How I wish I could travel back in time to wake up earlier!
I got to school promptly at 8:40, climbing the stairs, each step slower than the last and each second thinking of a worse punishment from my teacher. By the time I reach 4th floor, the punishment I’m thinking of has ascended from a light scolding to harsh scolding, plus standing outside the classroom for the whole day. Driven by my fear of punishment, I walk extremely slowly to my classroom and stop right outside the door. The door was shut tight, but some words were leaking out. Ms. Liu seems to be lecturing the class on an essay. I wanted to push the door open and go into the class, but my feet were frozen. No, my whole body was frozen. I couldn’t move an inch. I listened to the class, trying to find a good time to go in, but every time I decided it was a good time, my body yet again froze and refused to move.
I don’t know how long it had been since I first arrived in front of the door, but I stayed frozen right in front of it. If anyone from inside comes out, surely I'll get knocked to the floor, I thought to myself. I kept on waiting for the time when my body would unfreeze, but it was then that I heard faint footsteps from the other side of the hallway. My heart started beating fast, and sweat dampened my shirt. I stood there, stunned, unable to think of anything. I slowly made out the faint silhouette of a person walking towards me from the other side of the hallway. I already started thinking of excuses to explain why I was waiting outside, carrying my backpack. Luckily, he didn’t seem to pay attention to me and turned and went into a classroom beside him. I let loose my breath, which I had held for a minute or so, and started breathing heavily. I couldn’t think for a second. The relief from not being found made my breath fast and my legs weak. I fell back, feeling my backpack’s weight, stumbled a few steps and bumped onto the wall, making a “thump” sound. My heart started beating fast again. Could Ms. Liu have heard that? Will I be found and punished? Or will I get ignored and dragged into the classroom? I froze, listening for any sound from inside the classroom. I heard Ms. Liu lecturing, I heard her walking towards the door, I heard my own loud, fast breath. And then, I heard footsteps retreating, turning and going the other way.
I kept waiting outside the classroom. But then, right when I let my guard down from what had happened before, new footsteps sounded, steadily approaching in my direction. My body became tense, and my eyes scanned the hallway nervously. I first saw nothing, then a small shadow, then a faint silhouette, then a clear human form. And then I saw him — it was my science teacher. He seemed to notice me as well, and I could see his expression turning from expressionless to confused. He questioned why I was standing outside, and I told him that I was afraid to get scolded. He heard and smiled — one expression that I didn’t expect from him. He told me: “Ms. Liu isn’t that strict. Go in and test for yourself.” Motivated by my science teacher, I knocked on the door and went into the classroom. I’m welcomed by the sight of all of my classmates and Ms. Liu. The bell signaling the end of class rang right at that moment. Ms. Liu turned her head back to the class and announced that class had ended, and turned towards me again. I felt a combination of confusion, surprise, and worry as she asked me where I had been. In broken sentences, I explained how I woke up late and didn’t dare to enter the classroom because of sheer fright. My head dropped when I explained, afraid to face Ms. Liu’s wrath. After I finished, there was a pause — no words spoken for a few seconds. Then Ms. Liu signed, as if making a decision, and said: “Just go back to your seat. Don’t worry about it. It’s fine.” I did as she told me, and sat on my chair, dumbfounded by how light her reaction was.
Thinking about what happened later in the day, I realized that I have been overthinking the whole day. As a student who is usually on time and does work diligently, teachers have no reason to randomly give harsh punishments for being late to class. From that day on, I felt more relaxed when facing my teachers, and my fear of them was gone.