By Elsie YeaLim Jang, age 13, Shanghai, China
Mr. Sanders is now at the last row, ticking things off in the grade book. He finally gets to me. “Auden, why don’t you have your homework?” he asks.
The last time he had to ask me that question, things went very, very wrong. I gave the horribly unoriginal excuse of how my dog ate my finished algebra worksheet. It’s really hard to come up with excuses when your teacher is also your dad. In this case, he obviously knew that there was no dog in our house or anywhere in the vicinity. He also saw me watch TV all the way to ten o’clock the previous day, and I usually sleep at ten. So I ended up having to redo that worksheet, along with tons of extra work. It wasn’t fun, not at all.
But I smile. Today I’ve got everything planned out. “Oh, well, you see sir—yesterday you were at that faculty meeting from six to eight and… let’s just say that rather unfortunate things occurred then.”
My friends snicker. I’ve filled in some of them with the plan the night before, like any true mate would do.
However, Dad doesn’t look pleased. “Elaborate. What unfortunate things?”
“Before you left, sir, you told me to go finish schoolwork in the study, so I did just that. I decided to start on your assignment first, because you know how much I love quadratic formulas, right? And so I worked super diligently for an entire hour and twenty-seven minutes until I finished all fifty problems,” I start explaining with ease. In reality, I planned and practiced this speech the whole time he was gone, but what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.
I open my mouth again to continue the tale, but Dad stops me. “Well, I’m very glad you finished it. Since solving fifty problems would give any person a very deep understanding on the topic, I’d like you to work this problem up here on the board.”
This is unexpected. I gulp, but thankfully no one notices. “Mr. Sanders, I have to tell you about what happened next! The worksheet I spent so much time and effort on was stolen—I was completely devastated. The middle school counselor said last year that sharing terrible experiences with others makes it easier to deal with!”
Dad rubs his temples. “Go on.”
I take a deep breath, and sniffle a bit for effect. I write a mental note to learn the crying act for future use. “So, after that hour and twenty-seven minutes, I’m just sitting and admiring my hard work for a moment… when all of a sudden! A butterfly flies in through the window!”
For a second, it seems like he believes what I’m saying. Lepidopterophobia is the fear of butterflies and moths, and when I was six, I had to get some serious Lepidopterophobia treatment. Every day, Dad had accompanied me to the hospital, and now at least I don’t faint when I see butterflies. All of this is true.
“Ah, a butterfly,” he says.
I nod enthusiastically. “Yes, a butterfly! It flutters in and has the audacity to sit on the worksheet! I’m extremely terrified of it, so obviously, I shriek like a banshee and shut my eyes tight. When I tentatively open my eyes again, a whole bunch of butterflies are carrying the assignment outside of the window! Can you believe it?”
“No,” Dad replies, crossing his arms. “Now—“
I keep talking anyway. The mirth upon my friends’ faces fuel me. “Of course you don’t believe it. I totally understand. Normal butterflies don’t do this kind of stuff. But they weren’t normal butterflies! They were insane, psychopathic butterflies!”
Dad lifts an eyebrow. “Stop. Auden, you’re not making any sense and you probably didn’t do your homework. Your so-called insane, psychopathic butterflies don’t exist.”
I shake my head vehemently. “How could you say that? Insane, psychopathic butterflies do exist! And, you’re about to hear a terrific eyewitness account from me! But before I begin, I have to ask a very important question.” I point to my best friend forever, Marlowe. “Marlowe, if you spent an hour and twenty-seven minutes on a worksheet, and some freakish butterflies steal it from you, wouldn’t you be mad?”
She nods, just like I told her to last night on the phone. “Absolutely.”
“See? Marlowe would be mad! Well, I was mad, too! I wanted credit for the time and energy I spent! The only rational solution I could come up with at the time is to follow the butterflies, no matter how scared I am of them. So I carefully climb out the window and grab for my homework assignment that they’re carrying. But they’re flying higher, and higher, and higher, and higher, and higher, and higher, and—”
“Auden!” Dad snaps. “Would you just finish this up already!”
“Fine, fine,” I say, albeit not very apologetically. “My point is that they flew so high up into the air with the worksheet until they were fully out of reach… and me being me, I keep running after them. You know, I do believe that one of my top character strengths is perseverance. But that’s when a few other insane, psychopathic butterflies randomly rain down from the sky, and fly into my face. The only word that could describe my experience is ‘traumatic’. After that… ordeal, I’m forced to go inside… and that’s basically it. Insane, psychopathic butterflies were the unfortunate things that made me so devastated… and also the reason for why I don’t have my completed homework today!” I feign a sob.
Dad harrumphs. “Thank you for the detailed report. Now, how about you prove to me that you actually did the assignment by solving the problem on the board?”
“Why, though? I told you everything! You should go punish the insane, psychopathic butterflies! It’s the truth!” I protest.
“I’m ready to take your word for everything if, and only if, you can get the problem on the board,” he retorts. “Get up there and start, or else…”
I take a quick glance at the clock behind Dad’s head. Good, there’s only a minute left of class. I slowly inch my way up to the board, like a prisoner to his execution. I make sure that I go the slowest humanly possible—about a millimeter per second.
Before I get halfway to the board, the bell rings. I swallow down a laugh of triumph and relief as I get back to my seat.
Dad grits his teeth. “Auden Sanders, you and I are going to have a long discussion when we get back home. All of you—class dismissed.”
Everyone could see him seething inside. My classmates and I pile out of the classroom silently—it’s the quietest we’ve been for the whole year.
Suddenly, Jason yells, “Have a good one, Mr. Sanders!”
“Hooray for insane, psychopathic butterflies!” Marlowe whistles happily.
Everyone claps and cheers wildly, for it was probably the best math lesson they have ever had. I receive tons of high fives, and I relish every bit of the glory. It is glory well deserved, because that was the best excuse for missing homework in all of history.
Yes, the best excuse indeed, if I may say so myself.