I didn’t understand. If that boy couldn’t read, why was he up there? The girl they originally had hosting the ceremony didn’t show, but why they put that boy there? Just because he volunteer for everything? You can’t read off enthusiasm. It made the whole school look trash. All he had to do was basically read the name of someone he already knew or sound out the first part and guess. He looking down at the paper like it’s an awkward lift. If he mispronounced my name, I’d snatch the mic and say, “Say it correctly. De-ra-ja-nae, boy! I know you. We know each other. Sound it out. Guess better. Use what’s around you.” 

People wanted to hear they name said so they could leave. He was up there at the podium holding the mic sideways to his mouth with a weak spotlight shaking on his cap, struggling through the name Thomas. Talking about Thaw-mas. And Thomas standing right there in the walkway. Look up, boy! He ain’t even look surprised when Thomas tapped him on the shoulder and took the certificate. Thomas got Most Improved in Miss Telefort’s math class. After that it was all out of order, people just standing up for no reason, sitting down, not recognizing they own name. The vice principal was in the corner of the stage shouting categories like a loud shadow. I saw Azal a few rows ahead, giggling, and gave her a look that mean, You laughing at your dumb self. We all in the same class, idiot. 

It was me feeling stupid for showing up. Over half the school ain’t come, so there might have been thirty kids, plus some parents and all the teachers. Miss Marie lied to me, said they had to borrow extra chairs from the restaurant next door. She make a bigger deal out of everything than it is. Talking ’bout “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be recognized for your gifts.” If I was getting recognized alongside that boy Eliot, I didn’t want it. 

The school used to be an office space so there’s a big lobby soon as you walk in and one of them spinning doors you can trap people in. They should have known not to put that in no school with me. We had too much fun with that. A boy we wouldn’t let out fainted once. He had been laughing until he just dropped. You would think they would have remodeled and not had a bunch of kids coming to school looking like it’s a nine-to-five. All gray marble and cold, but they tried to make it colorful with construction-paper drawings on the wall, signs, posters about what you could become, how you could shape the day. I wore a big sweater every day. It made me sleepy, and everybody including teachers knew not to bother me till fifth period. Now the sun was coming in bright and hot through the glass doors and I kept putting my hand up like it was to block the light, but also I was embarrassed. It was taking forever to hear my name. I was thinking maybe it wasn’t coming and they had me out there for nothing. And when Deshawn got Most Acrobatic I didn’t know why I even wanted anything to start with.

Mama was all teeth next to me, laughing under her breath and cooing at my baby sister. Racey was in a white onesie with race cars on it, doing somersaults in Mama’s hands. I for sure didn’t want Mama to come and for sure didn’t think she was, because she kept asking me, “What that thing is you was talking about?” like she couldn’t understand the words “first-semester awards ceremony” in sequence. They giving out awards to people, I said. Best at Science, Math, Most Improved, Funniest. It’s an incentive for us to do betteror keep doing good, because it’s last-chance alternative school, and they can’t fail us for not showing up. The night before, Mama was on the phone and I told her not to worry about coming. She covered the phone and shook her hand at me to get out her face while she was talking. Like, Girl you know better than to bother me about foolishness when I’m on the phone. I didn’t get an answer about it till she started getting dressed. I’m betting Miss Marie called Mama and told her about the play I wrote to perform at the ceremony. I could tell she knew by how goofy she was smiling at me. I would just as soon her not be there. I was preparing to hear her little comments and have her make fun of this little fake school and these little fake awards. But Mama showed up with her toenails painted, slow striding, popping her gray sandals, each step a lick on the floor, makeup full done.

Miss Marie was sitting in the row in front of me with her back all straight like a little secretary. She good for being proper. She twisted her head to look at the phone in my hand like that was ’bout to stop me texting. I ain’t pay her no attention. We was only technically at school, and it was only a fake school to begin with. Wasn’t no rules for no award shows. 

I couldn’t put my phone down no way. Robert kept texting me he was gon’ fuck me up again. I told him I couldn’t wait to see his little punk self and he was some wrong about how the fight was gon’ go down. He think I won’t jump him with my mama there, but Mama know I could fight. And if she saw me fighting, she was gon’ love screaming “Let ’em fight” for as long as I was winning.

I got kicked out my last school for fighting too good. I was the tallest girl in seventh grade, tall as the tallest male teacher. If you count my bun of braids, how I usually wear them wrapped on top my head where you can’t grab, I was three inches taller than him.  

“Miss Marie,” I said to her back. “Why they got Eliot up there reading like that?” 

“He wants to be up there, Derajanae.” She half turned her body around to whisper. “Pay attention to yourself and what you need to do.” 

“Miss Marie, he can’t read.” 

“You’re wrong. He’s reading.” 

“He can’t read good.” 

“He can’t read well.” 

“So, it’s cool to correct me and not him.” 

Miss Marie gave my mama a look for some help, but Mama just blinked. I could understand trying to be nice—that only go so far though. The teachers should be embarrassed too, the way I feel about it. They supposed to be the ones responsible for Eliot reading, and then I’m mad cuz I’m the only one that’s mad. I bet if it was a regular school they woulda shoo-shooed Eliot offstage and handed him a lollipop.