With 10 minutes left, they begin to hear the audible motion of the secondhand, rising above the anxious anticipation: tick, tock, tick, tock, as the thin, red line makes it way around the clock’s face. Hypnotically, the pace seems to slow, each second feels painstaking, as if reality were buffering.
Nine minutes remaining and the pencils begin to nervously tap, almost in successive beats, matching the secondhand’s rhythm noticed only a minute ago. The pencils ceased operating for their intended purpose about five minutes prior, but now their weight begins to reach overwhelming, leaden and dense. The successive ba-dump ba-dump of eraser to sharpened end is anything but soothing, auditory indicators of stress on the mind of a weary teenager.
With eight minutes until the liberty bell, the squirming commences. Bodies shift uncomfortably and seats, squeaking plastic against metal, sing like a chorus of classroom crickets. Papers shuffle atop desks into semi-neat piles, made for easier grasping and shoving in backpacks.
Nervous and uncertain stares from student to student bounce like ping-pong balls, back and forth, with seven minutes worth of a sentence still to be served. Glances dart, eyes communicating solidarity as if to say, “We are in this together. We are going to make it.” Nobody makes eye contact with me, and I stand alone in this, an island surrounded by furious, hungry sharks. There are no colleagues in the room who share my eagerness, but there are students avoiding making eye contact; they would not dare look at me for fear that I could somehow delay their inevitable.
360 seconds are all that separate us from leaving school for a full week. Each second like a degree in a circle, making its way around to a complete rotation. Pulses begin to speed up, hearts begin to race, all the syncopated rhythms of anticipation.
On any given day, the last five minutes of the class period serve as the signal for the unofficial gradual dissent into the post-school recuperation period. The day before spring break, or any vacation however, we are already five minutes into that decline. The physical pain begins to set in, with legs weakened, arms become too heavy to lift, and spine collapses in on itself, creating not only poor posture, but slumping, zombie-like figures. And that’s just us teachers.
Unable to resist the urge, mutinous rebels begin to unzip, forcibly stuff, and re-zip backpacks. Cacophonous whirs and zips, quick and bee-like, pollinate the classroom. Four minutes until the drones fly this hive and swarm the campus.
2:12: someone, sniveling in the corner, is in tears. This is too much, this infernal waiting, cruel and unusual and torturous. When one breaks, others will follow, clawing at their skin and gnashing their teeth. The natives are restless, and I hunker back, checking my exits, perspiration dotting my brow.
At the two-minute marker, they’re all on their feet, jockeying for advantageous, chair-on-desk positioning. Backpacks clash not unlike oversized beetle shells, sending bodies awhirl, staggering, wobbling insects bounce off one another. Hydroflasks are casualties, their metallic and distinct clinks resonating against the tile, denting and chipping in the arthropodal chaos.
A collective and audible gasp, one giant breath inhaled by all at once, fills lungs, depleting the room of oxygen. One, light-headed minute clinging on the clock. An adolescent mass, phalanx-forming, inches incrementally toward the exit. Although no one speaks a word, you’d swear you could hear them countdown each second. Lost amongst the human wrecking ball, a small member of the herd collapses, at risk of being trampled, a victim of vicious, impatient beasts.
Five: each takes a step back.
Four: one severs from the herd.
Three: she reaches forward, fingertips grazing the door.
Two: the handle begins to turn.
One: in a outward-moving thrust, the door springs open, hinges nearly severed.
Sky parting, the sweetest chorus of angels’ voices pours forth from the heavens. The final bell signals Spring Break.
Let us all rejoice.