Here’s the first chapter of my first youth fiction junior novel Global Guru Elisha! Don’t forget to pre-order it when it comes out on 9/28/18! https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/global-guru-elisha
“Alright, everyone. Can anyone tell me where Belgrade is?”
Mr. Amjad asked, but all he got was dead silence. He stood there patiently while my classmates were looking down or slowly falling asleep. He tapped his foot while this slightly dark classroom was lit up by a projection of Eastern Europe with color coded countries that had their names blacked out for this little exercise. Sure, my classmates wanted to be anywhere but in this little world cultures class. But I was the lone exception. I grinned as my hand shot up amongst the learning dead. It was time to bring some light in this dark classroom. “Yes, Elisha. Ready to answer again like the last three times?” Mr. Amjad half-jokingly said when he saw me raise my hand.
“Yes, Mr. Amjad. Belgrade is the capital and biggest city of Serbia.” I answered. “That’s correct.” He confirmed. My teacher touched the screen to unblock Serbia’s name and a star of where Belgrade was supposed to be appeared. “Bonus points for mentioning that this city of over a million people doubles as the nation’s capital and the most populated place in this country in the Eastern Bloc. Another fact about Belgrade is that it’s a sister city to Chicago.” I overheard some whispers of me being a know-it-all in this class, but I didn’t care. I didn’t even know that this city had ties to Chi-town. Sure, we all lived in Hanover Park which is northwest of the city, but I personally thought it was interesting. “We’ll have one more question about this part of Europe and then we’ll be done for today.” Mr. Amjad mentioned. He touched the screen again and I saw another country light up on the screen. That location was one country east of Serbia, so I knew this next question would involve another Slavic nation. “This country is Bulgaria. Relax, you don’t have to worry about the name of this part of the world. Can anyone tell me the capital city? I’ll give you a hint. It can be a girls name, and I can think of some celebrities and a cartoon character with that name.” Hmm. A capital city that can also be a girl’s name? Let me think about it… A couple of hands were raised. Looks like some people were awake after all. “Brendon. What’s the city’s name?” Mr. Amjad asked.
“Uh, is it Anna?” Brendon halfheartedly answered. “I’m afraid not. I’ll give you all another hint. It starts with an S.” He further explained. Mr. Amjad then pointed at a girl who also had her hand up. Before anyone thought about what it could be, I thought about possible names for this Bulgarian city. Since it’s Slavic, would it have a name like Svetlana? Stanislava? “Brooklyn, would you like to take a guess what it is?”
“Is it Sonia?” She quietly guessed.
“Close, but that’s not what I’m looking for.” Mr. Amjad politely corrected her. Sonia couldn’t be right, but he said that Brooklyn was close. Maybe if it was just one letter different from what she said, then…a page out of my flag book appeared in my head. I remembered Bulgaria having a white, green, and red flag with horizontal stripes. I remembered that the main language was Bulgarian. I remembered the name of the capital city that was right next to the information of when it gained independence from the Soviet Union back in 1991 way before I was born. I raised my hand when the answer finally appeared in my head. “Not yet, Elisha.” Mr. Amjad gently corrected me. “I’d like to have more people guess before you answer.” Aw, man. You’re killing me, Mr. Amjad. I know what the answer is now. Another person tried to answer.
“Never heard of that name before, so no.”
“How about Shareena?”
“A name like that wouldn’t be in that part of Europe. Sorry.”
Come on! Let me answer this question. I raised my hand again after hearing all these wrong answers over and over again. “Okay, Elisha. What’s Bulgaria’s capital city?” He finally let me answer.
“The capital of Bulgaria is none other than Sofia!” I almost shouted it out like I just answered in the final round of a game show. Okay, I knew I wasn’t going to get a ton of money or a brand new car even though I’m not old enough to drive yet. Mr. Amjad just laughed a bit before toughing the screen to reveal a star with the name of the city right next to it.
“That’s right. I’m sure my four-year-old daughter would be giddy knowing that there’s a city that shares a name with one of her favorite doll.” He turned off the smart board and turned on the lights. “The bell is about to ring. Don’t forget that your Eastern Europe homework is due tomorrow, so make sure that you all work hard on it.” It rang almost on cue, and we all were dismissed from world cultures class. Most of my class sped out of the classroom and I’m sure they weren’t thinking about their homework. After doing my best by answering all those questions and paying attention to Mr. Amjad’s lecture, my smile started to disappear when I went to my next class of the day. A shiver went down my spine as I walked the halls of Parker G. Tomlin Middle School. The other kids were busy talking to each other while I was silent while getting my things. I had to prepare against my worst enemy at the school once I showed up in Mrs. Cumberland’s homeroom…Algebra. This class was the death of me. I went straight to my seat in the back of the room and I didn’t even make eye contact with Mrs. Cumberland who was busy sorting some papers from last week’s quiz. A drop of sweat appeared on my forehead and my lips began to quiver. Once everyone got in and settled before the bell rang again, I heard that teacher greet Kristine who sat at the front of the class. Kristine was a girl with long red hair that was in a braided ponytail. She wore glasses with thicker rims than mine, and dressed in a simple green T-shirt with khaki denim pants. The bell rang and Mrs. Cumberland finally addressed us. She was a tall woman with dark blonde hair, I think she was in her thirties, and wore a blue blazer and matching skirt. That teacher always had this serious look on her face like someone chiseled her expressions.
“Alright, everyone. I have all your quizzes from last week. You did fine this time although some struggled more than others.” I still avoided looking at her, but I could feel her staring right at me when she said that. Mrs. Cumberland handed the quizzes and they were passed down from the front row and all the way to my row. I gulped and turned over the paper to see my grade highlighted in plain red. D minus. D for dummy. D for dimwit. D for doomed. That minus in red marker looked like a bleeding cut. Maybe that cut was on my brain for being a complete idiot when it comes to math in general. I wanted to crumble my paper right in front of the class at that moment, but I resisted. “Now that we got that out of the way, let’s work on some problems on the Smart Board.” She turned it on and the first problem started to glow like some bright monster walking out of a dark cave ready to eat me alive. “Here’s the first problem of the day: 8 times X equals -104. What does X equal, Burlington?” I finally looked at my teacher while in a cold sweat. She had to have been the only teacher who called people by their last names only. I saw those numbers and that X right in the middle. She just stared at me while I thought about what the answer could be. I swore that she picked me first to be the laughing stock of this seventh grade algebra class. I knew that X had to be negative since 104 was negative, but I just blurted the answer out of fear. Just finish me already, Mrs. Cumberland. You knew I was going to fail just as bad as my last quiz.
“X is -22?” That question mark was a result of my fear.
“Of course not.” Mrs. Cumberland coldly scolded me. She must have been calling me an idiot in her head or some worse words as not to be a bad influence on the rest of us. Kristine raised her hand. “Yes, Oakley?”
“The answer is -23, Mrs. Cumberland.” Kristine said confidently. I was jealous of her being so good at math. I can’t believe I was one number off from the answer. One. Stupid. Number. Why did my schedule allow me to go from my best class to my worst?
“Good job, Oakley. It’s good to know that we have people who care about one of the most practical subjects in the world.” Mrs. Cumberland dryly congratulated Kristine. I thought that it was a diss towards me when she said that. I remained silent throughout the rest of the class as we did some worksheets involving some similar algebra problems. We couldn’t use calculators (obviously), so I had to show my work for every problem with a separate piece of notebook paper. My brain was getting killed by these questions. I looked at my watch briefly and realized how long we’ve been working on this sheet. Just three minutes until the bell rang? I’m sure half the class finished before me not that anyone could blame them since I struggled over here. I had three problems left, so I just rushed through it while still trying to show how I figured out these answers (emphasis on trying). I finally finished that worksheet that made me miserable and turned it in right before the bell rang. Once it did, I was about to escape from this prison called algebra class only for Officer Cumberland to stop me. “Not so fast, Burlington.” She ordered me to stop before I made my great escape to the cafeteria. I turned around and saw her glaring at me. “You’ve been averaging a D minus ever since you set foot into my class. What’s wrong with you?” Geez, that was cold.
“I’m trying, but I’ve always had a hard time with math. Even when I go to Study Hall or RTI, these concepts aren’t sticking in my head.”
“How pathetic.” Mrs. Cumberland said to me. “It’s not like you have any kind of learning disability or need special education services. Why don’t you start showing me that you care by raising your grade to at least a C?”
“Yes, Mrs. Cumberland…” I sadly replied to her before going away.
“You better not forget about the next quiz or your algebra homework.” Mrs. Cumberland said in a tone that was threatening. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she followed that sentence up by saying or else or mentioning some cruel and unusual punishment. Not that my D minus was punishment enough, but I’d bet anyone dollars to donuts that she would make it more severe like that one ridiculously muscular villain with that had that respirator mask on.
So next was lunch. I was finally free from those classes for the next forty minutes and I brought my lunchbox that was covered by dozens of flags around the world. My parents gave me that when I first went to Parker G. Tomlin as of last year. I then saw Kristine join my usual table that was in the middle of the cafeteria. “How’s it going, Elisha?” She asked me.
“I’m fine for someone who’s been tortured by Xs, Ys, and numbers.” I sighed while trying to smile. “How about you?”
“Doing alright. I’m sorry that algebra has been giving you a hard time, but I’ve been trying to prepare myself for the Typhoon Mathlete club.” Kristine said. The Typhoons were our school team, by the way. They just happened to name their other competitive programs that, too.
“Gotcha. I know you and the other Mathletes are going to do great, so you shouldn’t worry about it.” I encouraged her. “I wish I could be as good as you when it comes to numbers.”
“Thanks, but you shouldn’t worry about it.” She tried to console me. “I wish I could be as awesome at geography and world cultures like you. I couldn’t even keep track of all those flags that are on your lunch box.” She pointed at the flag on the corner that had a blue square on the left corner with a star. It had a horizontal white stripe on the right with a long red stripe on the bottom. Then, another friend was able to enter that conversation as he heard what she said.
“Neither can I, but you’re pointing to Chile right now.” That was Sal chuckling as he got himself a seat at our table. He was a tall guy for his age who had light brown skin. He was thin, but people can tell that he worked out. Sal was wearing a black t-shirt that said “Typhoon 5K” on it while wearing some sweatpants. “I should know. My grandparents moved from there and my family has been in Hanover Park since. Speaking of keeping track, I got a track meet in Bartlett next week, so I got to step my running game up.”
“That’s right, Sal. You’re going to leave those guys in the dust.” I said to him.
“Of course. Bartlett and all those other schools competing couldn’t even see me by how fast I am. They can put me in the sprinting events or long distance ones, and I’d still be faster than a cheetah that drank a few cans of Nos.” Sal jokingly bragged to us.
“I bet. You and Kristine are so awesome at running and math respectively. I wish there was a club for someone like me. I know there’s things like the anime club, the science club, and there’s even a drum circle club for crying out loud here at PGT.” I mentioned.
“No need to be hard on yourself, man.” Sal tried to cheer me up even though I wasn’t that depressed. I was just naming facts. “You’ll be able to find something here where you can be great. Maybe you can start your own club.”
“Yeah, but I think I would need to get a bunch of support from some of the teachers and other staff here.” I said to Sal.
“Maybe it doesn’t have to be a club or group, but it could be a certain event that can happen at the school.” Kristine said. “I think there’s a few things coming up besides the athletes or any of the sports games, but I couldn’t remember what they were.”
“Maybe. I just don’t know what they’re all about. I’m afraid it could be something lame like those PTA sponsored dances or some cheesy charity event. You know how some of those events have turned out.” I stated to both of my friends.
“Hey, the 5K was good though.” Sal interrupted. “We get a bunch of people running and we raised some money for the food pantry.”
“Sorry, Sal. I didn’t mean to bash the Typhoon 5K. I mean something like that hundred books challenge to get kids reading or that TV-free week where everyone who participated just watched stuff on YouTube, Hulu, or Netflix instead of watching their favorite shows on TV.” I said. It was true. A bunch of people did that and they abused that loophole. Once the faculty found out, they stopped dong that event. “It’s like this school can be out of touch sometimes.”
“No disagreement here.” Kristine commented on that situation. “I’m sure something will pop up and you’ll fit right in. I know being with the Mathletes is fine, but I do wish I could be in any non-academic groups, too.” She adjusted her thick rimmed glasses before eating.
“I sure hope so. It would be great if I could do something here.” I wished. The three of us then talked about other random things in this noisy cafeteria before we went to the rest of our classes that day. Flash forward to me getting off the bus, I went back home. I saw my dad’s jet black luxury sedan next to my mom’s blue car outside the garage. I walked in to the familiar sight of some arts and crafts on display right by some family photos. I saw a Malian doll to the left, a tiny Cambodian statue to the right, and a Peruvian handcrafted alpaca figure right in the middle. All of those things were courtesy from my mom given where she worked. “I’m home!” I called out as I made my entrance.
“Hey there, Elisha.” That was my dad that greeted me first. He came to greet me while he was wearing his black blazer and slacks. He looked like an older and taller version of me with the same short curly hair as I, some thin-rimmed glasses, and identical mahogany skin. I also didn’t expect him to get here early. “How was school today?”
“The usual, I guess.” I responded. “I did awesome in world cultures with our Eastern European unit, but algebra just kept killing me again.” My voice got lower and quieter. “I bombed that last quiz, and I really need to get my grades up. Could you help me with some of my algebra homework?”
“That I can, son.” My dad smiled as he agreed to do so. “I’ll make sure you do well in math.”
“Yeah, it’s really tough, but I’m sure that it will be easier than your days in the courtroom.” I replied. “Speaking of which, how was work for you?” My dad laughed a bit.
“It went surprisingly great. My clients are now able to become full-fledged American citizens as of today.”
“That’s awesome! Where did they come from?” I asked him enthusiastically.
“I’ll give you a couple of hints. Their flag is green and white and it’s the biggest country in Africa in terms of population.” He quizzed me. I thought about it for a few seconds as I tried to remember which African countries had flags with only green and white on them. I thought about Zambia, but it didn’t have white on the flag. It couldn’t have been Cote D’Ivoire (or Ivory Coast if one wants to say it’s English name) since it had orange in it’s design. Wait…it has more people than anywhere else in Africa? That means that it could be…
“Nigeria!” I shouted out my answer. “That’s right. My most recent clients emigrated from there.” My dad confirmed.
“Nice! That’s the same country where the capital is Abuja, the largest city is Lagos, and some of the major languages are English, Yoruba, Hausa, and Igbo.” Okay, I showed off a little bit when I remembered some facts about Nigeria.
“You’re right once again.” My dad said to me.
“Hey, Elisha. Are you spouting some of that geography knowledge again?” It was my mom who stepped out and greeted me. “How are you doing?” She was wearing khaki pants and a blue shirt that said “International Inspiration Fair Trade Shops” on it. I guess she just got back from work. She had her short dark brown hair in a small ponytail and it was slightly lighter than her ebony skin.
“I’m feeling a little better after dropping some facts about Nigeria.” I chuckled a bit as I tried to hide my fears involving that stupid algebra homework.
“That’s good. Going slightly off-topic. I’ve brought something from the motherland even though it’s from a different country.” She pulled out a thumb piano and gave it to me. It was made out of a light wood and was painted red and blue. Each of the little keys alternated with silver and pewter colored notes. “It’s straight out of Harare.”
“As in Harare, Zimbabwe, the capital and largest city over there? Sweet!” I plunked on that thumb piano and it had that nice metallic sound to it. Granted, I wasn’t musically gifted or anything, so I was hitting random notes. I thought it sounded cool. “I’m sure those artisans in Zimbabwe really appreciate you all doing business there since they’re getting paid fairly for their work.”
“Of course they are.” My mom responded. “You can’t go wrong with fair trade goodness.”
“Sure. Thanks for trying to cheer me up. I’m going to knock out this world cultures homework first since I know it will be easy. Dad and I can work on the algebra stuff after dinner.”
“Sounds like a plan.” My mom said right before I gave her back that Zimbabwean thumb piano and headed straight to my room upstairs. I went inside and dropped my backpack while getting out my world cultures homework. Better to start with some assignments that I actually want to do first. I did this worksheet on my desk beside my laptop and some books on a small shelf. It contained some superhero comics, the first six volumes of Hikaru no Go, Within the Ancient Forest by Andrew Tompkins (it was given to me as a present from a metalhead cousin of mine), and last but certainly not least, my flag book. Heck yeah, it was filled to the brim with flag designs, facts about how they got their designs or symbols, names of largest cities and capitols, and all kinds of informative goodness that makes me want to read it over and over. I focused on my homework and saw the first question.
“Sarajevo is the capital city of ____and______.” Oh that’s an easy start since only one country in that region has an “and” in the official title. That would be none other than Bosnia and Herzegovina. It used to be a part of Yugoslavia, the main language is Bosnian, and it is one of the few European countries where the most practiced religion is Islam. I then sped right through the rest of this worksheet. Whether it was a Slavic, Baltic, or even a transcontinental country or two, I did it, and I know I aced it with these fill-in-the-blanks, true and false questions, and anything else that they threw at me. I didn’t even need to use my flag book for guidance since I only used that book if I was really stuck on certain questions. Speaking of that flag book, I grabbed it and read it to myself. I finished this assignment, so I considered it a little reward for what I did. I picked a random page. It was in the Asia section and I landed on Kyrgyzstan. I was greeted by the red background with a forty-ray sun that was dead center on this flag. I read a little bit about it, and I decided to check out some other countries around the world for some more knowledge.
“Elisha, it’s time for dinner!” My mom called out. Geez, that must have been at least an hour since I drowned in all these international flags.
“Yes, mom.” I called right back before I book that book away. “You got me in trouble again even though I like reading you always.” I said to my book before leaving to meet up with the rest of my family. I finally had dinner with my family, but I was really delaying the inevitable after everyone had the last bite of food.
“Ready to work on that algebra worksheet?” My dad wondered. I just sighed and muttered
“Yes, dad”. I felt the life get sapped out of me when that question hit. Why couldn’t math come as easy to me or as fun to me as anything involving world or American cultures? The two of us got together and I just wanted to throw in the towel when my eyes became dizzy seeing all those Xs, Ys, and all those other numbers. Everything started to become nothing but zeroes and threes to me since they all looked the same.
“Are you doing okay?” My dad asked me. I snapped out of this daze.
“Uh…yeah. I guess so?” I confusingly said to my dad.
“You looked like you were trapped in another world.” He said.
“Really? I’m sorry.” I apologized to him. “I just really don’t want to do this even though I have to finish all those math problems.”
“I know. Let’s work on the first one together.” My dad tried to show me the right way to do this first problem by using some examples and formulas. After about three minutes, I finally did that problem on my own while I was silent unless I asked for help. I felt like Mrs. Cumberland was slaughtering me with all those stupid equations. I knew that this this was a practical skill that I’m going to use for the rest of my life, but why did it have to be so hard for me?
“I’m so glad you’re smart when it comes to this stuff. I wish I could be good enough like you.” I complained.
“Son, you don’t need to get yourself down.” My dad tried to encourage me. “Not every subject came easy to me including law.”
“Seriously, dad?” My eyes widened when I heard that. “But you’re a lawyer and you’ve helped out a ton of immigrating families out here in the Tri-Village area.”
“As much as it’s hard to believe. It’s true. I had to work multiple jobs in and off campus to pay for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. A lot of these classes, jobs, and not to mention the Bar exam were quite arduous to say the least.” My dad explained. “There are parts that I hate about it, but I knew it was for me.”
“Why is that? It’s not like I’m going to be a math teacher or a mathematician or anything.” I said to him.
“It’s because I wanted people from all over to get a better life here in America. It was my way of paying it forward. There are so many people from all across the world that want to come here legally and I want their hard work to come to fruition just like how I worked hard to be an immigration lawyer. I also had to go against low expectations for someone like me if you know what I mean.” My dad explained.
“Looks like you got that interest in geography because of me.” We both laughed a little.
“That’s good to know. I just hope my head doesn’t explode from all these questions.” I said. “I’ll do my best to go against those expectations and break a few stereotypes while I’m at it.”
“That’s my son. I can’t have your head explode on me or else mom and I would have to clean it up.” My dad patted me on the back as I did my work while he gave me some guidance as I tried to understand all these questions that night. Thanks, dad. I appreciate you showing me how to do this kind of homework and for keeping me sane whenever I try this stuff.