I actually talked to Professor Malk after class, told her I didn’t want to be paired up with Marvin. I didn't say it in so many words, but I don't like the look of his bald, black head or his bugged out eyes. Plus, he’s really old. Like, probably in his sixties.
Professor Malk says he’s a mature student and I should have an open mind. I don’t know why mature people get so excited about a degree. College is about so much more than classes.
I flip open my text book. Let’s get this over with.
“Your name is Elizabeth?” Even the way he says my name is weird—with an “o” in the middle instead of an “a.”
This library cube smells of whiskey. Or maybe it’s me. But all I drank last night was beer. I think.
“My gran’s name was Elizabeth,” he says.
“I’m just Beth.”
He shifts forward, steepling his fingers. “Poetry today. Cummings does not like to use capitals. Except for the word ‘Just.’ Why only the word ‘Just’?”
“Let’s stick to these questions.” I tip my paper forward. “Number one. ‘Does [in Just] remind you of your childhood? Share with your partner.’”
He purses his lips. “We did not have balloonman when I was a boy.”
“No kidding.” They probably were still inventing the wheel when Marvin was a boy.
“But on Saturdays when I was a child….” He rubs his papery palms together. “…My mum used to say, ‘Marvin, run to Malita’s’—we always bought from Malita. Never any collywaddles after Malita’s—‘and get enough for everyone.’”
I wait. “Enough of what?”
“The pudding and souse.” His smile is wide, a flourish of white teeth.
“I don’t know what that is.”
“It’s Bajan fare.”
“No. Bajan, from Barbados. This is where I come from.”
“So I dance all the way to Malita’s house with the pudding tin, just like these children.” He points to the textbook. “This feeling of excitement. I can relate to it.”
“But in the poem the girls were the ones who danced and the boys ran.”
“I danced.” He scrapes his grizzly chin. “There is no spring in Barbados. I came to America to understand spring. Understand how lovely it can be, to see the earth revive after winter. There is … nothing like it.”
My notebook page stares blankly. Am I supposed to write this down?
“But really, I think this poem is nothing but taradiddle.”
“Because she ends the way she does—with balloonMan, using a capital at last, as if to say she knows … she knows….”
“That we’re left out of this.” He cups his hands around something invisible. “This world of hers. A world without balloonMan.”
“But you had pudding….”
“Yes.” His smile captivates me. “I had pudding … and souse. What did you have, Elizabeth?”