The Boy Who Ate Soup With A Fork

"Personally, I think Voltaire looks like a propped-up flamingo... but a flamingo could probably write better."

A few quiet laughs trickled through the otherwise silent class.

The quip came from Bentley - the biggest class clown I had ever shared a class with. Hovering at a lanky 6' 4", he was crowned with a messy mop of dirty blonde hair and a boyish face that was always framed by a pair of awkwardly large, square glasses. He often roamed about the front of the classroom, feverishly ranting about architecture and classical texts as his hair fell into his eyes and his glasses slipped down his nose. Sometimes the gods of the classics (or of humor) would bestow a moment of pure insight upon him. Whenever these moments of genius dawned upon him, he would freeze, swivel to face the class with hair in his eyes and glasses balancing on the tip of his nose and bless us with the holy statement. Usually, the declarations were sarcastic and facetious, and they were always random and outlandish.

In the beginning, the class was forgiving of the unusual comments. The jokes kept the class interesting, and in addition to being eccentric and sarcastic, Bentley was kind and understanding.

Oh, and not only was he the biggest class clown I had ever known, but he was also our professor.

"Don't EVER trust old people. They know their sweet reputations and abuse them. You know, once I was conned out of a bag of skittles by an 89-year-old! True story."

A few students sighed, while others rolled their eyes.

"Anyways, sometimes I'll freeze my soup and then eat it with a fork. Who's with me??"

No one raised their hand. As the semester was progressing, two groups had been forming. Part of the class began to see this hour every Monday and Wednesday as an unpredictable stand-up comedy routine. They came for the entertainment, and if they happened to learn something along the way, well then count that as a bonus. The other group was becoming weary or even irritated that a required class with mandatory attendance was nothing more than a bizarre sitcom. I waffled in the middle, sometimes texting my boyfriend hilarious quotes from my professor and sometimes looking at the clock when yet another dumb joke interrupted the day's material.

Bentley had now moved on from frozen soup and was discussing the Count of Monte Cristo.

"Being an escaped felon is exhausting... Speaking from experience, of course."

At this comment, a small blonde girl sitting by the door quietly slid on her backpack and slipped out the door. Despite her attempted discreteness, several heads turned to watch her leave. Eyes met around the classroom. Had everyone noticed? The classroom was small, and attendance was required, but her name had already been marked as "present" and Bentley hadn't seemed to notice. You could see ideas forming in the eyes that glanced around the room.

From that day on, at least a few students would leave at intervals throughout the class. The gap between the humored audience and skeptic students was growing wider. As the weeks advanced, the exits morphed from sneaky escapes to overt departures.

One Monday, the small blonde girl, now sitting in the corner farthest from the door, picked up her backup just ten minutes into Bentley's rant about how his spirit animal was probably a mix of SpongeBob and Selena Gomez and headed for the exit. As the door slammed shut behind her, silence filled the room.

Bentley stood before the class, silent. He pushed his hair out of his eyes and readjusted his glasses. His eyes scanned our faces, desperately looking for an explanation as he fidgeted at the front of the room.

"Do you think I offended her?" he asked meekly.

The class remained silent, and I looked down at my desk, not wanting to reveal the truth with my eyes - that no one took the class, or him, seriously. After a few more seconds of silence, I glanced up, surprised at what I saw.

I no longer saw an awkward, quirky boy-professor scanning the room for an answer. I saw a small, shy, homely girl feeling rejected. I no longer heard silence but heard harsh comments from classmates and friends about her unusually slight figure and noticeably shy demeanour. Each comment not delivered for harm's sake but slipping out in a moment when their guard was down. I remembered how she built a shield of friends and sarcasm. I could see the small slip of paper where she kept a list of every girl that could be a potential friend, and the spot under the bed where she hid it. Each night, scanning over every name. Finding comfort in the progress. I remembered how she refined her sarcasm and kept it ready to deflect any harsh comments that could spring out unexpectedly.

I remembered how these shields not only distanced her from the sharp comments, but from others and herself.

Suddenly I understood this eccentric, gangly teacher standing at the front of the class. I looked at him and as I understood him more fully, I understood myself. He had chosen a different shield but wielded it just the same.

I looked around at my classmates, sure I would see similar understandings in their faces, but all I saw was downcast eyes. No one wanted to look at him. No one cared to see.

"Who cares anyways?" Bentley finally resumed, interrupting the uncomfortable stillness in the room. "Offending people has always been one of my secret talents. It's right up there next to juggling fruit."

A few quiet laughs trickled through the otherwise silent class.