I take a step back from the banner I’m hanging and smile. In large purple block letters it reads “Happy Virus Appreciation Day!” The students begin to enter and I smile at them as well.
“Happy Virus Appreciation Day boys and girls!”
“You too ma’am,” James answers. As the oldest at 12, he usually speaks for the rest of the class.
“Today you will read from your themes about the origins of our great holiday. As it’s Tuesday, Supply and Meeting Day, you’ll be expected to work quietly on your own this afternoon. When I return I’ll check your progress. Remember, completed work will be rewarded and goofing off will be punished.”
I make eye contact with each child and quickly glance at the cabinet containing the Box. I see all four faces turn a bit whiter and the youngest, 5 year old Sarah, actually tears up.
“Great!” I use my happiest voice, “Let’s get started!”
The first couple hours pass by as usual. We practice handwriting and math, a little home-ec and then on to history.
“Alright boys and girls, time for holiday fun!”
We play Bingo using the names of the cities and towns destroyed by the virus, with pieces of gum as prizes. Sarah grabs her piece and begins to chew it without asking.
The others notice my frown and Sean gestures to Sarah. At least he knows better than to speak without permission.
As I reach up to the cabinet key, Sarah looks up. Quickly she spits out the gum, her first treat in over a month and stands. Though pale and silently crying now, she steels herself and stands tall next to her desk.
“I…I’m sorry Ma’am. May I please have the ruler?”
Anna and Jeff begin crying now and even James tears up at what she’s asking for. I give Sarah a hard look, but she doesn’t falter.
Hmmm, this one is going to be a problem soon, just like the older boy, Thomas. I glance up at the clock. Dammit! It’s already 11 o’clock! I don’t have time for this today.
I give Sarah my best smile. “Well, maybe I can just give you a warning, since it’s a holiday. Sit down.”
The children are visibly relieved and Sarah takes her seat. I sit at my desk in front of the chalkboard.
“James, let’s hear a little of your essay.”
James stands in front of the little group, straight and tall, speaking clearly as he was taught.
“5 Years ago, during the last World War, a virus was accidentally released on the Earth. Made to be a weapon, it cleansed the Earth of 85% of the population. Those lucky enough to be immune, moved underground until it becomes safe to live outside.”
I jump in as he pauses, “And why do we celebrate this?”
“Virus Appreciation Day reminds us to be grateful for what we have, and to learn from our mistakes.”
“That’s right. Soon we will move back to the surface and help with rebuilding. That’s why Meeting Day is so important. Today I travel to the meeting place to receive the weekly message from our leaders. Finish your afternoon assignments and I’ll grade them when I return.”
Walking out I stop in the doorway to watch James passing out the workbooks. I know they’ll work until I return; no matter how late. Fear of the Box keeps them in line.
Down the hallway I grab my bag and my protective gear. Through the tunnel and into the airlock. Here I get into my hazmat suit and mask. Out the airlock and into the warehouse that protects our bunker.
Walking around a wall, I unlock the Jeep as I approach. Here I cannot be seen from the airlock. Quickly I strip out of the stifling suit and mask and change into a t-shirt and jeans. Time to blend in.
I use the garage door opener and drive the Jeep toward the center of the city. Parking in front of the building always sets me at ease.
“Welcome to Barnes and Noble Café. What can I get started for you today?”
Latte in hand, I walk towards the back where the Mother’s Group meets. Sitting down, I greet the other Moms, just like every Tuesday.
“I just love homeschooling. It gives you so much freedom!”