I was taking a class that was held in the very early hours of the morning. I arrived at the school when it was still dark out, and even then, I was hustling, walking fast, afraid of being late. The school building was just a large brick house. There were three storeys to the house, and as I approached, I saw that it was lit from top to bottom. Inside, the rooms of the house had all been converted into normal classrooms. The number of the classroom that I was looking for was printed on the red stub of a carnival ticket that I pulled from my pocket. I went from room to room, floor to floor, trying to find the right room, trying to match the number of the ticket in my hand. I rode up in a newly installed elevator with heavy silver doors and blue illuminated buttons. I made my way back downstairs by a grand staircase which had a thick white banister capped with posts on each floor that were mounted with the busts of different Greek philosophers, Plato and Socrates and Aristotle.
But there seemed to be no system to how the classrooms were numbered. They weren’t numbered consecutively, or in any other sort of discernible order. They weren’t numbered by floor or subject. I held up my carnival ticket and worked my way up and down the halls, thinking I had picked up the trail that would lead me to my class, thinking that I had deciphered a pattern in the numbers. But then I would find myself confronted by a seemingly random number posted on the copper plaque beside the door of the next classroom I would come to, and it would completely blow the pattern that I had thought I had established. I would hold up the ticket next to the copper plaque and stare at them both in a stupor, as though holding them side by side would somehow bring one number into miraculous alignment with the other.
Finally, I thought I had found the right room. I started to settle in at one of the desks in the back. I dumped my books on the desktop, and I started to hang my coat on the back of the chair. The class hadn’t begun yet, and there was hardly anyone there. The teacher was at his desk up at the head of the classroom, and a couple of his students were there talking to him. I had slipped in unnoticed, but when I set my books down, the noise had caught their attention. I looked up from arranging my coat on the back of the chair and saw that they were all staring at me. The teacher held his white coffee cup poised under his scowling face. They said nothing, but they stared at me so insistently that I became certain that I had mistaken the room number. Everything about their demeanor conveyed the idea that I was in the wrong place. I looked at my red ticket again. I went back out to the hall and looked at the room number again. I blushed and laughed and gathered up my books and coat and slipped back out of the classroom.
I started to think that I would never find the right room; I would never make it to class on time. The class was probably already in session, somewhere, in one of these rooms, the lecture already proceeding in muffled tones behind the closed door, vital information for the course already dispensed, all of it already lost to me, frustrated me, roaming the empty halls with my useless red ticket. The books weighed heavy on my arms. My coat was hot and uncomfortable slung over my shoulder. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself. I turned this way and that, stepping in one direction and then another with a purpose, only to find that purpose dissolving in uncertainty. I had no idea where to go.
Down at the end of one of the halls there was a set of French doors with long lace curtains hung over their windows. I went out through these doors and I found myself on the front porch of the old house. There was a young lady there, wearing a white nightgown and swinging ever so softly on the porch swing. She was turned away, gazing off at the morning glow on the horizon. She turned back briefly to look at me, scanning me from head to toe with a quick nod of her head, and then she turned to look back out at the sky. I thought of the red ticket still in my hand, still clutched in my fist. Maybe she would know where my classroom was at. She seemed like she was a fixture here, perhaps a daughter of someone on the faculty or on the board of administration, passing her time out here on the porch swing while all the daily business of the school carried on inside.
I turned my hand up and opened my fist, but instead of the red carnival ticket, I found a frail baby bird sitting in the palm of my hand. It looked like I might have injured it a bit from the pressure of my fist. Its feathers were disheveled and matted, and it struggled to its feet on broken bones and flexed its crooked wings. It looked up at me, hoping that I could help it, but all I could do was hold my hand out and let it take its time there on my palm and gather whatever strength that it had left. Then, suddenly, it sprang from my palm and took flight. It circled around the porch there, its wings flapping against the posts and the corners of the roof. The young lady and I both followed the bird with our eyes, smiling, our heads twisting as the bird bounced here and there above us in the dark.
But finally the bird found its way. It ducked down low and slipped out under the roof of the porch and flew free out into the morning air. It settled on the branch of a nearby tree and took up the song that it was born knowing by heart, hesitantly cracking out the first notes. I took a seat beside the young lady, settling down slowly and taking care not to interrupt the steady, gentle rocking of the porch swing, swinging just enough to compensate for my own added weight, letting the swing drift back and forth in the same rhythm as before. And so we sat, swinging quietly, adding no words to the situation, listening to the bird on the branch, and watching for the sun to rise.