I set them up, and he took the bait. David answered the impossible question, and the eyes all around turned in horror to the new kid in the glasses. They saw his rumpled shirt and his manner of leaning, ever forward, almost tottering, trying to get closer to the knowledge that eluded him. Through slit eyes they saw him for everything they wanted to see.
Slowly, I stopped seeing him at all, except through my peripheral vision, as an excuse for not letting him speak more than once per topic. It was too dangerous, I knew, for me to see him. Too dangerous for the class and for my control, because this little boy liked to ask the unanswerable, the irrelevant, the horribly, horribly involved. Dangerous for David if he kept it up because his face was looking more and more like an imprint of red knuckles every time that I looked over to see him violently shaking his hand, ready to fall off of his chair with excitement.
He was so young.
I wondered what he might be. I wondered what kind of man ... what puberty and middle school would do. He'd lose that softness, that self-assured yet awkward grin that felt like he was confirming to himself that they were laughing with him after all. He'd lose a lot of things, I thought, and there were so many that I'd hate to see go. It was so beautiful to see a child so oblivious, so self-assured, and so happy, yet so very very obviously heading for disaster.
I wondered if I'd looked like that, back when I was behaving just the same: sitting alone, working my math, cursing a teacher too stupid to realize that I always had the answer...
I knew that the new impossible question -- once again, the kind of question only he could hope to answer -- was what would happen. How he'd grow once he began to see the jeers and sense the jealousy, and to feel an envy in his own heart for the kinds of friends that books could never be. I hoped he'd make it through. I hoped he'd still be sunny in the end -- still answering impossible questions, and amazing them all.
I hoped that they'd be watching, that they'd be there to be amazed, listening to the little boy with all the answers, and so much still to learn from all of them. I hoped they'd realize that, instead of crushing him. I hoped he be strong enough to withstand a little bit of being crushed, because I knew they wouldn't.
I hoped he'd keep raising his hand.