Haniwa Eyes

By William Wetherall

A high school student refuses to edit her story

Began 2001-12-29, last revised 2006-12-14 (1,540 words)

Haniwa Eyes

By William Wetherall

"Innocence is most tragically lost through betrayal, and the most tragic betrayal is that of a student by a teacher."

Too provocative a start for a high school essay? The teachers on the panel of judges thought so too. All had taught the girl who wrote the essay, and none were surprised it was technically heads and shoulders above all the others. Nor were any of them particularly startled by her brazen style, having discovered, some in the classroom, some also extracurricularly, the fires that blazed beneath her cool exterior.

Yet to a person, male and female, faculty and offical, the judges were profoundly disturbed by a scattering of phrases that could not help but allude, in the minds of anyone in the school community, to certain rumors they found collectively, even personally embarassing. Heated deliberation until nearly midnight, however, had led to a unanimous decision that she deserved the honor of reciting her essay at the awards ceremony, though certain phrases, including the opening thesis, would have to go.

The winners were announced a week before the ceremony. The winning essays would appear in the back of the program pamphlet, which would be printed the day before the ceremony. The essays were to be a surprise, hence contest judges and winners, and people involved in the editing and production of the pamphlets, were not allowed to release copies of the essays or disclose their contents before the pamphlets were distributed at the ceremony.

After the winners were announced, the girl was quietly informed that several sentences would have to be deleted or recast. She was given a copy of her essay on which a number of judges, in their various hands, most of which she recognized, had marked the corrections she was expected to accept. The reasons for the revisions were never explained. She had until two days before the pamphlets would go to the printer to offer alternative ways to achieve the ends evident in the suggested changes.

Predictably, some of her teachers later agreed, the girl refused to acknowledge the authority of the judges, including her homeroom teacher and the principal, both of whom had taught her literature and writing. She did not express any grievances about the suggested revisions or propose alternative changes. When encountering judges in the hall, she would smile as she mouthed a greeting and move on. So the pamphlets were printed and the judges looked forward to a peaceful awards ceremony.

The ceremony was held on a friday evening. The girl, however, failed to take her seat on the stage with the runner-ups and no one could find her. The ceremony was delayed for thirty minutes while officials conferred with her parents, who were in the audience, and spoke to friends who might know where she was. Finally the awards were presented without her and only the runner-ups recited.

The principal chose not to censure her until she came to school the following Monday. The atomsphere on campus was electrified but no action was taken until the bell rang at the end of her very last class, in her homeroom, when the homeroom teacher ordered her to wait in the classroom alone, after school, while a committee of officials and faculty convened in a secret session to decide her fate.

Her homeroom was on the fifth floor of the five-story building, a matrix of classrooms with large verandas facing an asphalt playground. Glad to be left totally alone, she sat at her desk, by the windows looking out on the veranda, where students kept potted plants and grew vegetables, and read a novel she had checked out of the school library. Now and then she would gaze out the window.

An hour passed, then two, and still no one came. The winter sky had darkened. Looking toward the veranda, she saw a ghostlike woman staring back at her from a window. The woman had dark holes for eyes, like those of a haniwa figurine.

The girl stared into the woman's eyes while walking to the window. She put her hands on the pane and felt the warmth of the woman's hands on the other side. They both walked toward the door, while watching each other and smiling. The girl slid the door open but the woman was not there. She stepped out into the veranda and looked both ways but still could not see anyone. When she went to the spot where the woman had been, and looked into the room, she saw only herself gazing out the window from her desk.

About this time, according to one version of the story, the homeroom teacher came into the room from the hall and closed the door behind him. The room was empty but the door to the veranda was open, and a woman was looking into the room from the veranda. She resembled the girl but her eyes were dark, as though they weren't there. Not empty but hollow, like the eyes of the replica of the haniwa princess one of the students had brought to the class for a history show-and-tell.

She smiled at him as though to say come out and watch the stars rise above the ridge of the alps on the horizon. He turned out the room lights the better to see in the dark, walked across the room to the veranda, stepped outside, and slid the door closed behind him. What happened next is beyond conjecture.

When the homeroom teacher didn't bring the girl back to the conference room off the principal's office, the principal himself went looking for them. He returned thirty minutes later to report that he hadn't found them. The door was closed and the lights were off when he got to the room, he said. And the room, when he opened the door and switched on the lights, was empty.

He said he had walked all the halls and seen no sign of them. They were not in the faculty office or the student lounge. Nor were they in the counseling room or the nurses office. He had just suggested that everyone split into teams and look for them outside when a custodian burst through the door and announced that something terrible had happened.

Everyone followed the custodian out to the asphalt playground on the veranda side of the building. The girl and the teacher were in front of the verandas of the column of rooms that was crowned by the girl's homeroom. They were sprawled on the red brick walkway that skirted the building along the playground and had no vital signs.

They lay side by side, as though they had jumped together. Everyone thought they had until the autopsy reports came back. That the girl's head had not bled as much as it should have after striking the pavement now made sense. No one at the scene had noticed the cyanosis of her lips and fingertips, so extensive was the trauma to her cranium. Closer examination also revealed bruises from manual strangulation around her neck and throat, and her right ventricle was enlarged.

One hypothesis is that the teacher wrestled the body of the girl to the railing, balanced it there while he climbed over, then pulled it down with him. Whether he strangled her inside the classroom or on the veranda could not be confirmed.

It is not even clear who strangled her. The police found the classroom dark and unlit, as the principle had said he left it. They also found the sliding doors between the classroom and veranda locked, which can only be done from inside. The principle told police he did not go in the room but only stuck his head inside.

Students reported they had cleaned the room, including the windows of the veranda, that afternoon. The prints of some students, and the girl's prints, were found on the veranda door. The homeroom teacher's prints were found only on the hall door, and around the light swtich, and here and there around his desk and the blackboard.

In the girl's locker was a notebook in which there was what appeared to be the start of a note she had intended to send someone.

"I used to believe that teachers were truly interested in helping me develop my writing. Now even the teacher I had most admired has betrayed me in the interest of protecting himself. He has joined the ranks of those who will accept only essays, short stories, and poems that conform to their model of what a good student should write. He has become, like the others, a hypocrite who worries only about what might embarrass him.

It is clear to me now that your motivation to help me comes only from your desire to possess me, and tame me into becoming the sort of student who will reflect you in a good light. Like most other teachers, you expect me to perform in a way that shows the public how good the school is on account of teachers like you. You seem to believe that my creativity results from your nurturing, and you want others to believe that you have the ability to recognize my talents, such as they are, in the first place.

You lull me with your sweet encouragements, screw me to your heart's content and mine I thought, then screw me when I most want your heart to accept me the way I am and defend me against your sycophantic peers. You read the draft. You smiled and said it was perfect. And now you side with those you always told me you disliked.

I'm exhausted and disappointed but most of all just terribly sad. Please be informed that I won't be

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