THROUGH THE WINDOW
by Glen Bullock
We’re gonna dance.
That was what Michelle yelled over the children, her voice loud and commanding. If you were down at the other end of the hall you’d be able to hear her. If you were outside in the schoolyard even. Through the tiny crack in the window up in the second-floor classroom.
“Everybody up!” she yelled. And from outside on the playground you could see the slow rising of heads above the windowsill. An assortment of hair popping up. Long and short, nappy or combed, curls, dreads, hair spilling out from beneath hats. All slowly rising up off their butts. And there, standing in front of the group in her Jamaican yellow headwrap, was Michelle.
Friday’s were movie days at K Club, short for the Toronto Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club. It was a rest day. A day to take a break from all the usual running around and screaming. But when they tried to set up the projector the sound wasn’t working.
“We can’t hear,” the children yelled out.
“We can’t hear anything!”
The Kiwanis Boys and Girls Blub takes a preventative approach to tacking a broad range of issues facing young people in our city today, including child poverty youth education and youth violence.
[Thane tried fixing it. The young kid who started working here last year, after Michelle had to practically beg for some extra help. Phoning the office every week. Writing emails. Until they could finally afford to hire someone else. So now it was two of them to look after the entire group of children, grades four to eight, every day after school. Thane tried turning the projector on and off, unplugging and replugging all the chords, but still nothing. So Michelle had to come up with something.]
“Up, up! You kids are young,” she said. “You gotta move your bodies.”
The after-school program, for kids grades four to eight, includes a healthy snack each day, followed by a gym program, personal health and wellness activities, homework club, and arts programming.
Over the last [fifteen years] as the supervisor at K Club, Michelle had grown accustomed to these types of situations. At things not going to plan.
Through their involvement in the program, disadvantaged children and youth learn about being responsible individuals. They are encouraged to develop their leadership potential so that they can contribute to and participate in their communities.
The kids stood, moaning retorts and “why's” and “do we have to’s.” But they knew better than to really argue. Michelle wasn’t the type of person to argue with. She would take away your snack without thinking twice. Or make you sit in the corner for the rest of the afternoon. Or worse.
The children stood and spread out through the classroom. At a quick glance, you’d see:
Jamar: Age thirteen. Has played over two-thousand hours of video games, and tries to pick a fight at least once a day.
Damien. Age ten. Autistic.
Lola. Age fourteen. Raised by her two older brothers, so practically dares Jamar to pick a fight with her.
Kenyon. Age fourteen. Every five minutes, asks if they can play basketball.
The Dollar Dance
“You move your hips like this,” Michelle called out, standing up at the front of the classroom. And she moved her hips to the right, then to the left, pushed her butt back, then finally moved her hips
Hips right, left, back, forward.
While she moved, she called out “cent, five cent, ten cent, dollar.”
Cent. Hips right.
Five cent. Hips left.
Ten cent. Butt back.
The kids stood in the middle of the classroom, eyebrows raised, looking at each other, while Michelle turned and began smacking the chalkboard, hitting it with the palm of her hand to create a beat.
As Michelle swung her butt side to side, smacking the wall, the children began giggling. A couple of them moved their hips reluctantly, embarrassed. But most of them just stood there, hoping she wouldn’t turn around.
Michelle, of course, was aware of her reputation. Aware of how the children perceived her. It was
purposeful. She knew that at a place like K Club, if you weren’t strict with the kids they’d walk all over
The Boys and Girls club was located at Queen and Sackville, in the Regent Park neighbourhood of
Toronto. Most of the kids in the program lived within several blocks. So Michelle knew their reality. She knew that seventy percent of families in the neighbourhood were classified as low-income. Knew that the D51 Division, composed of Regent Park, Moss Park, and the Waterfront Communities, had the highest crime rate in the whole city. It had been that way for as long as she could remember.
During her time at the program, it had become far too regular an occurrence for her to get a phone call out of the blue. Did you hear?
Tyson Bailey. 15 years old. Shot and killed on the thirteenth floor of an apartment building.
Mackai Bishop Jackson. 15 years old. Shot and killed outside an apartment complex.
Jahvante Smart, 21 years old, and Ernest Modekwe, 28. Shot and killed in broad daylight on Queen
[Thane Murray. 28 years old. Shot and killed after fifty rounds were fired just north of the Community
And so, despite programs like the Boys and Girls Club, despite all the government funding and donations, despite the hours and hours she put in, there were times when Michelle felt hopeless. When she felt like no matter what she did, it wouldn’t make a difference. .
“Stop, stop. You’re not listening,” Michelle turned around. And the children stood there in silence. “Can’t you listen? You’re not doing the move. Let me show you the move.”
And she began smacking the blackboard again.
Cent. Five cent. Ten cent. Dollar.
Cent. Five cent. Ten cent. Dollar.
The room started to move reluctantly.
Bum, bumbum, bumbum, bum.
As she sped up the beat, the kids’ movements became more exaggerated. Arms went up in the air,
swinging side to side. Feet began stomping.
Hips right, hips left, butt back, foreword.
“Oh, you’re feeling hot, hot, hot,” Michelle sang, then sped up the beat again.
Cent, five cent, ten cent, dollar.
There was laughter throughout the room. Lola started spinning in circles. Kenyon let his arms and legs jiggle loosely, like they were spasming. Jamar was moving his hips like there was a hula hoop around his waist. And soon, the whole room was dancing. Laughing. If you weren’t dancing you felt embarrassed.
Cent five cent ten cent dollar.
Cent five cent ten cent dollar.
Kids were falling to the ground in uncontrollable laughter.
Michelle was turned towards the blackboard, she kept the rhythm the whole time, so the kids couldn’t see her. They couldn’t see as a tiny grin spread across her face.
Hips right, hips left, butt back, forward.
From down the hall, it must’ve sounded like hysteria. All the screaming, and laughing, and singing. If you were standing outside in the schoolyard, you would have seen it transpire through the window. The heads popping up and down. The countless pairs of limbs flailing. Hair flopping, kids spinning. Madness ensuing in a small classroom in Regent Park.
Glen Bullock was born in Toronto, Canada and is a graduate of Western University. Since graduating, he has worked at Uber Technologies in Canada and Kenya. His work appears or is forthcoming in Acta Victoriana, Blank Spaces Magazine, the Western Gazette, and elsewhere. Outside of writing, he has summited the 3 highest mountains on the African Continent.