Twenty students are enrolled in my course. But only nineteen are here. I check the roll, call the name of the missing student, and listen to the nervous silence. I call the name again just in case, because once when this happened – about three years ago – it was because the poor guy in the back was asking someone else what textbook he needed and didn’t hear me say his name.
No one answers.
Sometimes #20 shows up halfway through lecture, careening in mid-sentence and disrupting an entire row of murmuring students as they struggle to an empty seat. Sometimes #20 shows up after class, mumbling apologies and excuses – a broken car, a recalcitrant child, an alarm clock on the fritz – and asks for what they missed.
More often than not, #20 never shows at all.
And I wonder about that missing student who paid…
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