Chapter 1 - A is for Amandla

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February 26, 2020

Amandla wants to be a doctor when she grows up but first she has to survive second grade, and surviving second grade means getting to class on time. So far, Amandla has 12 tardy slips which is the second-most of anyone in Mrs. Dolz' class. Mrs. Dolz doesn't like tardiness, and sometimes it feels like Mrs. Dolz doesn't like Amandla.

"I'm sure that's not true," Mama says as they rush up the steps to school. "Mrs. Dolz likes all of her students."

"That's not the same as liking me," Amandla says. They are not rushing very fast because Zuri, who is three, has insisted that she can walk by herself. If they go any faster and Zuri falls, it will mean a big-big cry and a trip to the nurse's office for band-aids and that will make them even later. "She frowns at me when I come in late."

"Mrs. Dolz just has a lot on her mind," says Mama. Mama explains a lot of things that way, including why she burned the oatmeal this morning.

"Can you tell her it's your fault? Because of the oatmeal." Amandla asks. "Or Zuri's fault?"

"Not my fault," Zuri says loudly. She cannot walk up the steps and talk at the same time. So she stops, making everyone just a little bit later. Zuri refused to eat cold cereal or toast or burnt oatmeal. So Mama had to make the oatmeal again. "Is oatmeal's fault."

"You can't write oatmeal a tardy slip," Amandla says.

"Lateness isn't anyone's fault. It just happens," Mama says, because she is not the type of person who worries about being late. Amandla worries about being late a lot. A doctor has to be punctual; that's what her Aunt Ama told her. Aunt Ama is a doctor, almost.

The main door is already closed and Amandla knows she's going to get her thirteenth tardy slip. Zuri is in pre-K, but no one counts tardy slips for Pre-K. So Amandla gets her tardy slip from Ms. Hines at the front desk. She looks at her name. A capital letter "A" and then a scribble. Same as always. The time is written carefully, 8:42.

"Here you go, Amana," Ms. Hines says.

"Amandla," Mama corrects her automatically.

"It's okay," Amandla says, though it is not really okay.

"I love you, Amandla," Mama says, kissing her. Second grade is too old to be getting kissed by your parents at drop off. It is too old for your parents to come in at drop off. Most of the kids already walk in by themselves or with older siblings. But Amandla is the oldest and Mama has to bring in Zuri. And really, Amandla likes getting a kiss. Every day, Mama says the same thing, "You are powerful."

She says that because "Amandla" means powerful.

So Amandla straightens her shoulders and smiles and tries to feel more powerful than tardy when she goes into her classroom. She puts her tardy slip in the basket and slides into her seat.

Camdyn hands her a yogurt and a spoon. Victor refuses to even smile. And Josh is scribbling something in his journal. Another reason that Amandla knows Mrs. Dolz doesn't like her is that she is the only girl at her table, which is not fair. Only after she sits does she realize that Mrs. Dolz isn't here. Instead there's a man she's never seen before, carefully reading the attendance book as if there is nothing else on his mind. Amandla can see him silently sounding out each name on the list. He is wearing a tie. There are not many men teachers in the lower school and none of them wear a tie. Mr. G, the art teacher, wears a smock everywhere. Mr. James, the physical fitness teacher, wears a whistle around his neck.

"Who's that?" Amandla asks.

"A substitute," Josh says. "Mrs. Dolz isn't here."

"Obviously," Amandla says, because they would not need a substitute if Mrs. Dolz was here. "Did she have her baby?"

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