This morning, before classes begins, Jozine perpetrates a prank which she thinks is harmless but ends up hurting Tuoz’s feelings, quite deeply.
By homeroom, our teacher Mr. Noziq has learned of this.
“Jozine,” he says sternly once we have all gathered in the classroom.
“Yes, Mr. Noziq,” she answers, rising from her seat.
“Is it true that you emotionally injured Tuoz?” our teacher asks.
Mr. Noziq holds up his hand, and Jozine becomes silent.
“Jozine, I don’t think I am the one who needs to consider your ex- planation of this matter. I think you do. And to help you do that, I’m sending you to get a dose of empathy.”
“Yes, Mr. Noziq.”
“Please do that now. I will tell the teacher of your next class that you will be late.”
And that’s my cue to go with her to the school clinic. It’s my responsibility to take classmates to the clinic and tend to their needs. I get up from my seat and walk towards the classroom door.
“I didn’t mean it,” she says to me as we walk down the vacant hallway.
“I know,” I reply.
Then neither of us says anything.
When we reach the stairwell, Jozine whispers, “You know, you don’t have to give me the shot.”
“Then we’ll both get in trouble,” I whisper back. “You’ll be in even more trouble.”
We begin descending the stairs.
“Not if no one finds out,” she seems to hiss.
“If all the ampules of empathy left right now are still unused when the next inventory is done today, the teachers will know I didn’t give you the empathy shot. Everything is thoroughly accounted for,” I explain to her, keeping my voice low.
“Yeah, so we’ll just empty one of the ampules, let the empathy go down the drain.”
“That’s wasteful,” I tell her, imagining the two of us watching empathy spiral into the drain as water rinses it off the ceramic basin of the clinic sink.
“Wasteful? Please. There’s plenty of empathy in–”
“Why don’t you want to empathize with Tuoz?” I blurt. She obviously doesn’t know where empathy comes from, but right now, that’s beside the point.
“It’s for your own good,” I add.
“He looked so upset. I don’t want to empathize with that. That’s going to be painful. And I’ll just feel terrible and guilty.”
“No, you won’t. I’m sure he’ll forgive you, especially if you’ve got some empathy. Maybe he’s already forgiven you.”
“Well, what if he doesn’t?”
“Then at least with empathy you’ll better understand why it might be difficult for him to forgive you.”
“Well, you’re quite the smarty-pants. What makes you so sure about this empathy stuff?”
I stop at the bottom of the stairwell and look intently at her. She stops too and stares back at me.
“Well?” she prods.
“You’re not the only one who has ever needed a shot of empathy.”
“I never said I was.”
“Then don’t act like it.”
She pushes open the stairwell door with an emphatic shove. I follow her as she storms through the doorway, but all too rapidly, the door swings back at me. I barely have time to put up my right arm in attempts to stop the door from slamming into me. The door hits my arm hard and knocks me to the floor.
A little dazed, I manage to sit myself up, my right forearm stinging from the impact. Jozine turns around to look back at me.
“Why didn’t you watch out?” she asks, almost accuses.
“You can’t even empathize with me right now?” I ask, looking up at her through the now closed door’s glass window.
“It wasn’t my fault,” she says so convincingly.
Not wanting to argue over blame, I simply say, “It doesn’t have to be your fault for you to empathize with someone.”
“Stop being such a know-it-all! You’re a classmate, not a teacher!” she almost shouts.
“You could at least help your classmate up,” I reply, then add, “You know this could easily justify an additional dose of empathy,” I tell her.
She opens her mouth, about to say something—maybe deride me as a tattler—but she stops, her expression becoming one of concern.
“I won’t say anything about it,” I assure her.
“I don’t need you to empathize with me,” she says, voice quieter now.
“Well, I am anyways.”
She steps towards the door, then opens it.
“How many shots have you had?” she asks.
I answer quietly, “Enough to be selected to perform the school clinic duties. . . More than enough.”
Then, perhaps understanding now that we have more in common than she thought, she leans towards me, reaching her hand out for mine.