The boy stood in the hall, just outside the principal's office. He heard the faraway sounds of the school chorus practicing for the upcoming PTA program. A whistle from the playground shrilled through the open hall window. And louder than anything, there was the roar of voices from the busy cafeteria. Suddenly, it all stopped. Suddenly, all sound died.
At first, the boy idly inclined his head, then shook it vigorously when he realized the silence persisted. He ran to the window and with one sweep of the playground, he saw the children playing boisterously like all children do at recess; the slides, the swings, and the bars were crowded with laughing boys and girls; a teacher, a whistle in his mouth, gestured to a group of players, bouncing balls. He shook his head again, poked his finger into his ear and wiggled it several times, but still he couldn't hear a thing. He stared at the principal's office, its door still closed. In the back of his mind, he thought the principal may help him. He dismissed the idea with a shrug as soon as he thought of it.
His eyes were wild and darted from floor to ceiling and to the hallway. His face was drained of all color. He ran to the outer office, calling out his counselor's name. His mouth opened but he heard no sound. He thumped his throat with knuckles that were paler than the whites of his eyes. He bawled shamelessly, scratched and slapped at his ears repeatedly. He needed help at that moment. Did the counselor hear him? He collapsed as his body thudded heavily on the wooden floor.
The counselor heard the scream and the sound of a falling object. Puzzled, she rushed to the hall, saw the inert body of the boy, and sprinted to his side. Finding no visible cuts, she ran to her office, telephoned for an ambulance, and was back to where the boy lay in a matter of seconds. His lips twitched and his body quivered. She inclined her ears to his mouth as she tried to hear what he was mumbling about. He didn't make sense. She cradled his head on her lap, and sighed as she realized the boy went quiet.
In the intervening minute, the counselor laid her hand on the boy's forehead. It was hot to the touch as beads of sweat raced down the side of his head. She pulled her handkerchief out of her breast pocket and dubbed at the wetness. The boy stirred, opened his eyes, and struggled to get up.
"Steady now, dear. Keep your head down. Help will be here soon." She soothed him, keeping her voice low.
The boy stared, saw her lips move soundlessly, and then he screamed. She put her hands over her ears, stunned at the raw terror in his voice. It was an animal sound, a cry for help, soundless to the boy, it seemed, but it nearly deafened her. She looked at him as two gigantic tears rolled from his starkly wild eyes. In a moment of tenderness, she put her arms around him and held him close to her. The boy was limp at first, then he struggled out of her arms, jumped up, and was out of the hall before she found her voice. She was on her feet in a second.
"Stop! Wait!" She ran after him, felt a little foolish calling out after the boy, and stopped short at the open door. The blast of cool air gave her goose pimples. She looked right, left, beyond the school yard, and then noticed the iron gate as it swung in the breeze. Beyond the street, she saw the back of the boy as he turned a corner. She returned to her office, deeply worried.
The ambulance's siren cut off at the school yard, and a man of probably 25 alighted with his first aid kit.
"Where's the patient?" The paramedic bounded into the office.
"I'm sorry, but he's disappeared." The counselor held her head between her hands, weariness was mirrored in her eyes.
"Are you all right? Do you need help?" The paramedic was concerned.
"I'm all right. I'm worried about the boy. I think he got very scared, panicked, and ran away, probably to his home."
"But you know who he is and where he lives, right?" The paramedic was puzzled.
The counselor brightened, leafed through her address book, and wrote the address on a card. She handed it to the man, picked up her purse, and preceded the paramedic to the ambulance.
"I'm coming with you. His home is not far." She jumped onto the passenger seat and buckled up. She presumed it was her responsibility to inform the boy's parents what happened in school. She was sure they were as worried as she was about their son's deafness.
The principal can wait.
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