Barry bumped into Jill as he lugged himself through the door.
“Watch it!” she snapped, rubbing at her bony arm through her school issued cardigan.
“Sorry,” said Barry over his shoulder.
Jill’s eyes began to grow wide behind her round glasses. Barry turned away to hide his spreading grin and navigated the rows of identical chairs and desks marching down the classroom tiles. A few curious faces looked up from putting the finishing touches on their assignment as he passed.
“What are those?”
Barry dumped his bag onto his desk and looked up at the scrawny girl thrusting a finger at his bag.
“Huh?” he said although he knew exactly where she pointed.
Jill rolled her eyes and put her other hand onto her narrow hip. “Those.”
Barry followed her finger to the wooden carvings dangling from the zipper of his backpack. The curved and polished edges gleamed and the bright feathers contrasted against his marker drawings on the canvas bag.
“Oh, just some totems.”
“Totems?” ask Jill’s best friend Abby. The blond girl leaned into the aisle from her own seat beside Barry in order to gain a better look.
“Yeah.” Barry slid into his chair and began to pull out his homework binder. “My mom got them on her last expedition in Mexico.”
In the seat in front of Barry, Danny swiveled to join in the conversation. He rested his chin on his hands gripping the top of his chair.
“Like from some store?” asked Jill.
“Like from a tomb,” countered Barry. He didn’t mention the tomb had been a display at the museum where his mom had been conducting some research, nor the price tags he had scrubbed off the night before. Both would only ruin the story.
“Awesome,” said Danny.
A few more classmates came to hover around Barry’s desk. Their eyes and interest covered him like a blanket.
Barry twisted his bag as if to pull out a pencil while incidentally making the dangling ‘totems’ sway.
“What do they do?” asked Marty.
“Ancient Mayan secret,” answered Barry.
“Wow,” said Abby.
“Neat,” added Ben
“Can I touch?” asked Susan.
“Did your mom find anything you can’t clip to a bag?” asked Jill. She folded her arms and raised two thin eyebrows so they curved over her frames.
Barry kept thumbing through his pencils, working on picking the right one for the day, and managed to avoid her skeptical gaze. His thoughts ran across the other gifts accompanying his mom’s trip. A postcard, probably purchased from the same store as the ‘totems’ burst into his thoughts.
“A Chief’s Headdress.”
“No way!” said Danny, tipping his chair forward to touch the feathers.
“Yeah,” said Barry with a shrug. “She found them all in the same place. It has feathers just like these.” From the picture on the postcard, the headdress did look a lot like the totems.
Danny’s hand pulled back and returned to the tight grip on the chair’s plastic rim.
Barry dumped his bag onto the floor during a wave of oohs and ahhs.
“If those totems,” said Jill, putting the stressed word between two sets of air quotes, “are from a tomb then why do they look so new?”
Barry scowled at her as he tried to form a plausible counter argument but then a tall shadow fell across his desk.
“What’s all this?” Ms. Chandler peered over everyone’s head from the perimeter of the circle.
Barry focused on etching his name on his homework while various students attempted to supply simultaneous answers.
“Barry’s mom brought home a chief’s headdress,” said Abby.
“Barry’s got totems from some ancient tombs in Mexico,” Marty stated as if a sudden expert on Barry’s mom’s activities.
“Look at these Mrs. Chandler,” said Danny, pointing again at the bag.
Ms. Chandler patted the air and the tinny voices fell quiet.
“That sounds fascinating.”
Barry felt her steel eyes lock onto him and silent speculation pass through her thoughts. He tracked the stub of his pencil over each letter in his name.
“It sounds like Barry has a head start on this semester project about Ancient cultures,” she said finally.
“Aw, a project?” grumbled Marty.
“Ms. Chandler,” pleaded Abby, “it’s just September!”
“That’s not fair,” said Danny. Barry watched him pout on his fingers and staring hungrily down at his bag.
Ms. Chandler silenced the room again with another wave of her hand.
“Everyone find your seats. We’ve got a lot to cover today.”
The class grumbled and dragged their feet to follow their teacher’s instructions. Meanwhile Barry sagged into his chair and hoped the book his mom had also brought had better stories to tell.