Wednesday, August 02, 2006


The first student I ever taught who started turning tricks was Nathalie. This was in rural Africa, where life is a lot cheaper than it is here.

Of all the students I’ve taught, both here and in Africa, my most favorite is a young lady named “Aina,” from Hollandale. I taught her for two years and coached her in basketball, as well. My first year in Hollandale I didn’t notice her until I was turning in the first nine-weeks' grades and I noticed that one of my 11th grade English students had made perfect 100’s on every assignment.

Aina. She was a shy, quiet girl who sat in the front row. I had never really noticed her before because she was so quiet. It was only in looking at my gradebook, and seeing a perfect line of 100’s, that she stood out.

Once basketball season started I got to know her much better. I would always drive some of the girls home after practice as I didn’t want them walking home at night. The first time I dropped Aina off she said, “This is my house here,” and, without thinking, I said, “You’re joking.”

I immediately regretted saying that, but I’m not sure she even noticed. The house looked abandoned, falling apart and tilted to one side, with a gigantic hole in one wall. There was no light coming from the inside. She got out and walked up the steps.

“Goodnight Mr. Guest.”

“Goodnight Aina.”

Over the course of teaching and coaching her for two years I probably spent four hours a day with her for six months of the year.

She was quiet, intelligent, and incredibly sweet. She never raised her voice at anyone or got in arguments like many of the other kids. For a journal entry titled “My Favorite Teacher” she wrote about me.

One time, while driving her home, I asked her if she could go anywhere in the world where would she want to go. She said, “Paris.”

Aina, and her siblings, lived with her mom and an abusive, alcoholic step-father. When she got a full athletic scholarship to Delta State she was the first person in her family to go to college.

On graduation day from Simmons High School I was as proud of her as any student I’ve ever taught. I gave her a card that said, “Paris, and all of your other dreams, await.”

I told her, “You know you’re my most favorite student.” She nodded. She knew.

She dropped out after one semester and got pregnant by some knucklehead who had been out of prison for a week. I’d check in with her now and then but, eventually, I lost track of her. I heard she moved to Texas and then I heard she moved back to Hollandale.

This past week I was down in the Delta for a few days, relaxing, seeing old friends, and catching up with my former students. I asked one of my former basketball players about Aina.

He said, “Oh, she trickin’ up in Greenville. A bunch of them drug boys will take her home for $200 a night and she’ll run through all of them niggas.”

She’s 22 years old now. Her whole life behind her. She never made it to Paris. She never even made it out of Washington County.

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