They arrive before anyone else. They open the school, unlock its doors, prepare it to receive its visitors for the day. They clean the stairs, the floors, the walls; they fix what’s broken. You find them in the toilets, in the halls. When they take a break, you hear them talking, even laughing. When you pass them, they smile and ask how you are. You leave, everyone leaves, but they remain. They clean up after you, keep watch over this empty and vulnerable building, lock its doors. When you have forgotten that this place even exists, they will still be here.
You try to remember their names, but it feels so weak in the face of all they do. You ask about their lives, but you realize that their school lives are no more difficult than their homes. How do you live? You ask. We get by, don’t worry. They answer.
And yet. Now that you know, what can you do? Keep smiling?
Your director adores them, takes their side when taking sides is imperative. It’s humbling, this relationship. Teachers envy it. You, the outsider, have the privilege of admiring it. How can you be like her? You ask yourself. How can you be like them? Is even harder to answer.
For you may lift your feet so that they can clean the dirt from under them, but you know that it should be you who washes the dirt from theirs.