There is a new boy in Room Ten. At least, Gavin thinks the person is a boy. This person has on boy clothes and a boy shirt, but his hair is in two cornrow braids that hang down the back. He’s thin and short. Well, shorter than Gavin. And he has a piercing stare. He could be a girl. But the jeans are definitely boy jeans. So he’s a boy, and now he’s just sitting there, looking around, with his chin resting on his palm.
The students finish putting their things in their cubbies and settle down to tackle the morning journal topic, “My Weekend.” Gavin wonders, Why is the topic always “My Weekend” on Monday mornings? Is Ms. Shelby-Ortiz seriously interested in our weekends? Isn’t there enough to think about with her own weekend?
Ms. Shelby-Ortiz steps to the front of the class. Though no one is talking, she puts her forefinger to her mouth and looks around with a bright, cheerful expression on her face. Oh, no! Gavin thinks. Another one of her happy announcements where she’s the only one who’s excited. Are they going to get five more minutes of recess? Now, that would be exciting. It’s probably something like getting a salad bar in the cafeteria. His mom was excited when her job at the train station put a salad bar in the employees’ cafeteria. She talked about it for weeks.
“Class, we have a new student joining us today!”
All eyes swivel to the kid sitting in the chair beside Ms. Shelby-Ortiz’s desk. Everyone stares. He stares back. Then Ms. Shelby-Ortiz motions for him to join her at the front of the class. Slowly he pulls himself out of the chair and makes his way to her side. He stands there with a blank look on his face and his chin raised. A strange look, Gavin thinks.
“I’d like to introduce you to Khufu Grundy. He’s going to be joining our class today.”
Gavin puzzles over the name. He’s never heard of anyone having Khufu for a name. It sounds like a boy name, though.
Immediately Deja throws her head back and frowns. She whispers, “What kind of name is Khufu Grundy?” Then she’s waving her hand all around until Ms. Shelby-Ortiz looks over at her and says, “Yes, Deja?”
“What kind of name is Khufu?” she blurts out.
Ms. Shelby-Ortiz looks puzzled. Khufu steps forward and says in a high-pitched voice, “Khufu is the name of the Egyptian Pharaoh that had the Great Pyramid of Giza built.”
Deja’s frown deepens, and she glances at Rosario beside her.
Ms. Shelby-Ortiz says, “Ahh. Class, we’ve seen the pyramids—in the book Erik brought to share. Remember?”
The room is quiet. Gavin remembers the book, plus he’s seen a TV program about some pyramids somewhere far away. Then the new kid pipes up in that little mouse voice again. “Khufu was actually the second Pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty in Egypt.”
“That’s very interesting, Khufu, but can you tell us a little bit about yourself?” Ms. Shelby-Ortiz asks brightly.
“What would you like to know?”
Ms. Shelby-Ortiz seems a little surprised. Then she says, “Well, tell us about your old school and what you like to do for fun—hobbies, stuff like that. Do you have brothers and sisters?”
“I’ll take your last question first, if you don’t mind.”
Some of the kids turn to look at one another.
“Sure,” Ms. Shelby-Ortiz says.
Khufu clears his throat. “Well, I don’t have any brothers and sisters. I’m an only child. I don’t live with my mother, either. She’s an artist, and she lives in an artist colony in New Mexico.”
Gavin sees that Nikki’s mouth has dropped open. She looks amazed.
“So I live with just my father. My hobby is reading—all subjects. I like thinking. That’s what I like to do for fun.”
Ms. Shelby-Ortiz steps forward slightly. “And what about your last school? Can you tell us something about it?”
“I’ve been to ten schools,” he says with one eyebrow raised. “I liked my last school best. It was a school for geniuses. Everyone in my old school was a genius.” At this point, Khufu looks around at Gavin’s classmates as if he’s deciding whether each kid is a genius or not. His eyes rest on Gavin for an extra few seconds.
“My, my!” Ms. Shelby-Ortiz exclaims. “A genius school. I must say, I’ve never heard of that kind of school before.”
“Well, it’s true,” Khufu says. “If you don’t believe me, you can just call my old school and ask them. They’ll tell you. Oh, and I was born in Sweden, and I didn’t even speak English until I came to this country.”
“Ah,” Ms. Shelby-Ortiz says. “Oh, that won’t be necessary, Khufu. I don’t need to call your old school.”
Gavin glances around. Deja’s frown has deepened. There are more puzzled looks.
“Hmm. A genius school,” Ms. Shelby-Ortiz repeats. She begins to gather the books and supplies he’ll need. She places what she has in his arms and tells him to take the empty seat next to Gavin.
“Gavin, raise your hand so he’ll know where to sit.”
Gavin raises his hand. Khufu turns and stares at him again. Then he shrugs and makes his way to the table. Gavin tries to ignore Khufu as he puts his books and journal on his desk and places his two brand-new, freshly sharpened pencils on the desktop, taking care to line them up next to each other.
Gavin goes back to his journal, noting that Khufu has opened up his own journal and, without hesitation, has begun to write and write as if he doesn’t even have to think first or take a small break to ponder some more.
He must have had a great weekend, Gavin decides. His own weekend was unexciting. His older sister, Danielle, who thinks she’s so great because she’s finally become a teenager, ratted on him about shoving his shoes, pajamas, dirty jeans, and socks under his bed and then declaring his room clean. She also told his parents that he took the last of the Oreos up to his room to eat before dinner, and that he was playing video games instead of reading like he was supposed to. What a snitch.
All because he tattled on her for bringing her phone to breakfast and texting under the table.
So he had t...