“Last chance! If I haven’t received a promise letter from you, then you won’t be able to take home a penguin from my collection.” Ms. Divian’s voice blares over the P.A. system.
Ms. Divian, the principal that knows every student by name and always hosts amazing events for us, retires this year. She reveals her biggest secret to all the students and wants to leave us with a gift – penguins.
“I can’t believe that old lady has so many penguins!” Sarah says.
“Have you seen her office? Penguin toys everywhere,” Andy adds.
“I can’t wait to show my mom,” Karen mumbles.
I glance around the fourth grade classroom, eyes widening as I notice the variety of penguins in each kid’s hands – plastic figures, stuffed toys, cookie jars, and cup holders. I think I’m the only one who sits emptyhanded, but then I notice Nadia gawking at Jason’s penguin tea kettle, with nothing on her own desk.
The phone rings.
I rub my sweaty hands together, hoping that I get called down to the office.
“Yasmeen and Nadia, Ms. Divian says you can come on down,” Ms. Charlambous, my teacher, chirps.
I catapult out of my seat, rush out the door and down the stairs, ripping the doors open as I sprint down the hallway. Wondering if any good toys will be left, I gulp as I approach the principal’s office.
Then I see it.
A humongous stuffed penguin, half the size of my own body, sits on the table staring back at me. I don’t pay attention to the other penguin toys. Its eyes sparkle in the light, and its wings are so fluffy that I can hardly keep my jaw from dropping. Just as I extend my eager hands to grab the penguin and make it my own, Nadia swoops in from behind me, seizing it from my fingertips, and dashes out of the office.
My arms dangle down my sides and my knees feel weak. I blink in disbelief.
“You can have anything you like, darling.” Ms. Divian smiles sweetly at me from across the office.
I nod slowly, blinking back tears, and scan the contents of the table. My eyes hover, not stopping at any specific object. Not even the penguin soap bar holder can outweigh that huge stuffed penguin that Nadia snatched from me.
Several long minutes pass as I stand shaking in the principal’s office. Ms. Divian peers at me from behind her desk and smirks slightly, then stands up and reaches for a large black garbage bag behind her.
Tingles run through my insides. I twiddle my fingers and crane my neck to catch a glimpse of the contents of the mysterious bag.
“I have a special penguin waiting for you, Yasmeen. Do you think you will give it a good home?” She says as she picks out a toy from the bag.
I can’t open my mouth to speak, so I just nod my head quickly. My heartbeat quickens when I catch a glimpse of the toy.
Walking towards me, Ms. Divian holds a teal-coloured stuffed penguin. It shines like a trophy in her hands, my heart warming up as I imagine its cute little beak calling out my name.
As the toy leaves her grip and enters mine, I feel the soft fluffy fur rub against my skin. I meet the black pearl eyes of my new friend and squeeze him close to my chest.
“Thank you so much, Ms. Divian. I promise I’ll take good care of him.” I say, beaming.
She gives me a quick hug, making me blush. I clutch the stuffed penguin, cradling my new baby, being careful not to drop him as I dart back up to class.
Nadia watches me as I approach my seat, clutching the large stuffed penguin on her lap. She peers down, wraps her arms around it, and grunts in my direction. Nadia’s eyebrows furrow and she looks at me with sharp eyes, seething as she turns around.
Tears sting my eyes but I shrug it off and pet the luxurious fur of my special penguin. No one else in my class has a toy from the special collection like I do.
That night, I place my penguin on the pillow next to me. I brush his fur with my fingers and give him enough space to lie comfortably. I spend five full minutes staring at the toy, trying to think of the perfect name. I remember one of my favourite TV shows, Pengu, and with that, the decision is made.
“Say hello to Pengu,” I introduce to my stuffed-animal family.
Pinkyrose the ballerina bear, Rainbowdash the unicorn, and Sam the dog surround Pengu in the corner of my bed. My other toys watch from the basket on the other side of the room. They had the privilege when they first came home, but now it’s Pengu’s turn. I tuck him in next to me.
The following morning, I print out pictures of penguins and tape them onto my wall with my big sister’s help. I grin to myself.
Ms. Divian would be proud.
This was an entry in the 2017 Writing & Photo Contest.