I teach at two different schools—a community college and a small university. On my way to my office at the community college last Monday morning, I chatted with the maintenance man, as usual. He said he couldn’t wait for spring break. I complained that I’d still be teaching at my other school, therefore no real “break.” When I said the name of the other school, his face lit up. “My daughter goes there,” he said. “I don’t know what she’s studying or if you know her.” When he said her name, I smiled and told him what a great student she is. “Very hardworking and funny and smart,” I added. I know she is 18, lives in Southeast DC and takes a bus and the Metro to get to school. At the beginning of the semester, when I asked everyone in the class to write about their first time doing something, she’d written about working in a fast food joint near our school and being robbed at gun point. Other than this, I know nothing of her home life.

“I don’t see her too much anymore ‘cause she’s always with her mother,” her dad said. He looked down. Years of shame or anger or something else crossed his face. Who knows what had transpired between this man and his ex, my student’s mother? Yes, I am projecting, but shit–that’s what we writers do. He looked up again. “I’m gonna call her right now and tell her I met you,” he laughed. I asked him his name and told him mine. We shook hands and said goodbye.

Ten minutes later he returned to my door and placed a $20 bill in my hand. “I’m not gonna call her. When will you see her again?” he asked.

“Tomorrow.”

“Give this to her and tell her it’s from her Daddy. She’ll like that. I’m not gonna call her. I’ll let it be a surprise.”

The next day, I asked the young woman to stay after class. After everyone but her best friend left the room, I sat next to her and gave her the twenty. “This is from your dad,” I said. She looked shocked. “Did you know he works at the other school where I work?”

She put the bill back in my hand, stood up, took a few steps toward the door, leaving her stuff on her desk, then turned back to me, half-smiling. “I’m sorry. I think there’s been a mistake. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I told her the name of the man who’d given me the money to give to her. “Is that your dad? He knew your name,” I said. “He wanted you to have this.” I knew she was kidding.

She came back and took the twenty. “This is too weird,” she said, sitting back down. “This doesn’t feel right.”

“I’m sorry. I think he meant it as a surprise,” I said. She laughed.

“At least he was thinking of you,” said her friend. “Are you gonna buy us breakfast now?”

She laughed and snapped, “No!” She gathered her books and turned to me to say “thank you” then walked out the door saying, “I’m gonna go call my mom!”

I saw her dad again this morning. “I got a phonecall,” he said, smiling. “She liked that.”

“Yep. I think she was surprised,” was all I could say.