I’m a grader. I grade people. Everyday I pick spheres of human life and grade people according to how well they do.
For example, today I graded cooks. I went to restaurants, walked into kitchens, and watched as cooks did things like peel carrots, chop potatoes, and grill steak. I stood there with a clipboard and circled various categories on a rubric. There were three categories: technique, product, and cleanliness.
So at the end of the day, I went to a steak chain, walked past the hostess, and went straight into the kitchen. I stood there with a clipboard and watched the cooks. I graded one as a B for technique, a B for product, and a C for cleanliness. At the bottom of the rubric I wrote, “Stop looking at me. Pretend I’m not here. Focus on cooking.”
And, “Make sure the peels go in the trash.”
As I started to grade another cook, the manager walked in followed by the hostess. He asked, “Is that the guy?”
The hostess nodded.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I’m a grader,” I said.
“For the Health Department?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “I don’t represent an organization. I’m here on my own. I feel it’s my duty to grade people on tasks according to my standards of what’s right and good.”
“That doesn’t sound fair,” said the manager.
“I know,” I said. “I’m working on that. See the rubric?”
I showed him the rubric, but he wasn’t amused. He took me by the arm and escorted me out the door, but not before I gave the rubric to the cook and said, “Meet me if you have any questions.”
Why did I choose this life? I’m a natural born cynic.
I’m a grader and today I graded cooks, but since I was kicked out of the steakhouse, cops picked me up, so I decided to grade cops. At first, they were kind to me. They weren’t rough, like I’d seen on television. They seemed amused by the reasoning I gave them as to why I went into the kitchen and started grading cooks.
One of the cops asked if was grading them now. I said, “Yes I am.”
He laughed and joked to his partner that everyone seems to be grading cops nowadays. But then he turned back to me and said, “Hey, what’s my grade?”
I shuffled through my rubrics and found the rubric for cops. I looked down, made some circles, and said, “You’re failing.”
His face changed and he said, “What did I do?”
I kept my composure, looked at the sheet, and said, “Well, in this scenario, you’re doing fine, but rampant distrust of police is eroding the social contract. For that reason, I give you an F.”
His partner got angry. He removed his nightstick and the two beat me. They kicked me to the curb and said, “Grade that!”
Then they drove away.
So I went through my papers, found police beatings, and marked them down as average.
And as I sat there, hurting and bruised, a little boy walked up to me. He looked to be no older than ten and he was eating an ice cream cone.
He looked at me and said, “What happened?”
I looked at my clipboard and saw it was coincidentally turned to, “Grading Conversations with Strangers.”
I turned away from the rubric and said to him, “Somebody didn’t like the grade I gave them.”
Ice cream was melting down his hand and he licked it off. He said, “What’s a grade?”
“Seriously?” I said. “How old are you? You look like you’re ten. Do you go to a hippy school? A grade is a way of saying whether someone’s doing good job or bad job.”
I looked at his ice cream cone.
“Like you’re not doing a good job eating ice cream,” I said. “An A means really good. A B means good. A C means OK. A D means not good. An F means really not good. I give you a D.”
He stared at me and kept licking his ice cream.
“That’s very subjective,” he said.
“I know, “ I said. “Wait. You don’t know the word grade, but you know the word subjective?”
He kept staring at me and then said, “You judge my ice cream consumption on a narrow definition of what’s good, but what if I enjoy the way I eat ice cream? What if it brings me happiness? What if that’s my definition of good?”
I looked down at my rubric.
“But I have a rubric,” I said.
“I think you need to judge not lest you be judged,” he said.
“That’s my problem,” I said. “I judge myself very harshly.”
I buried my head into my arms. I’d named a truth I’d always known. But when I looked up, he was offering me ice cream. It was dribbling all over his hand, it was actually very disgusting, but he was offering the remaining half-scoop and I took it.
“Just enjoy,” he said. “That’s how I exist in this pre-adolescent state,” and then he walked away.
Was the boy real? Do I eat ice cream?
I don’t know, but then again, I did. I ate the ice cream and here I am. A-OK.
About the Author
About the Illustrator
Arushi Gupta is a 22-year-old alien studying to be a dentist in Chandigarh. She is
a die-hard otaku and wishes to go to Japan soon. You can find her singing Japanese songs, making some artsy concoction or taking weird photographs in the streets of Chandigarh.
You can find her works here.
The Grader is one of the many amazing pieces of fiction from the upcoming edition of the literary collection The Machinery.
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