For Wednesday Write-in.
“Lizzie, class, sorry to interrupt – Mr Dobson wants to see you in his office. I’m to take over here.”
Liz paused in the act of writing “circumcision” on the board. “So this is it,” she thought. Dobbie had said he would let her know this week. That much sought after promotion; the opportunity to teach the top levels all the time and not just occasionally! She suppressed the urge to whoop and punch the air.
“Fine. We’re talking about female genital mutilation. The girls are with it but the boys are a bit subdued. Try and draw them into it – you know the score – mention Stanley knives, castration etc. They’ll respond.”
God, she loved this job. Everything about it. She loved this class, all the classes, the kids, their sassy attitude, their demands, their excitement at things new. She knew the kids liked her, liked her every day introduction to her lessons, “Are you all sitting comfortably? Then let us begin.” She enjoyed being part of the large community of teachers and pupils and families. She enjoyed the excitement and drama of it all, the dramas of school romances and their bust-ups and the making-ups. She loved the way the kids matured, changing from child to tyro adults, sometimes over night, sometimes over the course of a single lesson. She also involved herself in the other side of the coin, working to minimize bullying, fighting racism, sexism and all those other prejudices the kids inherit from their home communities. There’s always a dark side to everything; the good, the bad, the yin, the yang.
She had known since she was a child – from early schooldays when she had been blessed by exposure to inspirational teachers – that this was the thing she wanted to do with her life; it was the only thing she had ever wanted to do. It wasn’t just a job, wasn’t simply a career; it was more a what, a calling, a mission, a vocation? She wasn’t sure. Giving it a label wasn’t necessary. She was living it. She was a teacher, a high school teacher, educated and trained and motivated. And now moving onwards and upwards.
Of course she had her flaws, of course she wasn’t perfect, but if you keep these and past mistakes well hidden, who cares. No one needs know. It’s easy to bluff one’s way through life; one can even bluff oneself.
The secretary nodded her through into Mr Dobson’s office. “This is it,” she thought.
He came round to her side of the desk, indicated the comfortable chairs around the coffee table. “It’s about one of our ex-pupils, a young lad called Harry Roberts; he’s been arrested for shoplifting – caught with a bottle of cheap whisky under his jumper in the local Spa, bloody idiot …”
Lizzie froze, didn’t take in anything more of what was being said.
Harry Roberts! She hadn’t thought about him in over two years now. Not since their bust up when she had thrown him out her flat with harsh words, words unforgiving and cruel, words used with her not knowing that only the night before his father had slapped his mother across the face – hard – and she had retaliated. With a heavy vase. Hard. In the face. Broke his nose. And she walked out, walked out to live with her lover, her not named lover.
Harry Roberts! Why had she thrown him out? She could hardly remember. Something silly, probably. Or boredom; after all, a six week relationship with a seventeen year old was always going to peak early.
Harry Roberts, who always called her “Miss”. She was always “Miss”. Even when she was sitting on his lap, he would say, “Are you sitting comfortably, Miss? Then let us begin, Miss.” Or seeking approval, “Was that good for you, Miss?” or being triumphal, “That was good for you, Miss, wasn’t it?” as the warm, late-afternoon sun poured in through her bedroom window.
Harry Roberts, who always stood out from the rest by virtue of his looks, his maturity, his charisma. She wasn’t the only one attracted; she knew that from the occasional drinking sessions with some of her colleagues. But it seems she was the only one to fall.
It hadn’t been planned. A mid-summer Sunday, she just back from a morning of energetic tennis, still in her whites, shopping for a light lunch, he chatting to a friend outside the shop, she smiles, he offers to carry a bag, she agrees, they walk, she invites, he accepts, they climb the stairs. The sun shines in, the earth moves.
In those six weeks she had taught him a lot – how to make a good roux (naked cooking is fine, but always wear an apron, was one of her tips), how to appreciate whisky (always single malt, only a splash of water, never ice), how to please her.
“… and his social worker has been saying things that need some clarification and this is where you come in,” Mr Dobson’s voice cut in to her consciousness.
Lizzie felt her world turning to ashes, saw her life stretching ahead, the hiss, hiss, hiss of the hot-plate and the fatty, clinging smell of greasy hamburgers as she flipped, flipped, flipped. No bluffing here.