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I am losing the will to live.
“So let’s just go over comparisons one more time, because I think some people in this class aren’t completely confident with them yet, okay? Now, who can give me an example of a comparison?”
She pauses for a second, ignores my raised hand and continues, “Nobody. I really wish you would pay more attention, guys.”
I cough loudly, hand still raised. “Mrs. Phaidon?” I say, “I can give you an example of a comparison.”
Mrs. Phaidon glances at me then turns back to the whiteboard, which happens to be filled with sentences like ‘A cat is as furry and soft as a dog.’
It’s been three weeks and there’s still no sign of this torture ending; I’ve decided that I can’t take yet another lesson on the complexities of comparing two nouns.
There comes a time when every person must take a stand.
I stand up, legs shaking slightly. That happens when I’m nervous.
“I understand comparisons. We all understand comparisons. Or, we would if your teaching method didn’t consist of rambling on for thirty minutes about your love life then screaming when we don’t finish the fifty comparisons you set us in the five minutes we have left of the lesson.” I stumble on the last words, much to my embarrassment.
I push back my chair, pick up my bag and make a move towards the door. The class is silent. Mrs. Phaidon is silent. I’m silent too, actually.
I stride briskly out the door. As soon as the cooler air surrounds me, I feel all the blood drain from my face. God. I need to start thinking about consequences. Me and my big mouth.
I pace around the corridor restlessly, finding myself unable to go back into that godforsaken room, to grovel to Mrs. Phaidon like I’m the one making a mockery of children’s education. Luckily, Mrs. Phaidon comes to me. Or unluckily, depending on how you look at it. She stands at her really quite impressive height of 5 9” and looks down on me imperiously. Her face is a little flushed and her nostrils are flaring. I didn’t think people’s nostrils flared in real life. I thought it was one of those things that only happens in movies.
Anyway, there we are, standing in the whitewashed corridor next to that display with the hollow-eyed Santa, neither of us speaking. I pick at a sliver of red paper hanging off the display. The tension is palpable.
I rip the little crimson piece of paper off with a flourish. Now I have nothing to do. I guess the only option left is to talk to the woman.
She doesn’t reply.
“Mrs. Phaidon, it’s pretty rude not to reply, yknow I once ignored this old man in the street and next thing you know, I’m on the floor and he’s clawing at my face with his dirty old nails and I still have a scar from that particular encounter,” I’m babbling now, filling the silence with my nervous ramblings. “Do you want to see the scar, Mrs. Phaidon? It’s a pretty cool scar, everyone says so and-.”
“Stop right there, young lady.”
When will I stop being a young lady, I’m pretty sick of people calling me that, I want to ask, but I don’t. I close my mouth and it remains that way. At least for a few seconds.
She slaps me. Raises her mottled, monstrous hand and backhands me across my tender right cheek. And then I do possibly the most idiotic thing I could do in this situation.
I slap her right back.
Except, seeing as I’m five foot nothing with the upper body strength of a T-rex, I doubt it makes as much impact as a fly landing on her cheek would. For one glorious second, I believe that I’ve won. Mrs. Phaidon is speechless. A heavy silence falls on the corridor, a silence just threatening to snap at any moment. But, me being me, I ignore it. I think to myself, if I can just hold out and not say a word, maybe she’ll calm down and decide that maybe she shouldn’t break every bone in my body. You know me, though. What chance in hell have I got of keeping my mouth shut long enough to avoid conflict?
I try. I really, truly try. I clamp down on my rising fear, and keep my legs stock still to stop them from running away and taking me with them. My hands shake with the effort of not flicking her bulbous nose- it’s so close to me, imagine her reaction. I bite my lip. I focus on anywhere but her bloodshot eyes. And that’s my downfall.
Right there on her cheek is the imprint of a hand, my hand, and it looks so ridiculously small sitting there on her vast face that I can’t help myself. I laugh. Loudly, raucously, stupidly. This goes on for a few wild minutes.
I finally catch my breath, and notice that the entire class is at the glass windowed door of the classroom, watching avidly. I wave.
Someone- or something, you never know these days- taps me on the shoulder.
I turn around, smiling cheerfully. Have to make a good impression.
I sit down on a generic office chair stained with god knows what and rest my damp hands on the table in front of me. The headmasters’ square, tense face suddenly appears before me, and I let out a little scream. This seems to infuriate him ever so slightly, but honestly, it’s not my fault that he looks like a murderer from a B-list slasher flick. Blame that one on genetics.
He starts to go on about respecting teachers and never resorting to violence, which I think is pretty hypocritical considering it was his precious teacher that hit me first. Isn’t that illegal nowadays, anyway? I tell him that, and his fingers start to drum the shiny oak nervously. He takes a deep breath.
“Look, you were emotional. People imagine things when they’re overexcited, and you’re no different. I advise you drop that ridiculous claim right now.”
I’m pretty sure he just called me delusional and discredited my story. I smooth down my skirt and say, “But Mr. Adams, I-,”
He cuts me off with a noise that sounds like a cross between a mosquito buzzing and a tractor engine.
“Your behaviour has been unacceptable. The school has contacted your parents, and we’re leaving you with two options.”
Mr. Adams shakes his head, slicked back hair sliding greasily down his forehead.
“Either you write a full apology to Mrs. Phaidon, and spend time assisting her at breaktimes and lunchtimes until she feels you have made up for the trauma you’ve caused her, or you are expelled from this school. Effective immediately.”
This is unexpected. I glance around the room as if it will magically tell me what I should decide. My parents would kill me if I was expelled. Then again, what’s keeping me here? The violence, incompetence and corruption? And I hear that that new school opening near my house is right next to an ice cream parlour.
I don’t have friends here.
My grades are falling.
The teachers hate me.
The juice in the cafeteria tastes man-made.
It always smells like old shoes, even when you spray air freshener in a futile attempt to breathe banana-scented air. I still don’t understand why they gave me a detention for that. It’s not like I was trying to spray it in her eyes; she got in the way.
It’s the last one that clinches it for me. I told my parents the day they sent me here, I will never last in a school that smells like my shoe closet in summer.
So, I smile.
I stand up.
I pull down my jumper, and pull up my tights.
And I look that tyrant Mr. Adams in the eye, and I say: