By Graham L. Wilson
Written in gedit 3.0.6 on Fedora 15.
Copyright (c) 2012 Graham Wilson.
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.3 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included at this link: see my profile page.
Part One: Misunderstandings
I gripped my seat belt tighter as the vehicle made the final turn, and I caught my first glimpse of the complex that was going to hold me 9:00 to 4:00 every Monday through Saturday for the foreseeable future. It seemed to me then as an absolutely untenable thought, and my mind kept telling me that this was not really happening - no matter what my eyes were telling me to the contrary. The prospect filled me with the deepest dread I had felt for a long, long time. Alright, I told myself, get a grip. It was only a school, just an ordinary red bricked school with perfectly normal glass windows and completely expected metal doors. Relax, relax, was the prospect so terrible?
That was the wrong question to ask myself if I was seeking to calm down, as the memories returned like hot flashes across my brow. Again, I saw a building, one that was not so different from the one we were approaching, only light blue instead of red. That building itself had seemed perfectly normal too, and had seemed perfectly safe for my six year old self - but there I had been wrong. It was not anything violent, no, nothing like that, that had made my view so negative. No, it was everything else. The attempts at separation, the ridicule, the lack of any consideration towards anyone but themselves - the seething ignorant masses, teacher and students alike.
It was those thoughts that were making my stomach clench so much now, even though almost a decade had passed. Though that was the real point was it not? A decade had passed, I was a completely different person than I was at the age of six. I was now fifteen years old now, well into adolescence. Beyond mere physical maturity, consider how much I had manged to accomplish, how much more capable I was then to handle anything they could throw at me. In fact, I felt, bring it on - it would be cathartic to prove once and for all that I was better than their abuse. Besides, who was to say that there would be any? This was no backwater school with poor regulatory oversight and little choice in who it picked as staff. This was a large public school in the heart of the provincial capital.
Yes, the staff would be better, and surely the students would be too. My fellow pupils would not be six year olds either, and no matter their emotional maturity they would not be able to muster anything close to what those earlier had managed. Yes, calm down, take it easy - you will all be fine. I lifted my head up from where it was facing the back of the drivers seat and caught a glimpse at my brother Matthew sitting in the front-side passengers seat. Was he thinking the same thoughts? After all, he had to face the trauma for almost two whole years before relief had finally come. He continued to stare straight out the windshield, his face blank. Desperate for some kind of empathy, I turned to my twin brother siting beside me, but he refused to hold my gaze.
My heart sank upon hearing the car's ignition dim, and the inevitability dawned upon the three of us: this was it, the moment of reckoning. My father turned to us, his expression an imperative to get going. Of course, he had to be getting into the office - and that was something upon which everything else depended, always in desperate need of that one elusive paycheck a month, before the shortages began again. I nodded, and gripped my new backpack to my chest with my right arm as my left hand unbuckled me from what had felt like comforting restraints. My two brothers mimicked my actions and, after saying farewell and good luck to our father, we stood up in the early morning light - a sight we were given the 'pleasure' of witnessing from the start to accommodate the lengthy travel time.
Matthew, as eldest brother on the scene, decided it was up to him to take point and so he began walking towards the front entrance. Grudgingly, Harry and I followed after him. Still in disbelief, I could not resist the urge to take one last glance at the great expanse around us before entering, and saw that the sun had now finally reached beyond the treetops. No wait, those are not trees, those are skyscrapers. I swallowed, depressed at the realization, and decided that the complete artificiality of the interior was a prospect to be relished more than the half-and-half out there. It was at first weirdly quiet, and our footfalls clacked as we entered the front hallway. It was a bitter thought, that us of all people were the ones being punctual when all of those getting up at reasonable hours were taking their time.
I approached Matthew and whispered: "Where are we supposed to be going anyhow?" He turned to face me, his mouth just as even and unsure.
"I don't know any more than you do" he shrugged, the three of us feeling like we had to get somewhere before the stampede began. We decided that since we were lacking information, the best way to try and rectify it was to read whatever notices we could find on the walls. Eventually we came across a sheet that explained that new students were to report to the front desk and request their time tables, with directions to the various classrooms attached. Satisfied, we set off to find the front desk. Indeed, we did find the front desk, but found it unoccupied. I sighed.
"Isn't that just bloody typical" I muttered. Harry raised a finger to his mouth.
"You're going to have to watch your language here, remember" he intoned, though that just made me feel worse.
"Well then" I told him, "we will just have to wait for the 'punctually-lacking' attendant." As I said this, a woman emerged from a nearby office, a large coffee in hand, and took her seat and smiled at all three of us. None of us saw fit to smile back.
"Yes?" she asked, not the least bit fazed by our reaction.
"Times tables" Matthew said, "we're the Williams." Her eyes narrowed.
"What?" she said, though still managing to retain her smile.
"The directive said to acquire times tables from the front desk" Matthew continued, "Matthew, Harry and Gordon Williams, please." Her eyes grew back again, as recognition flashed across her features. She bent down and opened up a drawer from her desk and pulled out three files from a directory.
"Oh yes sorry" she said, "here you go." Matthew took the documents from her, and nodded appreciatively. The three of us departed for a quiet corner, and each read our assigned schedules for the day.
"Monday" I began, before sidetracking to make a quip, "convenient that the first day of school proved the first day of the week, Morning: English 10"
"Monday, Morning: Physics 20" Matthew read out. I frowned.
"I guess that means we are going to have to lose you then" I stated. Matthew nodded dejectdly, the prospect of going it alone not seeming enjoyable.
"Yeah, see you at lunch I guess" he agreed, before heading in search of the physics classroom. I stepped towards where Harry was still reading his sheet.
"Where is the English classroom?" I asked. Harry looked up at me, lowered his view back down again, and then up once more.
"Classroom 5" he stated, spewing out the tract he had taken directly from sheet into his short term memory. So, after depositing our backpacks at the specified location, we began our own search. This did not prove to be as simple as we would have first thought however, as classroom five was on the other side of the school from the main entrance. Turning the corner away from the front desk, we were dismayed to find that the great migration had started, as student after student flowed in from doorways that now never seemed to close. Tens of faces, potentially even hundreds of them in total, all of them absolutely comfortable with being a part of the throng, all of them seeing themselves as part of the larger whole. The two of us could only stare transfixed at the herd as it moved, shuffled and slowly dispersed.
Eventually, I glanced over at a marking over one of the doors on the far end, and saw it read Classroom 2. I tapped Harry on the shoulder and pointed. His eyes traced the path my fingers drew and he nodded again, and we made as quiet a way as possible towards it. From there, it would simply be a matter of working our way numerically upwards to Classroom 5. By the time we reached Classroom 4, I was beginning to relax again, almost feeling the sanctuary of my own desk and chair with which to distinguish myself from everyone else around me. Other people were not having so much trouble deciding their own individual existence however.
"Yoo-hoo" a voice behind us exclaimed, and the two of us shook. We did not want to deal with it, and attempted to just keep on walking. "Hey!" the voice shouted again, "you two!" We still did not want to turn, and so we did not. We did hear footstep behind us, and eventually sensed a presence close in from behind. No choice, I spun around and found myself face to face with a pair of eyes. Harry had just kept on walking, but quickly realized that he was going alone and turned back.
"Hello" I said to the eyes, unsure. A smile appeared bellow the eyes and a straight tipped nose.
"You were going to just walk away were't you?" the voice said, presumably attached to the eyes.
"No" I replied, "we just had not heard you." The eyes seemed unconvinced.
"Anyhow" the voice continued, "do you know where English 10 is? You two seemed pretty sure where you were going." I stepped back a pace and blinked, and the eyes, nose and mouth became part of a larger picture. It was a young woman's face, which matched the higher pitched tones of the voice.
"Classroom 5" I informed her, "right here on the time table." Her gaze shifted, and her mouth twitched.
"What time table?" she asked meekly. I pointed to another copy of the directive that was affixed to a nearby wall. Her eyes followed my arm, and she rushed over to the bulletin board. "Thank you, see you later" she breathed out as she went, without facing us. I looked to Harry, who looked to me with equal bewilderment. Harry returned to moving in the direction he had previously been heading, but I could not help but linger a little while longer to see the girl hastily read the directive before running in search of the front desk. It did pay to be punctual after all, I decided, but then realized that unless I got moving I would be breaking that very rule.
Classroom five was larger than I had expected, but I supposed that made a certain amount of sense. English is naturally a required course, so of course it would require a suitable room to contain all the students who were mandated to endure it. The time table also contained a desk number for each of us, and for the most part I was glad of that fact as it meant I did not have to work out a more arbitrary system towards where I was supposed to sit. I did have one very real concern however, but that quickly subsided when I saw that the figure on my twin's sheet was the next one after mine. They were not going to try and separate us, not this time at least, and that alone made this feel a lot more promising than it could have been. We took our adjacent seats and tried to collect ourselves.
Before long, the rest of our fellow English 10 students began to enter and find their own seats, and the noise of the door opening and shutting became a steady thunder. Each time it did, I raised my head to try and identify the face. Ostensibly this was to try and see if it was our new teacher, but in reality I was curious to see when that girl had managed to wrangle her time sheet from the attendant and then find her way to classroom five. However, every face I saw was a new and alien one, though not all of them were unpleasant. After awhile I stopped caring, and slumped myself down on my desktop trying to cancel out the noises all around me. This proved ill timed, as it was then when the first person older than sixteen stepped through the threshold. The English teacher was a short stout middle aged woman with a serious humourless face; her name listed as Mrs. Morsten on the sheet. I could sense trouble there already.
"Alright class" she began, "welcome to English 10 and welcome to the new school year." All around me, the students grumbled a bleary reply. "I hope you all enjoyed your summer vacations" she continued, choosing to ignore their attitude just this once, "and I hope you will all enjoy studying the English language here today." I did not care in the slightest about what pleasantries she had to say, I would open my ears again when she began getting to something vaguely academic. My eyes flew over the heads around me, trying to see if the girl had slipped in unnoticed. I could find no trace of her presence yet, perhaps she had been wrong about being in this English class after all. The teacher had finally finished her inane speech, and took out a lesson plan from her briefcase. I raised my head up again, as I do focus if required.
"Teacher!" a voice called out, and all faces pivoted to spot the nasal voiced girl who had raised her arm.
"Yes?" the teacher asked. The girl continued to hold her hand aloft excitedly.
"Shouldn't you hand out our textbooks before beginning?" she stated. The teacher smiled at her, but the air of Mrs. Morsten still proved cold.
"Yes" she acknowledged, "thank you." The girl grinned at her own usefulness, apparently blind to more subtle body language.
"At least I am not the most socially aloof here" I thought to myself, my mind cataloguing her face and actions for future reference. It was not a bad start so far on that front, but it was probably still going to take me weeks before I had an internal database that was in the slightest bit ready to identify my new compatriots at will. The teacher picked up a box from behind her desk with a heave and dumped it unceremoniously in front of her desk.
"Textbooks" she stated curtly, "single file please, but feel free to pass them around." One by one, a textbook made its way to people in its own way; all except for the two of us however. The distribution system seemed to be mostly based on already established acquaintances, while we had no connections to rely upon. Realizing the system at work here, I stood up and began walking towards the box. As I leaned down to pick up one for myself and Harry, I heard the classroom door open and shut again. This time I knew it must be the one person I had been waiting for, but now that I was poised over the box I did not think it wise to turn and check. I picked up two books and straightened, and then I felt her presence. I slid my eyes to focus on what was once peripheral, and I caught her's again.
"One for me too" she said, "if you don't mind." I rolled my eyes back, processed the request, and handed one of the books to her. She took it and headed to find her seat, me only catching her go through my eye's now once again unfocused right sides. I grabbed another textbook and returned to my desk, handing Harry his own. I checked the title of the book: An Anthology of English Short Writing. Hmm, that was a nice and descriptive title - let us just hope that the course itself is as rational. The teacher made a broad sweep of the class with her upper body, before feeling assured that she was now safe to begin outlining her lesson plan and structure.
"This course is divided into three units" she explained, "with about five lessons each." Alright, that sounded reasonable.
"The first is about essays, the second is about novels, and the third is Shakespeare" the eager girl stated proudly. The teacher eyed her dubiously.
"Yes, that is correct - but could you please leave the teaching to me Miss Monte?" she asked. The girl blushed, raising a hand to her face, and cowered. As much as I did not want to feel like I was taking advantage of this circumstance, I stashed away the name Monte into my own personal mental file. The teacher did another broad sweep, attempting to ascertain whether or not she had managed to quell anyone else's exuberant attempts to throw off her schedule. She evidently decided that she had. "Now then, since I assume the format has now been adequately explained, let us get to lesson one shall we?" The class collectively nodded, Miss Monte hardest of all.
It was a relief when first term finally ended, and the class shuffled out into the corridors. Mrs. Morsten's teaching style was intolerable, as she would not let any one of the students ask her questions. Any inquiry was taken as a challenge, and after having had to put down Miss Monte's subversion already she had been in no mood to let anyone dispute her point of view. It had not been a lesson so much as a sermon. All were expected to accept her point of view or suffer the consequences. I had managed to hold my tongue, though that had in of itself been an exercise in patience. Lunchtime was now here, and we were free from her for the rest of the day at least. We were free to think on our own again. We were free to get lost as it turns out, as Harry and I struggled to find the cafeteria after reclaiming our backpacks. Our dilemma was interrupted when I heard the now familiar tones made by a certain pair of shoes, and I turned to see the eyes again.
"Looking for somewhere?" the girl asked. I frowned.
"Yeah" I said, "this time we can not help you, we do not know where it is ourselves."
"The cafeteria is right over there" she stated, pointing just behind us, "I saw the sign earlier." I nodded.
"Thank you" I said, "consider your debt repaid." She chuckled.
"I did not know it counted as such" she said. I shrugged.
"One good turn did deserve another" I stated, "I did also give you that book."
"Yes" she agreed, "we keep bumping into each other."
"Ahem" my brother grunted, impatiently gesturing for me to start taking up on her advice. The girl smiled at him pleasantly, before turning back towards me.
"Might as well get ourselves properly introduced" she said, "if you guys don't mind." I was not about to argue. We walked through the doorway and took a free table near the window. The girl had not been able to keep pace with us, but showed up after a few moments. Watching her form magnify as she approached, I was able to take her in properly for the first time. Apart from the luminous green eyes and tipped nose, her face was framed with light wraparound brunette hair and dotted near her nose with pale freckles. Her chosen attire for her first day in her new school was modest, just a blank white shirt and plain black pants "You were not trying to give me the slip again?" she panted, reaching our table.
"Of course not" I said, "it is just that the distance concerned was separating us from lunch." She placed her lunch bag on the table and slid in beside me.
"I guess that explains your brother's urgency" she noted, ignoring Harry's presence across the table. He did not seem to mind, but I wanted to change topic.
"My name is Gordon Williams" I imparted. She nodded and smiled.
"Hello 'Gordon'" she intoned, "my name is Emily. Um, Nicholson if you must know." I raised a hand.
"Charmed" I said. She stared down at my hand confused, but eventually shook it.
"Rather formal aren't you?" she noted curiously. I shrugged.
"It is a survival mechanism I guess" I replied. She nodded again.
"I could tell you were new here" she said, "but then that makes two of us."
"I doubt it is on the same league" my brother suddenly cut in from across the table. She faced him.
"Oh?" she asked. I decided to steal the conversation back again, on my own more polite terms.
"Where were you before?" I asked her.
"Victoria" she replied, "we moved to Edmonton last summer." I looked to Harry, her story might just outdo ours after all, though I had detected a foreign touch.
"We're from out of town ourselves" I explained, "a ranch about an hours drive west of here." She grinned.
"You guys are farmers?" she exclaimed, "Wow."
"Yeah, and were homeschooled for the longest time as well" my brother stated.
"So what brings you here then?" Emily asked, plucking a sandwich out of her bag.
"The program was dropped, budget cuts or something, and the only other available option was for pay" I elaborated, "so we had no real choice but to come here, it was either that or one of the low quality local rural schools." She frowned.
"Not happy about it?" she asked. We both nodded simultaneously.
"We appreciated our freedom" Harry proclaimed.
"And not having to get up at 7:00 every morning to drive in" I elaborated.
"Sorry" she said, "but I am sure you will get used to it."
"Yeah" I sighed, "the same goes for you."
"Oh no" she stated, "I am right at home now thank you." We shared a pleasant gaze, before again my brother thought to interrupt.
"Lunch hour is supposed to be for eating lunch" he iterated in my direction. I broke off our connection, and picked up my soup capsule somewhat irritated. I was interrupted yet again however by the arrival of Matthew, who took a seat next to Harry, and observed the presence of Emily with some surprise.
"Matthew, Emily" I stated, "Emily, my brother Matthew."
"Hi" Emily said simply.
"Hello" Matthew replied, almost equally simply. That pretty much seemed to be the limit of their immediate conversation.
"What kept you?" I asked. Matthew sighed.
"The Physics took a bit longer than it probably should have" he explained, "something to do with missing textbooks."
"That's funny" Emily giggled. Matthew glanced at her critically. "There was this one girl who pointed out just that in our class."
"But were they all there?" Matthew asked. Emily shrugged.
"You'd know more than I would, Gordon."
"Yes, there were enough of them" I stated. Matthew frowned.
"Then I do not see how it is cogent to the other problem." "Just consider it part of the greater incompetence of the staff" I explained. He shared an exasperated frown.
"Ah" he concluded. Emily watched the interchange with interest.
"You guys are clever" she proclaimed. I eyed her again.
"What makes you say that?" I asked, somewhat abstractly.
"Those big words" she said quietly, unsure of my reaction. I shrugged.
"I suppose" I agreed, "just do not consider us bitching to be the height of our thoughts." She gasped, surprised at my wording. "Sorry" I said quickly, closing my eyes, "I am just used to saying what I think." She raised a hand to her cheek, almost as if to try and wipe away her slight blush.
"I said you would have to watch your mouth" Harry noted, taking another sip of soup. Emily stared down into her still barely bitten sandwich quietly, no doubt trying to make sens of the company she had managed to find herself in. The idea that I had made her uncomfortable cut through me like a knife. I decided that I should try and reorient the gathering, and so turned to Matthew and left her to make more of an effort towards her meal.
"What is your afternoon class?" I asked him. Matthew put down his thermos, and pulled his time table out of his pocket and unfolded it.
"Pure Mathematics 20" he replied. Hmm, physics and then math. That was a combo that would surely wear down one's arithmetic brain. I brought out my own table and eyed the Monday slot further along. Monday, Afternoon: Science 10. That sounded good, and would help get the taste of English via Mrs. Morsten out of my mouth. Even after sliding down another glob of thawed soup, I had still not managed to purge that. Psychology is a wonderful thing...
"Science 10" I read out, for Harry's benefit. Well, that, and one other stray question. Emily shook her head.
"No" she said, her sandwich having now vanished inside of her, "I am on Social Studies today." I nodded. She had an artsy combo to contrast Matthew's logic combo.
"Well" I concluded, "it was nice meeting you Emily." She smiled back, before beginning to pack up her lunch materials.
"See you guys later" she said, before sitting up and walking away. I watched her go with a strange feeling of sadness. She had made the experience today just a little bit less hellish, and now we were back to fending for ourselves. Ah well, this is not over yet. As I thought this, the bell rang and so I shoved my container back into my bag. This school day was not over yet either, one more class left before I was able to get back to the sanctuary of our family vehicle for the hour ride back home.