So now there was only the matter of a working week to get through.
Just five days.
Just a veritable eternity with the mad woman of the English department.
Surely, I could survive that.
And I almost did.
Almost gets you nothing.
The week had been surprisingly good. A teaching agency contacted me to see if I would be interested in teaching in a special school in my home town. They put forward my CV and I found myself with an interview awaiting on my return. It put a smile on my wife’s face. And on mine, may I add. Fortune seemed to favour me. Oh woe is me.
So, I was ticking off the days. Going to bed early in order to make time go faster. And it was working. I packed my bike into its travelling box and thought that I had done it. I wanted to spend the last day avoiding the lunacy that was the mad woman. Surely, I could find somewhere to hide. No!
She was there in my classroom. Behind me. She didn’t have a knife nor did I have a pet rabbit that she could boil. But it didn’t stop the attack.
“How dare you leave without telling me?”
In essence, I am the mad woman’s boss. So, I ignored her. She went on and on until Broadie came into the room and she was able to latch her talons onto him. Brodie responded with an impassioned defence of me and of himself. She accused him of cheating with his students. He accused her of being an old witch. I looked at the time and it sadly told me that I still had seven hours and twenty minutes before the asylum doors would open and I would be away. With the forces of darkness working their magic in my classroom, I got up, took my mug of tea and went for a walk in the playground.
The words, “Cuckoo, cuckoo,” came floating out of me on a melody that was from Mary Poppins.
Six hours and ten minutes to freedom.
The power of my laptop has been quietly running down and then the screen went blank. It’s charging now, just a little digital writer’s block. I used to wonder about writer’s block and wondered if it may have looked something like a butcher’s block. Big, thick wood that had been wounded over years of chopping and sawing. The blood and flesh had become a part of it. Anyway, it was nothing like that, only a moment’s passing.
Five hours and forty three minutes.
I am sitting in an air-conditioned room, writing. The mad woman is in her room. She tried smiling at the students as they entered her chamber; not a good idea.
My door is closed. I cannot lock it and I am praying that the harpy leaves me be.
Five hours and four minutes remaining.
Claire has just come to see me. She is close to breaking down. She cannot carry on at the school whilst the mad woman continues to hold court. When I go, she said that she will have to go off with illness. If she stays at work her illness will be exacerbated. The mad woman is one of the most convincing psycho/sociopaths that I have ever had the misfortune to meet. It’s stopped being funny.
It’s like when I was young and we decided that the biggest, scariest, most savage dog could act as a test of our bravery. It was fun, in a darkly-coated way. We had to get as close to it as we dared, before fleeing for our lives. We dared each other. And dared some more. The prospect of coming face to face with the hound was the stuff of nightmares. So we decided to do it.
One hot summer holiday afternoon, the four of us crept through the overgrown path of land that we called The Private. It was anything but private as it was our haunt in spring, summer, autumn and winter. We made igloos in the winter, dens in the spring, a football pitch (completely marked out) in the summer and bonfires in November. On that day, we were using it as camouflage so that our approach to the canine killer would not be detected. We were in luck, it was sleeping.
At some point in time, somebody had seen a chain around its neck. The owner had obviously decided that the dog was a rabid fiend that needed to be secured for the safety of the neighbourhood. We had wooden swords with which to goad it or fight it off. Peewee, now long dead, had no sense of fear. He was scared of nothing, whether it was hanging from the uppermost branches of a tree, prodding a nest of wasps, making an underground explosion using fireworks and old aerosol canisters, or teasing dogs into attacking him. Peewee had first dibs, but we would be there to provide support if things didn’t go well.
Things didn’t go well.
The dog was just as vicious as we had expected it to be. Once prodded with one of our swords, it came awake in a snarl of hungry teeth. It was up and after us in a blink of our collective eye. Peewee was lightening, scaling the fence and dropping down the other side. We were already running at this point but felt sure that the mutt would not be able to follow. Somebody had left the chain off. We were running for our lives. A scream shattered the afternoon air. It was Peewee who was wearing a dog on his backside. Being over the fence first only made him a more challenging target.
The dog won that encounter. Peewee’s backside mended but his penchant for peril never healed. Some years later, before he had reached the grand old age of twenty-one, he was impaled on a telegraph pole while fleeing the police in a car that had been taken without the owner’s consent. I wouldn’t mind, but he had already got his own car which he had bought from me some months earlier. Like the dog incident, he just needed to put his neck on the line, he needed to rattle danger’s cage, and taunt fate. In the end, it was all too certain for him and his destiny ended on a dark country road with blue lights biting at his backside.
Four hours remaining.
In four hours time, two hundred and forty minutes, fourteen thousand and four hundred seconds (not counting those that have just elapsed) I will never have to see the mad woman again. And I must admit to the fact that she does scare me.
Her madness is unrelenting and cannot be reasoned with. I admit, too, that I have goaded her in response to her madness. Perhaps it was a little of my JC thing again, making me right some perceived wrong for the benefit of all. Or more likely, I just wanted to prod her with a stick in order to get her mad up, in order to free her from her chain, and for me to take flight, or fight. She represented the ghosts that had plagued my dreams for the past year and her malign presence needed exorcising. I couldn’t be around such a person, someone whom I knew to have deeply rooted mental issues, but someone whose neurosis was as vicious as that unearthly canine on that summer’s day so long ago.
One Hour and thirty eight minutes to go.
Lunch has taken up a decent portion of the remaining time. As usual, Claire, Brodie and I went for lunch at one of our haunts (not too scary in this case). I had two beers. The temperature had moved into the relentless zone, the thing that turned tourists to crab-sticks whilst driving the locals off the streets and into a hermit mollusc-mode. Satiated, we returned to our nemesis standing outside of her classroom, playing teacher. Again, her smile made me think of Peewee and his fate. I could not look at her and her self-satisfied, tortured and persecuted expression. She was supposed to have been married, was married, but nobody had seen the other, less significant half.
I made for the corridors and walked around the school. It was a building in which young people and teachers were kept. I had spent much of the last fifteen years working with underprivileged children but now I was with the sons and daughters of the wealthy who were buying the essence of a British education, the brand that was being sold around the world from Beijing to Bahrain; and it was a fake. Overseas education, like ex-patriots, re-invents itself in a golden-age image. The emphasis on uniforms, houses, and prize-giving creates a surreal world of Hogwarts into which flies the wizard of suspended disbelief.
And what did they get for their money? The illusion of a top-class education; the chance to mix with others as privileged as themselves; and the prestige of being able to afford it. Britain at its best!
When the end finally arrived it did so with the anti-climax of any other day.
I walked away feeling neither relief nor sadness. The hag had remained in her cave and that was a bonus. I did find a sign that belonged to a Frankenstein display; it read MADNESS and I stuck it above her door. Brodie took it down in case of him being mistaken for the perpetrator. He was staying and he was scared.
I shared a few farewell drinks with my sane colleagues and then I returned home (the apartment) and finished the packing. I had enough time to nip down to the restaurant and bar that belonged to the apartment complex so that I could say goodbye to Lorena, the owner. She had offered a friendly face which provided me with a little sympathetic friendship. Small conversations in Spanish had helped to ease the burden of otherwise silent weekends.
When the next morning came, I was up early and bright to greet it. I had been out in the dark of night to listen to the whooshing of the sea and to measure my progress.
Nothing clichéd here. Nothing symbolic. No message from beyond. I had slept deeply and woke up refreshed. Homeward bound.