The market, Salonica

The market, Salonica
The market, Salonica

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

I taught you that

September, the new school term.  I was covering Year 11.  The Maths teacher was off already.  She’d set some work, multiple choice questions.  I just had to sit there, but that’s hard for me.

The girls were coming in.  One of them had a red coat.  I didn’t know her, and I don’t remember her name.  She stood out, though.  Everybody else was blue.

“That’s a nice coat,” I said.  

“Thank you.”

“Is it red for danger?”  She giggled.  “Embarrassment?”  She giggled a bit longer. 

Then Zaina walked in with her friends.  When she saw me, she stopped, no longer so sure about doing Maths.  I said her name without meaning to.  It’s not what teachers normally do when a pupil walks in.  Something had unsettled her: either she still loved me; she regretted telling me she did; I’d clearly not forgotten; or (D), all of the above.  I know.  (D) is not appropriate in Maths. 

Hundreds of girls go to that school.  They say things all the time.  A whole summer had trickled by.  How had I remembered what one girl said?  She must have felt unlucky. 

Zaina sat down.  Everyone was chatting.  The teaching assistant looked annoyed.

“If you make too much noise,” I said, “the teacher next door will hear.  I’ll be sacked.”  

The girl in the red coat giggled again.

“Be careful.  I’ll give you a window of opportunity.”

“What’s that?” she asked.

“It’s what I call detention.  If I give you a detention, your parents’ll complain: ‘He’s only a supply teacher.  He can’t give you a detention.  Who does he think he is?’  But if I give you a window of opportunity, it’s another matter.”

Red Coat giggled again.  The assistant got tired of it, and told her to stop, 

“It’s partly my fault, Miss.  I might be encouraging her, without meaning to, of course.”

“That’s right!” Red Coat said, warmly, as if she’d been absolved,

“Now I know what the red is for,” I said.  “Anger.”

She giggled again.  A girl came in with a message for the class.  She must have been a prefect or something.  She stood at the front of the room as if she was used to it, and addressed the girls like a teacher.  They all listened closely.  When she’d finished, I told them, “That’s not fair.  You listen to her, but not to me!” 

“I need water,” gasped Red Coat.  She was giggling non-stop.  “Can I go to the toilet?”

“I don’t recommend it.  (Her name here) and toilets don’t mix.”

She just giggled more loudly, so I let her leave the room.  When she came back, she was calmer.  She looked up from her work and said, quite seriously: “Do you like Tina?” 


Now she shrieked. 

“Why do you keep talking to him?” Zaina said to the girl in the red coat.  A quiet reproach.  She was a quiet girl.  That lesson, it was all I heard her say.

Tina was in a different set for Maths.  I saw her later, at the bus stop. 

“The last time I had you, you were very bad.” 

“I wasn’t.”

“You were.”

“I wasn’t.”

“You were.”

“I wasn’t.”


“You’re being bad now.”

She smiled.

“You sat on the floor.”

“I was feeling dizzy.”


“Tina, have I ever taught you anything?”

She thought for a moment, smiled again, and gave her head a profound, little shake.   It made her pigtails wiggle.  Then the bus pulled up.

“Wait.  If I get on first, you can avoid me.” 

“That’s true,” she reflected.

“I taught you that.”

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