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.
“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.”
“You’re being bad now.”
“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.”