It was the first day of school, and the halls were booming with pubescent roars. Kids on the “Eduardo Segovia Municipal High-School” scrambled their way from the entry gate towards their assigned classrooms; in trickles of ones and twos, joining the larger streams of moving masses, snaking their way inside the building.
From his spot behind a window of the teacher’s lounge, he could see them burrowing an imaginary hole into the white three-story structure. He thought of the power embedded within the system, capable of ordering anybody – even them, even on the first day – into a well-fashioned, purposeful motion.
“Maybe there is some sense in it,” he thought a minute or two before the bell rang. He had toyed with the idea of becoming a teacher for some time. Finally, He admitted that despite his memories of hating most of it, and maybe because of it, he would be the right candidate for the job. Hell, no matter how bad it got, the pay was enough for him and the holidays were the final perk. Having spent the last year studying for his teaching diploma, he was beginning to acknowledge a creeping sensation of calling emerging from within him. He had attempted to fight it, but the idea of somehow being different than the teachers he had growing up, of being able to help people with the knowledge he possessed about reality, of changing things – had managed to persuade him that this was the place for him. Here, in high school, he would be valuable, helping others and, along the way mending the wrongs he felt had been engrained in the teaching system.
The bell rang, and the snake’s tail disappeared into the white box. Staring at the lackluster construction, he had almost expected the building to shake about; but it was standing still, awaiting him to charm whatever was inside. As the other teachers were nodding and scrambling out, he sipped the last of his coffee, grabbed his papers, and strolled out towards classroom 315.
Stepping on the grey tiles aligned on the way, he could almost recall his childhood walks home from school, spent looking at the floor most of the way. A wonder he would make it home at all without being run over, he thought. How much nonsense have they stuffed him with back then that he had to avoid eye contact with the world to reach home safely? Now was perhaps a chance to amend all this.
As he looked up, the hallway glared with silence, as if trying not to disclose the secret of its roaring just a moment ago. The rest of the teachers had started their classes already. He paused outside the door, trying to listen to the ruckus inside his designated class. He waited for several seconds and, unable to hear anything, went inside.
They were seated at their desks and were looking at him. He thought of nodding hello but decided to walk and settle his things first. The table was on the other side of the classroom. He walked in silence and flung his briefcase over it, only to hit the edge of the desk first and have his papers drop to the floor. Looking sideways to the classroom, they were still sitting quietly. He got on the floor, picked up his papers, and scrunched them on the desk as straight as he could.
Grabbing a whiteboard marker from his bag, he wrote his name on the board.
“Mr. J. Pennskie”
The name turned out more slanted and squiggled than he wanted. Deciding he had wasted enough time already, he turned away from the board to face the class.
“My name is Mr. Pennskie, and I will be your English teacher this year.” He finished the sentence and stared at the children, the allotted class of 35 seventh graders. They were quietly seated, focusing their gazes at him, soundless.
“Well, we are going to get to know each other in this class and learn English. Could anybody tell me first what English is and why we learn it?”
Having uttered the sentence he had practiced in his head for several evenings before, he raised his eyes to meet theirs.
They were a foul lot. Their faces were deadened by what must have been years of adhering to schoolmasters. His question did not seem to stir any response whatsoever from them.
He peered closer into the rows of fourteen-year-olds filling the room. The primary commonality was sweat, like a constant remnant perched on the sides of faces and top of brows. The smell of the air had reached him. Filthiness unrecognized to him was tangling in knots all through the acrid air. He could not think of the second line he had memorized in reciting. Instead, his sight became fixated on one student’s nose ring, placed between her nostrils – a shiny ring with jagged slits gracing it. It was some call for attention. His gaze shifted quickly to another student next to her, his pre-mustache making itself apparent in scattered clumps above his too red upper lip. They all look as if strange grime was oozing from them, unattended by a single piece of tissue paper. He wanted to stop it all. He felt something in his throat. As he turned to the sides in fright, he realized there was no trash can there, and so he threw up on the floor.