SAFE    

(Warning - contains strong language)

 

One 

The day of Chris’s party had been shit. I’d had a row at home, isolation at school, no bus fare and no fags. I should’ve known it was the wrong day to take a chance with the pregnancy thing. My luck was bang out. 

I’d only gone to school in the first place to get the ‘Education Welfare Officer’ off my back. He’d been round to the house again, acting all serious and talking about legal action. At first, I was going to ignore him like usual, but my mom got the face on, and I thought the best way to keep them both happy was to just turn up every now and again. So the next morning, I went.

It was all OK until French. I hated French – oh I know everybody does – but I really couldn’t stand it. Our usual teacher wasn’t too bad with me though. She, like most of the others, sort of knew I wasn’t going to do much because I didn’t see the point. 

I was never going to be a brain surgeon was I? And I really didn’t see what difference a couple of GCSEs were going to make to my life. She understood this, and she pretty much left me alone. But that Friday we had a cover teacher. I knew him a bit, he’d been in some of our lessons before; but he didn’t know me, not well enough to realise when to back off anyway.

It started from the minute I walked through the door. It was the second lesson of the day, and we didn’t have a break between that and the first. So it was always a bit difficult: leaving lesson one, trying to get twos on a fag, and then not being late for the next lesson. Well I was a bit late that day, only a couple of minutes, but it was enough to wind him up.

‘What’s your name?’ he snapped.

I told him, and he made the ‘Ah’ sound. The ‘Ah’ meant he recognised my name; he knew now that I was one of those lads who hardly ever attended, and when I did, I always managed to get my name on the detention list. He shook his head and sighed; the look on his face was so dirty that he’d have needed bleach to get it off.

‘Well, what do you think you’re playing at, turning up at this time?’

He was being right mardy, and he didn’t give me chance to answer the first question before he went babbling on with the next.

‘Who do you think you are, blah, blah, blah…disturbing the lesson, blah, blah…you’ll make the time up at break, blah, blah, blah.’

OK, OK, I thought, staying calm. It’s only a couple of minutes, I can put up with that.

I tried hard to ignore him and made my way to an empty chair at the back.

The next thing it was my jacket. We’re not supposed to wear coats during the lessons, but it was freezing in that classroom and I only had a T-shirt on underneath. Sometimes I could get away with leaving it on. But not that day; Mr Supply Teacher was going to follow the rules to the letter. 

‘Remove your coat as well,’ he shouted, before I’d even sat down.

‘OK, give me a chance,’ I said.

‘Don’t speak to me like that,’ he said. ‘Just do it!’

I knew he was being all cocky and going over the top, but I decided to let him. I preferred to keep quiet if I could, so I sat down and took my jacket off. The cold made me shiver.

He put some worksheets in front of me and walked away. They weren’t hard and I could probably have had a go at them. But I didn’t, because I hadn’t brought a pen. 

Now let’s face it, I had all on getting myself up on time, putting on something that resembled school uniform, getting my little sister up, getting her to school, then getting me to school and finding out where I should be, without remembering to bring a pen as well. I knew I didn’t have one, I never did, but because he’d had a go at me twice in two minutes, I thought I’d wait and see what happened; sometimes cover teachers never even got up from sitting behind the desk.

I sat and looked out of the window for a bit. Some of the girls were on the field doing P.E. and it was quite entertaining. I knew a few of them well and the memories made me smile – but not for long though. Unfortunately, the muppet at the front must’ve felt like a walk round, and all at once, there he was, standing in front of me.

‘You’ve done absolutely nothing. You’ve been sitting there all this time and you haven’t written a single word.’

I looked at him.

‘What’s a matter with you lad, why haven’t done anything?’

‘I haven’t got a pen,’ I answered.

Now normally the teachers would tut and shake their heads a bit when this happened. But then, they’d just go and get me a pen and I’d make an effort to do some work. But this idiot, he decided he was going to make a big deal about it.

‘Oh he hasn’t got a pen,’ he shouted, all dramatic, waving his hands in the air.

‘Well, perhaps if you sit there long enough, one will fly in through the window and land straight in your hand.’

He looked around at the other kids, pleased with himself. Maybe he thought that he’d get a laugh, that they’d be impressed with his wit. But most of them weren’t even listening, and the ones who were didn’t have a clue what he was on about.

I just glared at him. I hated people being sarcastic anyway, but from a teacher, it really did my head in. I mean there was no need for it. Why couldn’t he just say “Well you should’ve asked for one earlier”? And then he would’ve been right, and I wouldn’t have argued. Why did he have to make it into an event? Why did he try to show me up and make me look stupid?

I shook my head.

‘You sad bastard.’

I sighed out my thoughts almost under my breath. And it was the almost that got me into trouble; a bit quieter and he wouldn’t have heard. But he did, and he threw a real strop.

‘What did you say?’

Oh God, here we go. 

‘Nothing,’ I said. I didn’t feel like arguing.

‘Yes you did, I heard you. Now come on, if you’re big enough to say it in the first place then at least be brave enough to admit it.’ 

He was proper shouting now; acting all hard and pushing and pushing me, more and more. All the other kids had gone quiet and they were all looking at me; I could feel my stomach getting tight. I really hadn’t wanted any trouble, but he just wouldn’t leave it alone.

‘Well, I’m waiting. Or aren’t you so clever now?’

He obviously thought that because I was keeping quiet I was scared of him, and that must’ve made him feel good.

He came right up to my desk and leaned over, really near to my face.

‘Not so brave when you’ve got to say it out loud are you? Well you’re pathetic lad. Absolutely pathetic…aren’t you?’

As he shouted out his high and mighty opinions, I felt some of his spit land on my lips, and then I just couldn’t hold it in any longer. It was right what I’d said anyway, he’d just proved it, right there in front of all the other kids.

‘I said you’re a Sad Bastard.’

I didn’t shout, but I said it plenty loud enough and I looked straight at him as I spoke.

He stood bolt upright then with a shocked look on his face. That had thrown him. He really hadn’t expected that; he’d probably thought I was going to agree with him, or apologise or something. Because I hadn’t said anything for so long, he thought he’d won his little battle and made me look stupid and pathetic or whatever it was he was trying to do.

He didn’t know what to say now though, so he did what they always do in that situation – he pointed at the door and screamed, ‘Get out!’

And as he stood there with his arm stretched out, I could see that his hand was shaking.

I hesitated for a second. I could’ve had a real go at him then, like I would’ve done when I was younger. I could have told him about himself or threatened him or even thrown a few things. But I’d shaken him up alright and that was enough. And I knew I’d be going into isolation for what I’d done already. So although I was really wound up, I kept my mouth shut. I’d made my point and so I did what I was told. I stood up, got my jacket and walked out of the room.

Outside in the corridor, I threw myself back against the wall hard. I swore a few times, and thought about what I’d like to do to him.

But then I tried to calm myself down. I’d learned the benefit of doing that a long time ago. They liked to see that you could sort yourself out a bit, ‘Anger Management’ they called it. I closed my eyes for a second and took a few deep breaths. After a while, my heart started to beat slower.

One of the girls came out of the classroom with an orange piece of paper in her hand. This was a sort of form thing that the teachers filled in when somebody had kicked off and they wanted them dealing with. They wrote down what had happened and then they got a ‘good kid’ to take it to the office. 

This ‘good kid’ was called Mel. I didn’t know her that well, but as she walked passed she looked at me. It was a strange look; one that I couldn’t quite work out. It wasn’t the ‘you low-down piece of crap’ look that I would’ve expected from her. It was a sort of smile, and it was enough to make my eyes follow her all the way down the corridor.

When she’d gone out of sight, I thought about what’d happened again and I almost went home – it wouldn’t have been the first time I’d walked out of school. But then I saw old Rogers coming towards me with the orange form in his hand. Mr Rogers was the deputy head, and to be honest, we’d always got on OK. The only run-ins we had were at times like this, when somebody else had wound me up and he had to deal with it. 

‘Oh Danny, not again.’ 

These were his first words as he stopped and stood next to me. He looked quite mad.

‘It’s really not on! You can’t just go on saying these things. You know you should bring a pen, and if you don’t, you should ask to borrow one properly. You know that, don’t you?’

As well as looking mad, he seemed disappointed and I nearly felt a bit bad then. What he’d said so far was true, what could I say? I looked across the corridor and out of the window.

‘Yes sir,’ I said, and he carried on.

‘You can’t just start swearing and causing trouble like this. I’ve told you before.’

He paused for a minute, and then said, ‘There was no need for this to have happened was there?’

I didn’t answer.

‘Was there Danny?’

His voice had got louder and I turned my head back to look at him. I wanted to tell him then, I wanted to tell him how it’d all been his fault, Mr what-ever his name was – if he hadn’t tried to show me up and make me look thick in the first place, and then if he’d have just left me alone, I mean he’d kept asking me what I’d said hadn’t he? He’d pushed me into repeating it, going on and on and on.

But what was the point? It wouldn’t have done me any good anyway; they always stuck together in the end.

So I cut my losses, ‘No sir,’ I said quietly.

I thought he was going to tell me to apologise then, but he didn’t; maybe he could tell it wasn’t the best time. There was no way I would’ve said sorry then anyway, no chance. But he knew if he left me alone for a bit, I’d be more likely to do what he said.

‘Right; good,’ he nodded. ‘Now, come with me up to the PRU.’

I followed him all the way along the corridor and up the stairs.

Our isolation unit was foul. I mean I know it wasn’t supposed to be a holiday camp or anything, but it was the most depressing place in the world. When I first started at that school it was always called ‘Isolation’, but then a couple of years ago somebody decided it should be called a Pupil Referral Unit or ‘PRU.’ That sounded much more friendly didn’t it? Well it wasn’t. It was exactly the same as it always had been; sub-zero temperatures and boring as hell.

It was an old classroom that had been split up into what they called ‘bases,’ and when we got there, Rogers told me which one to sit in. As I flopped down, the teacher who ran it looked at me and nearly said something. Maybe she was going to tell me to take my coat off or something, I don’t know, because she quickly changed her mind and said nothing. She’d known me for a while and could tell that I was pissed off. She decided to leave me alone.

Rogers told me that I had to spend the rest of the day there, but if I behaved myself, I could go back into normal lessons on Monday.

‘But,’ he said seriously. ‘This is getting far too regular Danny. If it happens again, you’ll be looking at another exclusion.’

I frowned – didn’t he realise that an exclusion would suit me down to the ground? It would give me a real proper reason for not going to school.

He cottoned on to what I was thinking and he couldn’t help smiling.

‘Just try not to do it again Danny, eh; it’s better for everybody. OK?’

I nodded and he went. 

Bastard supply teacher, I thought to myself, and I put my hood up, got my key out of my pocket and started carving into the desk.

 

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