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A lesson for our time

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A lesson for our time

Post  mark.oconnor on Tue Apr 16, 2013 7:40 pm

‘Settle down, all of you,’ said Rod Strider. A tall man, he stooped to place his briefcase on a small desk at the front of the room. He clicked the catches of the case simultaneously, opened the lid, and took out a black biro pen, a pack of chewing gum and a blank A4 writing pad. He placed each item down onto the desk so that their lower edges were flush with the bottom edge of the desk.

‘We don’t have as much time together as you imagine and I’m paid so you don’t waste it,’ he said, as he waited for the hubbub of voices to settle. He closed the lid and set the case down with similar precision next to the desk. He took a stick of gum, and began to chew, using his tongue to push the cherry flavours released into the corners of his dry mouth. He surveyed the silent faces that were now looking at him. Every year and the faces never changed, brand new, hopeful, fresh. Every year his responsibility to tell them how it really was. Lessons in real life, not the cosy molly coddled existence they had been used to. Today, their first day, mattered and he wasn’t going to shirk that responsibility. He wondered if the lads in the front row could see the thin film of sweat developing on his brow. He swept his palms back over his tight cropped hair and then adjusted his starched jacket. He turned to look at the clock hanging above the door. In thirty seconds he would start, he wasn’t there to make friends he reminded himself.

‘In thirty seconds I am going to start. Start a lesson I hope you will never forget.’ He began a count down from ten seconds. He saw a lad in the back row smirk and start to join in, mouthing the countdown. At five he spat the gum into a waste paper basket fully four metres away. The tinny pinging noise like a sniper bullet hitting a tin can caused several of the lads to jerk in their seats. The smirking youth stopped counting. Striven knew he had their attention now. They would learn the meaning of loyalty, friendship soon enough. They would come to understand the meaning of time keeping. He knew none of them would understand the importance of the clock today but that day would come.

‘Three, Two, One.’ Silence, the kind of silence experienced when entering a room where someone is dead. A silence pure and simple. A silence in his power to break when he had finished taking in the details of the thirty faces staring at him.

‘You are here for one reason and one reason only. Gentlemen you have been chosen and selected and you are at the start of a journey. It is a journey where I will be by your side. I will guide you , lead you, I will lay down my life for you if that is what it takes.’
He looked at their uniforms, clean, pressed and thought of all those who had been here in these seats before over thirty years. Many battles fought, friendships formed, parents he had consoled when their lads had lost the ultimate prize.

‘This is my last year. Don’t think that means I am not going to be tough. Don’t think that means you can call the shots,’ he looked directly at the boy who had been smirking at him earlier.
‘The uniform you now wear has been worn by many who are now men, not snotty nosed lads. You, yes you, stand up.’ Strider pointed at a lad, much smaller than the others. A small lock of blond hair flapped upwards, caught by a cool autumnal breeze coming through the window. It revealed dark oval eyes that Strider had seen before.

‘What is your name?’
‘Mitchell,’ said the boy, not loud enough for anyone to hear beyond the front row.
‘Mitchell, Sir,’ said Strider.
‘Sorry, Mitchell, Sir,’ said the boy.
‘I thought so. I knew your brother. Don’t be scared Son. Straighten your tie, tuck your shirt in. Be proud of what you are wearing. Do you understand?’
‘Yes, sorry, yes sir.’ The boy attempted a smile but Strider knew better than to give in to this manipulative behaviour he had seen so often.
‘Before we start then gentlemen, any questions?’

Several hands shot up into the air, eager to be chosen first. Strider thought how little changed, how predictable the nature of man. He pointed at boy nearest him.
‘Can I go to the toilet please sir?’
‘If you must but be quick and wash your hands. That goes for the rest of you. Go on be quick.’
Strider turned to the rest of the class. Right take out your red book. We are going to learn about the clock today. I want you to draw a circle and a big hand and a little hand and I want to see the difference.’

Strider smiled, and looked at the group beginning the task he had set at the start of every new academic year at Chewton Primary school Wink


Last edited by mark.oconnor on Wed Apr 17, 2013 3:43 am; edited 1 time in total

mark.oconnor

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Re: A lesson for our time

Post  Kay on Tue Apr 16, 2013 8:09 pm

I was going to come back to this later as I have lots of reading to do for other people, but I read the first paragraph and couldn't stop! I love this story, the brilliant mis-direct, the privileged view of the 'teacher's' thinking, even the formation of the characters of the lads. Very smoothly delivered in such a short piece. Thanks for sharing.
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Re: A lesson for our time

Post  tinalw21 on Tue Apr 16, 2013 8:16 pm

Laughing
Hi Mark, this is great. It really made me laugh at the end. I was sucked in thinking maybe it was MI5 and then military, so your final paragraph about the toilet and the clock was just perfectly timed and hilarious. Re-reading with the knowledge that they're school children also gives a wonderful humour to the whole piece, and a great depiction of your main character.
Well timed and paced, great tension building. I really enjoyed it.
My favourite line: 'I want you to draw a circle and a big hand and a little hand and I want to see the difference.' Perfectly placed. Very Happy
Tina.
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Re: A lesson for our time

Post  mark.oconnor on Tue Apr 16, 2013 8:27 pm

Thanks

Weird how the brain works eh? ( mine anyway). I was very moved by the Boston Marathon bomb news last night. News then cut to a stereotypical yank doing what they do best - big emotional 'we're gonna get you back type rallying call to the troops.' I had a couple of hours spare last night and decided I would write a speech, one of those military end of the world, we're gonna die type speeches a Henry 5th gentlemen will think themselves accursed they were not here type things - anyhow as I got going the MC simply morphed into Strider and before I Knew it it was 900 words ( I sahll keep him in my notebook, I like him and will resue him I think

Cheers

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