Mrs. Green gives me that smile, except it isn’t really a smile. The corners of her mouth turn upwards but the rest of her face keeps a steely expression. No, this definitely isn’t a smile. This is a message, a message that says ‘I’m watching you’.
For the last five minutes I’ve shared a desk with Mrs. Green, the Home Economics teacher. I’m told this is for bad behaviour, or so she says – I know she’s wrong. We share a desk out of boredom, my boredom.
Mrs. Green gave me a good dressing down in front of my classmates before instructing me to move my belongings to her desk at the front of the Home Economics lab. She tells me that I’ll be working there for the rest of the term. Bossy Mrs. Green, angry Mrs. Green who has it in for me. I slowly do as I’m told, slinging my bag with just enough force for it to skate down the full length of the table before crashing to the floor on the opposite side. My classmates roar with laughter. I harrumph, sullenly roll my eyes, pick up my bag and then sit down in my wet clothes. Mrs. Green fires me a look and I’m instantly rewarded with teenage kudos.
My eviction wasn’t because of last week’s paper towel fight. Nor was it for calling my classmate Terry an obscene name when he ate my freshly baked cheese triangles. No it’s for flooding the kitchenette; an exaggeration, of course.
I wait restlessly for the gooey sticky batter in the oven to crust into a dense, glutinous pineapple upside down cake. It takes forever. I start cleaning the kitchenette and splash a generous blob of thick cleaning liquid on to the worktop. It lands with a splat. I add water and gently scrub, creating meringue-like peaks of lather, the bubbles multiplying with each circular motion. The live foam grows and grows as it creeps down the worktops like bacteria over-spilling from a test tube in a cheap horror film.
I pat a handful of foam across the lower part of my face making a big beard of bubbles. I sneak up on my friend Sharon, placing a handful of froth on the top of her head like a small fluffy hat. We burst in to a fit of giggles. I flick some bubbles at Sharon, and she flicks back in return. We do this again and again and again. We try incriminating a third classmate, their reluctance fuelling our fun all the more. We chuck armfuls at one another, culminating in a saucepan full of bubbles, narrowly missing the teaching assistant who demands to know what’s going on. I scan the kitchen, the light frothy foam melted in to pools of grey soapy suds. The entire kitchen is in a state of disarray.
I now sit at the corner of Mrs. Green’s desk, but the truth is I don’t even mind. Home Economics is my favourite class. I love the chopping, whipping, whisking, boiling, blanching, blending, splicing and spicing of the ingredients and all their deliciously tempting aromas. It’s the watching, waiting, lingering that I can’t abide. I wasn’t bad, just bored. Not misbehaving, just filling time. I didn’t even intend to make my class mates laugh. I was an accidental rebel.
Years later I bump into Mrs. Green and we joke about the time I shared her desk. I confess that I enjoyed her lessons. She tells me that she knew. Says I had potential but was too easily distracted, tempted by the wrong crowd. Nurturing Mrs. Green, encouraging Mrs. Green who always looked out for me.
Mrs. Green smiles as she bustles past with her efficient, matronly gait. She gives me that smile, a smile that isn’t really a smile but a message. A smile that says ‘I have my eye on you’. I reply with a smile. A smile with its own message. A smile that says ‘that’s what you think’.