I was always at least half in love with my English teachers. Except one. I'll call him Mr. Mann. I think it was the hirsute-ness that intimidated us girls. The boys had nary a whisker between them, but Mr. Mann had hair escaping all over the place. Did I mention? It was the year An American Werewolf in London came out.
Try as I might I couldn't stop staring at his nostril jungle that first day. I was new to the phenomenon of a moustache that started somewhere up in the sinuses.
"Do I know you? I don't remember you from last year." He demanded.
Rocked back in my seat by the unimpeded view up his nostrils, I squeaked:
"Nose! Eeeek! No! I mean no!"
I don't suppose the mild tittering of overachieving swats helped.
I tried to keep my head down after that, but he'd traumatise me by giving me the lead part in romantic plays. He got to kill my Desdemona by playing a bowel-loosening, psychotic Othello. I think that's how rebels are formed. A long, slow, humiliating decline into hair-trigger, suicidal madness.
One evening the bus broke down. It was late, dark and nearly bedtime when I got home. No problem. Next morning I did my homework on the bus. I never got travel sick, even reading or writing on the move. Unlike the kid who'd been last off the bus the night before. He made a feeble attempt to do his homework on the bus too, but turned green, then fell asleep for the rest of the journey.
"What do you call this scrawl?" Mr. Mann yelled when I handed it in.
As he moved on around the room, getting closer and closer to Richard, I was both guilty and relieved that I wasn't going to be the worst pupil in the room - for once.
"Sir, I didn't do my homework." Said Richard, in a trembling voice. A hush descended; like that moment in a horror film when it looks as if everything is fine, but you know it's not.
"What did you say... boy?"
"Our bus didn't come last night, sir, and – and – and you didn't give us much time and – and – umm, it was after my bedtime when I got home." Replied the hapless victim.
"What is this, kindergarten? Are we 4 years old now? Did mummy tuck you in?!" The tirade continued. We were all hunched as small as possible in our seats in sympathy pain by the climax. That's when it happened.
Mr Mann spun on his heel, and pointed straight at me!
"That one," he yelled, "gets the same bus! She managed to do her homework, albeit illegibly." Having made his point, he discounted my presence and turned back on the quivering Richard.
"Leave him alone" I said.
Mr. Mann froze.
"What. Did. You. Say?"
What was I doing? I was standing up, apparently.
"Leave him alone, he's telling the truth." I said.
Mr Mann spun round. "Did I ask for your opinion," he yelled, "do I care if he's telling the truth? No on both counts." Richard collapsed behind him, like the man that volunteers for a suicide mission, only to find out the war’s been cancelled.
"What gives you the right to treat a straight-A student like he's some kind of delinquent?" I demanded. I was a finger-waver, it seemed. Big mistake; Mr Mann had had more practice at this kind of thing.
"Shut! Up!" He screamed, jabbing a hairy digit right in my face.
I'd touched off the apocalypse. My classmates were either planning how to spend their last three minutes on earth, or mentally drafting their statements for the army forensics team as they wiped my bloody remains off the ceiling.
I smirked. Bad move.
When the explosion of words and scattered desk contents in search of chalk was over, Mr. Mann wrote "I will not talk back to my betters" on the blackboard, and in a strangled voice, said "1000 lines by tomorrow." The survivors all looked at one another, a post-apocalyptic world looming; no-one knowing how bad it would be.
"NO!" I said.
I swear the earth shook with each of his footsteps as he stomped back, but it was just my knees trembling. For a moment I was sure it must be one of those nightmares: any second now my knickers’ elastic would snap, and the final humiliation would be my navy granny pants falling round my ankles.
"WHAT! WHAT!" Was all Mr. Mann could say.
I sat down. I'd like to think I did it nonchalantly, but I'm pretty sure it was more of a controlled collapse.
"It's not very intelligent, sir, is it?" I said, calmly to the desktop. "What is this, kindergarten? Are we 4 years old?"
That's when the bell sounded.
"YOU. STAY." Thundered Mr. Mann.
After about five minutes of setting his desk to rights, and picking up scattered books, Mr. Mann finally stopped, staring at the cover of one of them like a man coming out of a trance.
"Here" he said. "Read this. I want a full A4 page book report on it by Monday morning." Then he left.
I looked down at the book.
It was One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I was 14 years old.
"It's not Monday. Did you actually read it?" said Mr. Mann, when I handed in the book, and report, the next day.
"Yes." I replied. I'd read it in one go, and written the report without re-writes or corrections, and my brain was still buzzing. I went through that class without conscious thought or participation, but pulled it together as I left.
"What now?" Mr. Mann sighed as I stood by his desk at the end of class.
I gestured feebly at the book, and said "I...ah...um. Well."
He simply said "I know, right?"
So I said "Yeah".
I turned back once more at the door, and said "Thank you. Sir".