The Seat Where Mr. Fiedler Sat

Each morning, the girl would see Mr. Fiedler on the number thirteen tram, seated on the same left-hand side window seat as the morning before and every morning as far back as she could remember.
This is the story about a young girl named Wilda, who sees her teacher on the tram to school every morning; a teacher who loves music and stories and making children smile. This is a story about a poor country and some powerful, scared men and time and how it changes. It is a story about fear and friendship and forgiveness.
So, yeah. Just read it.


2. Chapter 1

This chapter begins with a mother, a uniform and a blue smile.

Every morning, without fail, the girl would see Mr. Fiedler on the number thirteen tram with a tan leather brief-case propped up upon his suit-clad knee. He would be seated in the same left-hand side window seat as the morning before and every morning as far back as she could remember. 

Our story begins at the brink of her memory. The beginning, if you will. The first time the girl boarded the number thirteen tram. The first time she met the left-hand side window seat and its inhabitant.  Now, if you’ll just follow me, I’ll show you what happened.

We will start with an ill-fitting school uniform that imprisoned a young girl, who would not be persuaded to let go of her mother's hand. The child’s hair was short and blonde and her eyes were large and blue; safe and blue. But as she started to board the number thirteen tram, she opened her mouth wide, her pink lips forming a cavernous abyss.  The passengers onboard could feel it; something positively abominable was about to happen, but there was nothing that they could do. There was nothing that anyone could do to stop it. With a thunderous gulp of air, the uniform began to scream.

Something you should know about this “young, blonde haired and blue eyed child”: she was a first-rate tyrant.

That morning, her Mother knew it more than anyone else. The little girl had put her school-uniform on the family cat, broken a curious little statue of a Norwegian Moose in the parlour, hidden her new leather shoes in the kettle and flung a sausage at her unsuspecting Grandmother.  All before breakfast. The year was 1932. That little tyrant was about to start school.

The prospect of school is not one that many children look forward to. For the ill-fitting uniform, this prospect had been taken to new heights. It was a living night-mare. Home was safe, it was old and it was familiar. Home was a place where mother was, a place where the little girl could run civilised tea-parties with a variety of her toys. School was new: the word was poisonous. It was cold and harsh. School harboured the most terrible creations known to man: Other Children. But this little tyrant had a plan...

The Tyrant’s Plan:

1.     Let Mama know that school is a very bad idea.

2.     If she ignores you, scream.

3.     If she still ignores you, scream louder.

4.     Return home, head held high.  

Her Mother, however, was not quite willing to adhere to that plan.

At half past eight in the morning, that tram was filled with people: mothers with bald suckling babies; withering old couples, their palms intertwined; jobless workers and business men, clad in crumpled suits who would seek the safety of the tram rather than the poverty that plagued their own homes. Not one of them dared to move as they witnessed the towering spectacle that was unfolding before them. 

And then, by the left-hand side window seat, sat a man with round spectacles and a brown suit, who continued, regardless, to read the newspaper that obstructed the lower part of his face. That man had a story of his very own that morning, one that he tucked into his breast-pocket and tried to forget. His name was Mr. Fiedler and the last thing that he needed was for a pint-sized brat to locate the vacant seat next to him. In his 15 years of teaching, he knew the symptoms of a bad child back-to-front-and- inside-out-and-upside-down-and-lengthways-and-widthways-and-circleways. 


“Wilda! You’re not making this any easier for yourself!” The Mother sobbed with despair, as she tried, unsuccessfully, to prize her daughter off of a supporting pole. That woman needed nothing short of a crow-bar and a miracle to get that child to let go. “I don’t want it to be easy!” The uniform spat, “I want to be home! Take me home. NowMama. Now. Now. Now. Now.”

“Dear me, what a horrid fuss!” Mumbled a lurid yellow frilled dress attached to a fat woman, as she shuffled around, disgruntled, in her seat.

“I’ll scream louder, Mama!” The uniform returned, “I will, I will, don’t think that I won’t”. Unsurprisingly, she stuck to her word. She was very good at doing that.

“What a dreadful child!” The fat woman said again. No one quite knew exactly who she was talking to. Her name was Frau Pavel. She smelt of bacon and talked too much.

“Well, you’re a horrid woman!” The girl returned, “And you smell like a pig.”

“Well I never...” The fat woman gasped, feeling a little deflated. Her defeat didn’t last very long. She turned to the startled person next to her, and began to describe the details of her devastatingly dull marriage, and how it had been nearly impossible for her to find any decent sausages anymore.


Having plucked almost all of her daughter’s white-knuckled fingers from the bar, the uniform’s Mother proceeded to drag her down the aisle. “Wilda,darling,” She spat out the “darling” with as much contempt possible for a Mother. “Wilda, please, just stop the screaming. Anything but the screaming.”


The woman had raised three little boys in the past and had experienced, more than once, the terrors of the school run. She had had her fair-share of tantrums and tribulations and the “Oh, Mama! I’m so sick, I couldn’t possibly go to school today!”s. As a little girl, she had seen pigs scream as they were slaughtered with the axe at her Grandmother’s farm; looked on as Mothers watched their starving babies waste away during the poverty of the 1920s. Never before had she heard a sound as blood-chillingly awful as her daughter’s insatiable wails. The woman smiled at the passengers through gritted teeth. “She’s usually a good girl, you know,” she spoke out, laughing hysterically. “This is completely out of character for her.” But then she stopped. Ahead of her, there was a dark-haired man, with spectacles and a brief-case propped upon his knee. He was sat by the left-hand side window-seat and was reading a newspaper.

The seat next to him was vacant.


“Do you mind if we sit here?” The man looked up from his newspaper. Immediately after, he wished he hadn’t. Standing in front of him was the screaming uniform and her exasperated Mother. The child had started to make new noises, something in between a battle cry and a hiccough.  Yes, the man imagined himself saying, I do indeed mind if you sit here. Do you honestly believe that you and your screaming daughter will improve my mood in some way? This morning, my landlord threatened to evict my wife and I, should we have any more of our “anti-social” friends over. Our talking and music disturbed him, last night. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but apparently it’s becoming impossible to find any buyers who are willing to live next door to a man such as myself. I’m not a respectable teacher, I wasn’t born in this country, I didn’t attend University, I didn’t fight for this country in the Great War. I’m just a bloody Jew. I blight the area. Now would you kindly go away?

“Of course.” He replied and made room.

The tram began to pull away from the stop, which in turn, triggered a fit of kicking and spitting from the girl. Her Mother clamped her arms around the uniform, trying to stifle her random spasms and kicks. For a girl of no more than seven, she was surprisingly strong. “STOPPLEASEMAMAICANTGOTOSCHOOLMAMAPLEASEPLEASELETMEOFFLETMEOFF” The uniform and its inhabitant had entered the intangible world of jibber-jabber. Believe me, reader. It wasn’t pleasant.

“PLEASE, WILDA! STOP SCREAMING. I’LL DO ANYTHING! JUST. STOP. THE. SCREAMING.”  Her Mother trembled, shaking her daughter backwards and forwards. To her disappointment, the child did not come with an off-switch. The Mother pulled frantically at her already thinning hair, a blue vein on her forehead protruding in stress: for 16 years, she had wanted a little girl, but was instead blessed with boys; lots and lots of lovable, charming, troublesome, boys. Then Wilda came along and she was perfect. Of course, she dearly adored the others, but Wilda was what she had been waiting for. 16 years, she thought, in that terrible moment, 16 years for this? The boys were a piece of cake.


Suddenly, the girl felt a tap on the shoulder. She turned around. The tap belonged to the man sitting next to them, who wore a tan suit, spectacles and a blue smile. “Your name is Wilda, isn’t it?” The man asked. What the hell are you doing? He searched himself, Passengers are not there for you to converse with. Are you forgetting everything you’ve ever learnt about etiquette on public transport? But Mr. Fiedler wasn’t quite clear about what his policies were on making conversation with rabid seven-year old. He lowered his gaze and crinkled the slightly crusted corners of his lips in a sort of half smile. The girl nodded and wiped her nose on the cuff of her navy sleeve. Her Mother also stopped rocking backwards and forwards, the unnatural flush in her cheeks becoming more and more diluted. “I don’t want to go to school.” Wilda said, as though confiding in a close friend.  And in that moment, Mr. Fiedler saw something (you’ll soon find that he was very good at seeing things that others couldn’t): he saw a frightened child, in an oversized uniform, who wanted nothing more than to stay at home with her Mother.


“Me neither.” The man smiled sadly. “I’m starting school today, too. Not as a pupil, I think I’m a little too old for that. I’m a teacher. Which school are you going to?”

“I’m going to Sonnenstrahl St. School.” Wilda said.

“I teach at that school. “ Mr. Fiedler replied. “We might even be in the same class group.”

“Won’t that be nice?” Wilda’s Mother exclaimed. Her voice was unnaturally high, probably due to her recent episode of hysteria.

“But, Mama, I want to be home. With you.” Wilda nuzzled into her Mother’s dress, her body racking in a kind of tired desperation.  

“I’m sure that most of the children in your class feel the same way. But I suppose that school is an adventure, of sorts.” Mr. Fiedler whispered back. Wilda tasted the word in her mouth. Adventure. She decided that she liked it and kept it in her dress pocket.


And then all the passengers heard it: silence. The girl had stopped screaming. 


“My Papa used to teach. He taught drawing, but now he can’t because his eyes have gone all fuzzy.” Wilda said aloud, a little later on. Mr. Fiedler looked up from his newspaper, wondering if he was ever going to be able to finish the article he had been so intently reading. “He said that people and pictures are the same because we all have stories. No matter how small or big we are.” She paused for a moment. “Do you like stories?”

“I do.” Mr. Fiedler smiled wanly, creasing his paper neatly in half. “My favourite is about a little girl, who didn’t want to go to school, but in the end, she had a great time.” Wilda giggled; it sounded familiar. Her Mother stood up and entwined her palm around her daughter’s. “Our stop, now, Wilda. And I believe that it’s yours too.” She acknowledged the gentleman by the window-seat. The gentleman, she thought, who saved me from a possible brain aneurysm.


They walked off of the number thirteen together; the mother, the uniform and the blue smile. The Mother left the girl at the gate and watched her walk across the playground, and into line, alongside all of the other uniforms; even when the little girl walked into the little classroom that overlooked an over-grown willow tree, she lingered a while. The man with the blue smile and the tan over-coat was never far away. 

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