The reality of waking in an empty R.E classroom is as strange as it is daunting. The faces of a thousand smiling orphans stare at you from colourful displays telling the stories of the charity exploits of the local church stare at me through hungry, yellow rimmed eyes. Dim, yellowing light filters down from moth eaten foam board, all too bright to the recently opened eye. I blink in its radiance, careful not to look directly into the strips that illuminate the room. I yawn, my cheek slick on the smooth surface of the desk. How long this time, I wonder, my lethargic eyes drifting to the clock on the wall to the left of me. Quarter to four. Crap! I jump out of the cheap school chair I had been lazing on, searching around for the books I was pretty sure I had out before I dozed off. The only problem is, well... despite what I had thought, they aren’t here now. My bag is gone too, its absence strangely unsettling. Something about the lino beneath my desk instead of the usual yellow and grey duffle fills me with dread.
Oh god... I suddenly realise, creeping around the edge of the desk in a desperate attempt not to be noticed by the nightmare sat at her desk by the window. She caught me, not for the first time either. How many times have I been in this same situation, expecting different results each time? I fall asleep, wake up and hour and a half later, she catches me trying to escape any kind of punishment, I leave a half hour later with a slapped wrist, a jumbled bag and a personal vendetta against the bane of my school life.
‘Ash.’ Her voice grates against my eardrums as it does every time I hear it. Ms Beet, Religious Education, thirty years at this god forsaken school and not a student out of line until me, yadda yadda... She gives me the same mantra each time, giving it with as much thrilling detail each and every time.
‘I appreciate you may have no aptitude for the beauty of religion, but...’
‘I guess that makes two of us...’ I mutter under my breath, not turning to look into that prude, conservative face she spends hours trying to forget. I can even see the lines of frustration from her trying to perfect it... Oh wait, that’s just age, isn’t it. She coughs, an order for me to turn around. I give in, rolling my eyes as I do so.
‘ The least you could do, young lady, is PAY ATTENTION DURING MY LESSON!’ She slams a copy of the Bible down in front of my nose, the black cover stark against the dusty grey of the desk. ‘Ash, you are an intelligent girl, yet your concentration is next to nothing. You’re scoring highly in your other classes...’
‘Been giving in to the devil that is technology again?’
‘I don’t have to take this from anyone, let alone some lazy, miserable girl who cannot be bothered to stay awake to learn about the things that, one day, may just save your life.’
I scoff. ‘That’s new. So tell me, if religion is so important how come it has never once helped me?! You act as if you are superior, the be all and end all of all teachers but, newsflash, anyone can teach R.E! Anyone with common sense that is!’ I throw my arms in the air exasperated. Ms Beet looks at me, her pristine face twisted into a furious expression.
‘Go on then. If you think anyone can teach an R.E lesson, then next lesson, we shall switch positions. I shall play the schoolgirl who believes she has a chance in hell of passing this class by sleeping through this lesson, and you shall teach the entire class.’ She smirks as if she has been sitting on this idea for years. God knows, maybe she has.
‘Fine. If that’s what it takes then so be it.’ I walk over to her desk and, spotting my bag, I haul it up over my shoulder. ‘See you next week then, Caroline.’ I mock a bow to her as I stride out of the door, hitching my skirt up as high as it will go without exposing my ass. Her face is flustered as I catch one last glimpse of it through the window into the room.
It may seem mean, but after all this time of holding those words in, letting them go is like a breath of fresh air. The R.E classroom, thankfully, isn’t that far from the main entrance, only a couple of metres if you want to be specific. The deserted hallways are peaceful, the hum of a distant vacuum like my entourage. I push on the Student entrance, only to find it jammed. Pushing a little harder, my whole body pressed against the glass now, the click of one of the Receptionists stiletto on the floor makes me pull away from the door.
‘Hey, could you open this for me?’ I yell, waving my arms as I try to catch her attention. No luck, she turns a corner and enters the Staffroom, the click-clack of her heels falling a way as they land on the cushioning carpet we, mundane students aren’t worthy to tread upon.
I groan, falling back onto the door, in frustration. The office is empty by now, as quiet as the corridors, and I really don’t want to have to go and ask Ms. Beet to open the door for me, considering our most recent conversation. The only other option is going and asking the receptionist who just walked by to open it for me, though knocking on the door of that lounge is less than easy. I sigh, realigning my skirt with my knees as I walk up the short flight of stairs to reach the staffroom. I raise my hand to knock only to find there is no need. An unfamiliar teacher, young and male, stands on the precipice of the corridor.
‘Can I help you?’ He asks, smiling in an oddly familiar ways. It catches me off guard the way he stares at me as if I was his best friend. Each to their own I guess.
‘I.. err... What I meant to ask was could you... y’know, open the door for me?’ I stammer, watching as his eyes run up and down me again and again.
‘Well, I don’t think I can. I don’t actually work here, you see...’
I blush the colour of a strawberry, cursing my assumptions. ‘Sorry.’ I say, without giving it a thought, trying to figure a way of getting out now. I wonder if that receptionist is still...
‘Miss Smith, could you open the student entrance for us?’ He yells to someone behind us.
‘Yeah,’ A muffled voice responds. ‘Use the fob on the... Yeah, that’s the one, just leave it in the door when you’re done, I’ll come and get it when you’ve gone.’
‘Thanks, Miss!’ He yells, stepping outside with the black circle that signifies freedom in his hand.
‘Wait, you’re coming too?’ I ask. Out here, he looks more boyish, an angular, sharply cut face spattered with a mess of blonde hair. His clothes aren’t that much teacher-esque as they are casual, a blue pullover and faded jeans accompanied by muddy walking boots. I blush even more as he catches me giving him my own look over.
‘Yeah, school is a drag, even if you’re only looking around.’
‘Wait, so you’re a student?!’ Utter shock tries to cover my face, instead only presenting itself in my voice. ‘But you look so much older!’ I clasp my hands over my mouth. Think you idiot!
‘Yeah, just moved here, Year 10, old school didn’t really hold me down, y’know. Had a problem with all my sleeping and everything else.’ He peers down at me from the corner of his eye, looking for... something.
‘Ah, well, if you’re looking for guilt free kip, R.E’s the place for it. I tried sleeping in the library during lunch but then Mrs. Cooper found me and, well, let’s just say I’m not allowed to borrow books anymore.’
He laughs musically, pushing the disc against the lock skilfully. It hangs there, magnetized as he opens the door for me before exiting himself, letting the door swing shut behind us.
‘Well, I guess I’ll come to you next time I want a good place to sleep.’ He winks. God did he just wink at me? I scream inwardly, not knowing what to feel.
‘Guess I’ll see you ‘round then.’ I smile, beginning to walk down to my house at the bottom at the hill.
‘Hey!’ He yells, stopping me before I can walk any further. ‘I never got your name!’
‘Ash!’ I yell back, concealing a smile behind my hair.
‘Ash. Nice name. I’m Lir, but my friends call me Kappa.’