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Room 101

Room 101

Dealing with teacher is an art.

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Coming-of-age / Young adult fiction


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Victoria Li (Australia)


Her silhouette in the doorway was sufficient to cast a bitter chill upon the class, bustling with activity but an instant ago. At her presence, conversations stuttered to termination, students immersed themselves in tasks they fervently hoped would save them from her withering gaze, and Mr. Withidge lifted his head as a sign of reverence for this semi-divine manifestation.




Her name is Mrs. Gren, who unlike all the other female teachers at the school who went by the informal “Miss”, insisted upon students and members of staff calling her “Mrs Gren”. She claimed that any other form of address was grammatically incorrect and therefore disrespectful to her status. Mrs. Gren’s face let itself be sucked into her pursuit of perfection: a set of luxuriant eyebrows deftly arched over her eyes, straining to maintain an equal distance from her eyelids up until their meeting point on the bridge of her nose. In the shadowy caves under her eyebrows lurked her boomerang-shaped eyes. Her mouth was slightly elongated, on the verge of horizontally corresponding to the beginning of her crow’s feet. Not even her wrinkles dared to sabotage the distinctive patterns on her face – more or less in unison, two swathes of wrinkles initiated their journey from her nose, gliding through her protruding cheeks, where they eventually parted, like two deft calligraphic strokes.




“Vic-to-ri-a”, she stressed each syllable, eliminating any possibility of misunderstanding whom her next victim would be, as if there could be any. As the sacrificial lamb’s identity was exposed to the eager ears of my classmates, there came deep sighs of relief, accompanied by the relaxation of more than one set of shoulders. I grudgingly lifted myself from the chair, avoiding eye contact with those more fortunate than me, who managed to escape the massacre. Mr. Withidge buried his head guiltily in what we should assume was work, at the sight of my back laggardly vanishing through the doorway, perhaps unwilling to witness yet another one of his wards dragged off to the lion’s den.




I slouched down on the sofa in her office without waiting for permission, perhaps she would kindly let a cowed and beaten dog slip away with this scrap of comfort. When the Lord closes one door, somewhere else he opens a window. Although fate had thrust this nightmarish interview upon me it also gave me a chance to pull a noontime all-nighter; during Mrs. Gren’s intensive preparation for the forthcoming interrogation, I desperately scrambled to guess what she would ask me and to piece together answers that might save me from her claws. Questions fought their way into my brain, with some stumbling on their way and others doughtily dragging themselves back up, continuing their journey battered and bruised, until, faced with irresistible obstacles, they mingled into a murky cloud.




“So what do you think about your mocks?” Deceptively simple, this question is a standard weapon in the arsenal of teachers around the globe. When this question is asked, teachers expect the scaredy-cats to crumble into negativity and abase themselves at the altar of the academic achievement. The pretense of this being an academic consultation, rather than a forced interrogation, is thus maintained; students come desperately seeking for guidance, and the saintly teacher offers a helping hand. No wonder this question has been handed down for generations, from the clammy hands of hoary-haired Confucius to the figure in front of me. I didn’t have the guts to offer myself up as a martyr to the cause of honesty: ‘Really bad’ I replied.




“Why are they really bad?” the grim detective followed the regular procedure of interrogation, quoting the suspect’s weak responses back to him while tapping her away at her laptop, recording every piece of evidence against me and inadvertently revealing a home manicure that had seen better days . Either because of the peeling nail vanish, or to preserve some dignity, in a slightly careless manner I uttered a neutral answer which in my conceit I believed might get me off the hook “I missed too many lessons.” I was amazed by my quick thinking under fire, shifting responsibility for all those B grades from the current prime suspect to external circumstances. Mrs. Gren scented blood and pounced on the word “missed”. “And you didn't bother catching up”, It wasn’t a question. I had been tried and convicted before I even knew I was under suspicion.

“What did I say I was going to do if your grades are really bad?” now the transfixed suspect must name her own punishment as the price for trying to escape. “You would send an email to my new school telling them not to let me in,” pleas for leniency would be futile, I couldn’t risk an extended sentence, I had to accept my doom. Mrs. Gren confirmed my statement, by gently tugging her lips upward, darkening the creases at the corners of her eyes. Perhaps, she was pleased that even a dunce like me had remembered her warning from the previous month.




“So which school are you leaving us for in the end?”




“None of those I previously applied to” I replied assertively, feeling fairly secure for the first time in the interview. I had never before truly comprehended the meaning of the saying “Every cloud has a silver lining.” My failure to get accepted by any of the schools she knew I had applied for saved me from the nightmare of waking up one day to find my mother holding a rejection letter from my new school’s headmaster.




“So you put in all this time and now you are telling me that you didn’t get into any of those schools?” That great gash of a mouth lengthened even further into a grin, competing with her crow’s feet to reach her ears, eventually losing the race. I struggled to determine her mental state; behind her smile were blocks of yellowing teeth plastered into her face, somehow suggestive of disappointment. A juicy chicken had escaped the slavering jaws of the fox: the schools had rejected my application without Mrs. Gren’s interference, she could no longer hold that threat over my head. But now, like a pea-brained chicken, who imagines that once it can no longer see the fox its danger is over, I flapped squawking straight into a new trap of my own making. Stung by her contempt I unveiled the unnecessary truth –“I got into another school though, one I applied to later.” As though she had discovered a new continent, Mrs. Gren was all of a sudden fired up with enthusiasm. Her boomerang eyes almost disappeared into crescents as thin as the new moon´╝îwhile the corners of her mouth descended towards her double-chin, giving her the look of an ancient Indian who has just captured his prey, and yet she tried to veil her exhilaration by slightly tilting her head.




“What is the name of your school?” she demanded.




“Eldon college” I squeaked like a mouse under the broom.




“Where is it?”




‘Would you like me to buy you a ticket so you can go and make a full investigation yourself?’ I thought to myself ruefully.




“Bristol” now I fully realized my mistake of attempting to impress her, but there was no turning back. Mrs. Gren as if questioning the integrity of my answer typed “Eldon college Bristol” into Google, it was not until the appearance of “Eldon college” on the results page that her glared lessened.




“Have you got an offer from this school then?”




“No, I haven’t. They just said I got in” I decided not to tempt fate by counting my chickens before they hatched.




“So they haven’t sent you a formal offer?” like a hungry dog, she was willing to plough through any amount of dirt to find the hidden bone. “There should be a letter, a formal letter coming to your parents” she ever so kindly explained the application procedure, so that should not shatter her hope of interfering without comprehending all the details.











Competition: June 2015 Pen Factor, Round 1

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