The Principal's Office

The Principal's Office

A young boy likes getting in trouble at school.


Coming-of-age / Young adult fiction


Daniel Siddins (Australia)

Every day Jorge sits out the front of his suburban house on a shitty plastic chair that rocks when he leans forwards. So, sitting way back, he plays guitar, his audience the drivers that stop, start and go round the roundabout that sits at his doorstep. Sometimes they stare but they mostly ignore him. For his part Jorge stares through the whole scene until it seems like the same cars just circle the roundabout, about and about and about.
Jorge is nine, chubby, Mexican. An anomaly in a middle-class, white, Australian suburb. At school he stands out, but being a basically happy kid with plenty of friends, he doesn't care.
Besides, Jorge has a secret hobby. More of an activity really. Perhaps if he was older he would call it a fetish, but from the colourful confines of a Year Five classroom he doesn't know that. Jorge likes getting in trouble. Not just any trouble, he really likes really getting in trouble. The kind of trouble that ends in the principals office, mischief ending in yelling, strife that goes to screaming and incidental spittle.
Last week he messed around with the class computer and locked everyone out. He refused to tell anyone the password, even under threat of keeping the whole class in over recess. That's some small time punishment and so he held out, until the call to The Principal's Office.
The Principal's Office. Neon lit hallway, office type people buzzing about, he sits, the naughty chair, it's so obvious. Feet together, knees together, he waits. Excited because he's nervous, nervous because he's excited. Aware of everything: Clock ticking, visitors to the reception looking at him, wondering, his arms tingle, why do his arms tingle, why does he have to swallow so much. Finally the door opens. Someone leaves, but Jorge doesn't see them go. He sees The Principal.
The Principal. To him she is completely ancient, like a rock that has always 'been'. She waves him in and with the passiveness of total obedience he follows, and takes his regular seat in a practical chair in the neat room. Opposite him with hair that's gray and spikey like flint and features that are chiselled, she stares at him. Looking down, her gaze doesn't release him. For thirty seconds - a minute - two minutes - an eternity, he squirms, looks around the room, looks at anything except her. Finally she sighs. Jorge looks up at her as The Telling Off begins.
The Telling Off. She's no longer a rock, she's a snowball; icy and getting bigger and faster as she rolls down the hill to her inevitable, explosive end. All he has to do now is not say anything. He knows this, and she knows --
"Jorge! Jorge! You can't keep doing this. Oh! Jor-ge! Do you want me to get your dad in here like last time? Hey! Mister! Don't you"
In the face of the storm he retreats. His breathing slows and is steady, his pulse eases and becomes sure. Thoughts drift and they aren't replaced. People see Jorge in that shitty, rickety chair, fingering his guitar and think to themselves, "There's a relaxed boy, there's a chill child." "An old soul", is what they like to say. They are wrong. The seat, the instrument - it's all for planning, for the trouble that will get him to his zen place.
She's done pleading now, and the yelling has increased.
"coming over right this minute and we are all going to have one very big talk and this time - Jorge! Tell me what I just said!"
Building to a final crescendo of shiny eyes, and flying spittle. Now he's the rock, silent and meditative, while she crashes about him as a blizzard. This is his zen and as always all he hears is soft, acoustic strumming.
That night after the Telling Off, the arrival of his dad, and the silent ride home, Jorge sits outside and plays his guitar in the depressed air of a suburban night. He thinks as he plays. It had definitely been a good one. Definitely. In the chaos and loudness of the Principal's Office, he'd felt internalised and super chill, and in fact it had probably been his best one yet. Slow plucking rises in the night air and the same cars that drive round the roundabout still don't see him. He can't shake the feeling that he needs to go bigger.
A week passes and it's his classroom and Jorge fingers a fist sized ball of aluminum under his desk. A sudden clarity of thought and commitment of action. A short match, strikes, lights, and is stuck into the ball. Tentatively probing the underside off his desk, a foul smelling smoke. Turning her back is Miss A's fatal faux pa. It bounces twice before settling into the carpet at the front of the classroom where it is now emitting distinctly green tinged smoke. To his credit it hardly leaked any flaming sparkles of burning tin foil as it rolled; and in hindsight the assorted spot fires around the room had been easily covered with coloured beanbags that gave the classroom a start-up future-facing education 2.0 look that young prospective parents had been really taken with. The school is evacuated.
Lonely walk to The Principal's Office. Shortcut through the empty 104 classroom. Footsteps muffled in reception by the sound of administration happening. "Yes, I'll make sure she doesn't eat it", professional phone voice. Door shuts. Copier lid shuts. Files in a metal drawer are ruffled and flipped. The squeaky pull of the copier rolling paper into it's inside. The receptionist, she's silent, pointing at Jorge's usual chair where he's already placed himself with feet together, knees together, hands on knees. Guitar by his side. Waiting prostrate before the removed figure of The Principal.
This is the big one. The door doesn't open, it caves under an avalanche, no resigned sighing and face rubbing this time; "the entire school! Do you have any idea what this means Jorge? Of course not, well I'm going to tell you. This isn't like before, we won't just be getting in your dad, the police will"
It's clear Jorge is in no way paying attention. He's got the wide, glazed gaze that any experienced educator can spot from across a multi-classroom. Basically, what The Principal is saying is not what Jorge is hearing. "Oh no, you can't ignore me, not this time, you don't get".
Nothing precedes it, he just stands up. He doesn't even pause really, just walks out. He does it with a smart pace that's not so fast she's rushed to stop him and not so slow she has a right of reply. Smartly, he just walks out. Before she's decided how to best express the amount of trouble he's walked into, he's back again.
With his guitar he walks into the room. His chubby Latino face still unfocused. Sitting way back, he plays his guitar, his audience, The Principal, now failed by words as intrigue briefly eclipses anger. He has the unseeing gaze of musicians as all thought is tasked to hands and fingers, sounds and music things. He stares straight through The Principal.
'Tut, tut-tut.. tut, tut-tut.. tut, tut-tut..'. No longer transfixed she'd looked down and found a pen. 'Tut, tut-tut..'. She had stared right back at him. 'Tut, tut-tut..'. She had used the pen to hit the edge of her desk. 'Tut, tut-tut.. tut, tut-tut..'. She had been in rhythm. Jorge kept playing even though his gaze wasn't glassy anymore, and he was frowning instead. He knew it was all over because of this. The fetish, but we won't call it that, the addiction, the playing, the zen. The pen drumming the desk had made it all over.

Competition: Friendly feedback, Round 1



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