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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Back to School

     Vic Abrams casually strolled up and down the orderly rows of his new classroom.  As he passed each desk he tapped on it in a rhythm, one-two, one-two-three.  It looked like a ritual, the final preparation for this year's batch of eager students.  Then the bell rang, the students filed in and they took their seats.  In their final year they knew the routine.
     Internalization of institutional norms, Vic observed with a frown.
     He closed the door and waited for the young men and women to settle down.  When this didn't happen  he began speaking anyway.
     "Good morning class."  the words were quiet, the tone forced others to listen. "Welcome to another year, your final year, before... graduation and whatever you choose comes next for your self."  A mix of boos, cheers, and adolescent indifference answered.
     "Since I am new here let me introduce myself.  My name is Mr. Abrams.  Some people call me Vic."
     "Victim!!"  was shouted from the back of the class.  Some students laughed, some looked uncomfortable.
     Vic smiled at this early test of his authority.  "But of course you will call me Mr. Abrams and the first thing you will notice is that I am not like other teachers."  His words were clear and precise.  He spoke like he expected you to listen.  He had thin brown hair and wore a beige suit.  Sitting on the corner of his desk at the front of the room with his arms crossed who was Mr. Abrams trying to fool?  He was exactly like every other teacher.
     "Let me assure you boys and girls, I am quite different." He leapt to his feet and rushed to the door, "Now the first order of business, is everybody here?"
     "I'm not!"
     "Me neither!"
     "I wish I wasn't!"
     "Shut up you guys!  Mr. Abrams how do we know who's supposed to be here?  It's just the first day and you're the teacher."
     "Very true."  Vic replied from the hallway.  There were no stragglers at the lockers, no-one looking lost or in need of an invitation so he jumped back into the room and did a head count.  Every seat had a student, all thirty-five.
     "All present and accounted for!  Let's begin."  With careful solemnity he removed a large silver key from around his neck  He kissed it once with reverence and locked the classroom door.
     "Wierdo!"
     "Hey, why are we locked in?"
     "We aren't locked in dear boy.  They are locked out!"  Mr. Abrams seemed a little too excited.
     "Who?"
     "Them, the Others, those who would interrupt and defile the learning process."  Mr Abrams spoke in a hushed voice and moved like a furtive animal.
     "Wierdo..."  It was whispered now.  Mr. Abrams had crossed the line from strangely entertaining to potentially dangerous.  People were feeling off-balance.
     Ignoring the students' discomfort Vic strode across the room and fiddled with the blinds, eventually opening them through trial and error.  They covered large north-facing windows which didn't get much light.  This was probably the first time anyone had been able to look out of them.
     "If we could all turn 90 degrees to the left and now who can tell me what they see?"  Vic was excited and speaking like he was out of breath.
     "The wall."
     "Some windows."
     "I can only see the ceiling."  In the rear of the classroom a student reclined at a near impossible angle in his stiff plastic chair.
     Self-assertion through intentional non-conformity.  Vic chuckled.
     "Wait a minute." he spoke quickly and poked and twisted the temperature controls on the heater to his right.  "Now tell me."
     Light flared outside the windows, yellow intensity flooded the room, and the wall fell away.  Nobody moved, nobody blinked, and nobody screamed because everybody was holding their breath.  This was Vic's favourite part.  He closed his eyes and listened  for the gasps that came as lungs restarted.  Eventually a chair scraped on the floor as someone stood up.  Then another, and another, until everyone was on their feet.  Squinting and reaching forward, they shuffled uncertainly towards the wide open space.  One by one they entered the heart of the light and vanished.
     However, this year there was an exception.  Again from the back of the class, "What the...!"
     "Yes?  What's your name?"  Vic blinked.  He was surprised.
     "Simon...and um, where?  Where does that go?"
     "Oh, I see Simon.  Well it goes Out There."  Surprise changed to bemusement.  Young Simon seemed to be a clever one.
     "Uh-hunh? Out...there?"  Simon was still in doubt,  "What class is this supposed to be anyways?"
     "Does it really matter?"  Vic responded with a laugh.
     "I...no...I guess not."  Simon was being won over.  "Then is this like a field trip?"
     "Yes indeed.  It could be.  A field trip."
     "So then is this class like, over?"
     "It will be when you get back."
     "Back from where?"
     "From There."
     "Then what?"
     "Then you go to your next class."  Mr. Abrams made perfect sense.  Reassured now, Simon moved to join his classmates in the light.  Vic smiled as curiosity overcame caution and skepticism but Simon found one more question.
     "Mr. Abrams?"
     "Yes Simon."  Vic was patient.  He knew Simon would go.
     "Has anyone ever come back?"
     "Whenever they want to."
     "Yeah but...has anyone ever wanted to?"
     Vic sighed.  Simon needed something more by way of an explanation.  "That is Truth, and Beauty, and Justice Out There Simon.  This classroom, the whole school, is just another cave.  I suspect if someone did return it would be to kill me.   Does that answer your question?"
     "Kinda.  I suppose." then Simon said, "Mr. Abrams?  I think you're going to be one of my favourite teachers this year.  I'll try not to kill you when I get back."
     "I'd certainly appreciate that Simon."  Vic Abrams spoke to the silence after the boy had finally gone.  He had a feeling this was going to be an extraordinarily good year.