She stepped off the elevator as soon as the doors opened. It might have been a minute sooner than she needed to because it felt like her feet hit the ground a little harder than they should have. But she steadied herself before anyone could notice. And she walked straight through the doors that led to the reception of her old high school.
12 years ago, when she had graduated, she thought she’d gotten everything out of high school that she could possibly have. Clearly, she wasn’t done with this place.
‘Did you ever think you’d be going back to high school?’, her brother had asked her the night before her new job was to start.
‘No, I thought I’d never see those halls again.’
‘Did it feel different?’
‘A little, in that I knew I wasn’t a student anymore but when I was walking around, I couldn’t help but feel that Mrs Kay would find me loitering and send me back to class’.
‘I would feel that way too if I had to see Mrs Kay again’.
The receptionist who greeted her that morning looked sullen the whole time she was waiting in the lobby but warmed up considerably when she discovered that a former student was going to be the new English teacher.
‘I heard you were every teacher’s favourite in your time here’, she chuckled while calling the HR rep.
‘Oh, that was hardly the case…’
‘No, it’s true. I heard them in the teacher’s lounge, talking about you. They’ve been waiting for you.’
She could hear her heart beating in her ears now. It was definitely a mistake. Why would she get a job at a place to which no one in their right mind would want to return?
‘Maya…Maya Rawat…’ the HR rep had arrived.
It was too late now. She got up and followed him into an office that she did not remember. The furniture looked recent and the carpet was definitely new. The only thing that she recognized was the old, sour colour of the walls that refused to fade no matter how many times it was painted over.
‘Well, everything looks great here. You’ve got all the documents we needed. Oh, I just need 2 passport size photos, if you’ve got them.’
She jolted out of her inspection of the room.
‘Yes, I have them…I think’, she started to fish around in her purse.
She was close to turning her bag out onto his brand-new looking table when he politely pointed to the obvious photos in the pocket of the folder, she’d brought out earlier.
‘Sorry, there they are’.
‘It’s okay. I didn’t think someone like you would be nervous on their first day’.
‘Someone like me?’
‘Well, yeah. I mean…you were an easy pick. The interview panel loved you and you’re a former student -a rather brilliant one from what I’ve heard, I might add.’
‘People keep saying that…’
‘What? That you’re brilliant?’
‘Uh…no. That I’m a former student. Was that a factor in selecting me?’
‘Oh…I don’t…no…I don’t think so. But I’m sure it helped.’
‘Okay…I’m also qualified’.
‘Yes, I see that’
He went back to processing her documents. It took a great deal longer than one would think and only gave her more time to look at the walls and their vinegary tint. They were the only things that offered her any solace in that moment.
Maybe it wasn’t too late. She could still refuse the offer. She’d always been smart but was she smart enough to help others get smart? Maybe not. Positively not. The students would see right through her. When she was in high school, she could always tell if a teacher was out of their depth. And that was over a decade ago.
‘You’re all set’, his voice brought her back again.
‘All set…right. To?’
‘Yes, right. Teaching…that’s what I’m going to do. I knew that’.
‘Shall we?’, he led her out of the office, which she realized was once the art room.
She wondered if they had moved the art room elsewhere or done away with it entirely. No, schools have an art room. They can’t not have one. She walked two steps behind him – that way she could turn around at any time.
They reached the classroom before she could turn away though. He stopped a few steps ahead of it and turned to her.
‘This is you…11 A. The student details are in the attendance file…
He said other things but she didn’t listen. If she heard something, it was pure chance.
She was in the classroom before she could say thanks. 35 faces stopped to look at her and only about 5 of them smiled at her.
She walked up to the front of the room, picked a marker and wrote on the board –
WHY DO YOU DRESS ME IN BORROW’D ROBES?
She turned to the class…
‘Who can tell me which Shakespearean character said this line?’
A couple of hands went up at first, then another and then some more. She was home now.