When Allen heard Mother yawned in bed, he ran to bring her breakfast which he’d made – pancakes slightly crusted at the edges and generously doused in warm maple syrup.
“Class..what is wrong with Drew’s story?” You ask. Someone at the back mumbles.
“I can’t hear you. C’mon we have been through this before.” You look around. “You should not start a story with …what?”
“A wake up scene,” someone finally quips.
“Yes, you have to start the story as close as possible to the action. Stop going round and round with I wake up. He wakes up. My mum wakes up, and stretches, and yawns…,” you shake your head and continue reading the student’s writing assignment out loud to the class.
He was hoping that Mother is in her good moods. The piano lessons were getting tiresome. Besides, he had promised Grandma that he would help in the garden. Allen hated working on the compost heap; but it was miles better than piano lessons.
“Are these details really necessary?” You ask again. No answer. You walk quickly to the third row and flicks at an ear. Jason wakes up with a start.
Mother smiled when she saw the breakfast tray. She was wearing her favourite nightshirt; the one with tiny bluebells. She had let her hair loose, and it caught the glint of sunlight. Allen thought how pretty Mother looked when she was not fussing over something.
He watched her intently as she put the pancake in her mouth. She closed her eyes and chewed slowly.
“Lovely” Mother said, licking the syrup off her fingers.
Allen stared at the floor, tracing his toe along the crevice of a tile.
You lift your arms in mock despair. “You! come out here and continue reading this.” You point to Vivian and wave the three-paged story at her. She continues to stare at the upright book in front of her. The boy sitting behind her stretches his foot and kicks her chair, causing the book to fall and reveal a handphone.
“Is everything alright, dear?” Mother was looking at him.
“I..I.. wa.. was.. won.. wonder.. ing.. whe.. whe.. ther.. I.. could.. could.. go.. to.. Gra.. andma’s.. to..to..day”
Vivian deliberately reads the stammer in a singsong way. Then she purrs:
“Take a deep breath, son. Look at me and say it again slowly”
The boys at the back of the class thump their palms against their desks in appreciative glee.
“I was.. won..der..ing if I.. I.. couldgotoGrandma’stoday”
“What day is it?” Mother looked around the room and reached for her Blackberry. “Nine messages from the office? What is going on?”
Mother’s face turned moody. Allen shuffled out of Mother’s room and went to his, tears welling up in his eyes.
“Class, has the story answered your 5Ws so far? Can you feel any tension in this story?” You rap the desk loudly for attention. The front row students nod hesitantly.
Clacky was watching him from the shoebox. Allen stretched across the bed and released the hatch which held the flap like a drop door. The lizard crawled out slowly onto his hand.
“We are not going to Grandma’s today”, he cooed.
Allen brought out pancake crumbs from his pocket. The lizard flicked its tongue greedily. Allen ran his finger along the lizard’s leathery back. The lizard loved to be massaged this way because it always went clack! clack! clack!
Vivian enunciates the words “loved to be massaged.” The class erupts.
How nice it is to be a lizard, Allen thought. No piano lessons.
The thought of piano lessons jolted him. He looked at the clock by his bedside. Another 15 minutes to go and that terrible woman would be here. Why? Why? Why? he cried as he punched the mattress and buried his face in the pillow.
Just then, he heard footsteps. He put Clacky in his pocket, and propped his head on his elbow.
“What was it that you wanted to tell me, son?” It was Mother.
“I hate piano lessons. Can I stop?” Allen was surprised how easily the words came out of his mouth.
“Teacher, this is so boring. Can I stop?” Vivian wails. You wave at her to carry on.
Mother looked at him strangely. “Nope! But I suggest you wash up and get ready for Miss Cheong”
Then she walked away.
“Oh.. and another thing”, she was back at his door, “Thanks for the pancakes. They were lovely. Be good!” He heard her blow him a kiss and was gone.
You look at the clock above the whiteboard. Five minutes to go before the end of the class. Six hours to the end of the school day. You wonder what had possessed you to accept this temporary teaching job. You should be at your desk, writing your novel. Not this. With these pubescent kids who don’t give a damn.
“Teacher, can we do the skit instead, please..please?” a voice implores.
You look around the restless class. “Right. Can I have three volunteers: one to read and two to act as Allen and the piano teacher? Drew, you are the writer of this story. Please lead the skit.”
Drew stands up instantly. He picks Ben, and a girl who you know he fancies. She flashes a V sign as the class chant, “Mira, Mira.”
“Who is going to do what?” You ask. Drew says he will do the reading. He says he sucks at acting.
“Let’s start from the top.” Miss Cheong’s voice was frosty.
She had her hair pulled severely into a bun. She had plucked her eyebrows and they sat stoically on her face, above her eyes like two forbidding wire arches.
“NOOO! Wrong! Wrong!” she yelled. Allen flinched as her ruler struck his knuckle. She shoved him aside, and bore down the keyboard furiously.
“You are such a waste of my time. I have never taught anyone so STUPID!”
Allen could feel the sobs swelling up his chest to his throat.
…. No, I mustn’t cry.
…. She’ll laugh at me.
… She’ll call me a cry baby.
Drew stops reading abruptly and looks at you. “Can I change places with Ben, teacher? He reads, I act?” You shrug your shoulder. You wonder briefly over his change of heart. Drew runs to his desk, takes out his waterbottle and runs back to the front of the class. He takes a big gulp to calm his nerve and sets it on the table, with its lid open.
“Eeekkk!!!” Miss Cheong leapt and wiggled her body vigorously.
Allen stared and then, remembering Clacky, reached for his pocket. His heart sank.
He ran behind Miss Cheong and started patting her.
You gesture at Drew to stop patting the giggly Mira all over.
Now, you wish you had read the rest of Drew’s story before agreeing to this skit. The boy is clearly getting ahead of himself and taking advantage of the situation.
She jumped in fright, startled; and swung her hand at him. He could hear Clacky squirming wildly in fear and panic. He took a glass of water and splashed it down her back.
“You shithead!” Mira screams. Water streaming down the back of her school uniform. She grabs Drew’s shirt and shoves. He stumbles onto the floor and curls up like a ball. She starts punching his back. You rush and pull Mira away. She spits at Drew.
Ben raises his voice above the uproar and continues reading.
“You idiot!” she screamed as the lizard fell out of her dress and onto the floor.
“Idiot! Idiot! Idiot!” she chanted as she stamped her foot repeatedly on Clacky.
“Mr Vincent!” The Headmistress is standing at the door. She looks as though she would combust. You follow her out meekly as Ben reads the final part of the story.
Allen looked at the floor and saw the mangled mess of his best friend.
“I… I.. ha…ha..hate… you”
“I… I.. ha…ha..hate… you”, she mocked. “I AM LEAVING.”