It is extremely uncomfortable sitting precariously up here in the rafters. The wooden beams, stained with years of bird droppings, are cold and their dampness penetrates my clothes. A rat scurries along a plank in front of my eyes. The rancid odour of twenty years of fermenting rodent dung, assaults my senses. Through broken roof tiles, spikes of white illumination penetrate the darkness. The swirling wind disrupts the accumulated dust and creates bizarre patterns in the rays of light. The timber frame of the ancient school house groans under the ravages of time. An eerie setting, celestial almost.
Thirty years ago I sat here. It was going to be my greatest triumph. I would be a hero, an undoubted champion of my time, no longer a stranger in a new school. I remember, the first piece of white chalk landed beside her. Not a movement, not a sound; then like a coiled snake, Mrs Henley whirled around, arm outstretched, finger pointing to— to no one. Nobody had moved, she hadn’t caught the perpetrator. The suppressed chuckles vanished under her steely gaze. She resumed her scribing on the blackboard. Another piece of chalk, no reaction, more scribing. Another piece of chalk, sniggers from the students.
‘Everybody outside now. Leave everything as it is. Outside. Go. No one is to re-enter this classroom until the chalk thrower owns up. This could take all day. It is up to you.’
‘But Mrs Henley, it was ….’
‘I do not want to hear from any one except the guilty party. Outside now.’
This wasn’t how I had planned it. She was supposed to leave the classroom in frustration. I would then descend from my hiding place. The cheers and laughter acknowledging my fearlessness. I would be exalted in the history of this school for ever. It could still work, I’ll stay here, she’ll leave soon.
It isn’t working. I’ve been sitting in these rafters for hours. She is unwavering in her resolve. Did I see her eyes glance up in my direction? No, surely not, she would have exposed me. Some students seek sanction but are rebuked.
‘The chalk thrower must own up’.
She’s going outside, I’ve won. No wait, she’s talking to everyone, they are coming back. No one looks up. They are gathering their bags–they are leaving! Mrs Henley is turning the lights off, locking the door. They are going home.
Now as I climb down from the rafters, relieved to get away from the vile smell and dankness, I vividly remember the aftermath of that folly. A lie was told, a trust was broken, a childhood prank became a rebellion.
I had sought popularity – I gained notoriety.