(the morning after): 7:32 am
I was stuck between the past and the future. Somewhere between madly in love and young, free and single. Between the nervous excitement of a new career and that stage at work where youíre regarded as part of the fixtures and start getting precious over your coffee mug. I was living like an adult in the week and a teenager at the weekend. And, at that very moment in time, I was somewhere between asleep and awake, waiting for one hell of a hangover to kick in.
Sundays. Start off happy, end up sad, whatever happens in between. I lie in, drink tea, go down the shop, read the papers, eat a cholesterol sandwich, then venture back to the pub to watch the football and prove to myself I can enjoy a couple of drinks without it turning into something blurry and nauseous. Then itís all over, no sooner am I toasting the endless possibility of two whole days off than Iím grunting a sour hello at the start of another week.
The passion for the job has ebbed away, seeping silently like an old inner tube. I used to love teaching. The search for the perfect lesson, the behaviour management strategies, extending the brainiacs, holding on tight to the kids at risk, the ones with the goldfish attention spans. It used to be a challenge, until I found my comfort zone. I still like it, the holidays, the friends Iíve made, the fact I finish at four in the afternoon. I even like the kids, some of them, the ones who would be my friends, my fancies, if I were their age. The ones who donít expect too much of me, theyíre my favourites. I still put the effort in, into making myself look like I care; like staying late to surf the net at my desk so as to appear like Iím not a clock watcher, even though Iím probably the most adept clock watcher in the entire school, including the kids. Iím good at playing the system, at giving the students most of what they need, all with an economy of effort that makes me proud of myself. Thatís my challenge now. And I succeed, every day.
Iím a nice teacher, too. The kids like me, probably because my expectations of them have been duly dropped by my own apathy. Iím no hypocrite, I donít expect more than Iím willing to give. That wouldnít be fair. And Iím a role model of sorts, straddling the fence between limited success and obvious failure, showcasing the subtle nuances of work avoidance, promoting the virtues of just doing enough. Iím certainly not as mean, uptight or downright ugly as the teachers of my day. I donít have an innate hatred of adolescents, a penchant for vulgar ties or an ability to cultivate dandruff the size and consistency of frosted cornflakes. They were just there to baby-sit, to give our parents a break, to fill our young heads with useless tosh and to live out their Nazi-fuelled fantasies whilst remaining this side of the law. Iím not like that, which is progress of sorts.
They were my incentive. Those bastards. Their ineptitude triggered my desire to teach. No, hang on a minute, thatís not entirely true. That would be my stock answer if questioned by a student, a parent, a senior member of staff or a member of staff of equal standing whom I didnít trust as far as I could throw. The real reasons for my entry into education were thus: Iíd run out of time, inclination, ideas and money. Teaching was a last resort.
It comes down to two things, really. First, I hate getting up, and second, I love days off. No offence to working or anything but if it thinks it can compete with time off then itís got another think coming. Maybe if youíre a footballer or a rock star or something, but then youíre not really working are you? Youíre just doing exactly what you want, and getting paid loads for it.
This particular Sunday seemed lovely. Through half open eyes I could see a single shaft of dusty sunlight pierce the gap between my curtains. I toyed with the airís pleasant chill, flirting playfully before coiling back into my duvet. And, for one fleeting moment, before my brain was in gear, during that fraction of a second that contains a million thoughts, this particular Sunday was lovely. And I told myself that after a short bout of secondary sleep, Iíll get up. Iíll throw on a friendly tracksuit and wander outside, with Donnie and Connor, my two best friends and long-term flatmates. Together weíll cluster, shiver and giggle, like kids, not a care in the world, dawdling to the corner shop for Sunday supplies: ciggies, papers, bacon, eggs, coke, multipack of crisps; an age-old assemblage that helps soften the dull thump of a hangover.
And, despite cutting a bedraggled and gormless figure, Iíd be happy; a bemused grin plastered on my pale, damp face. Iíll nod, release an incoherent mumble in the vague direction of Mr Patel and heíll smile back, eye me up and down and take solace in the fact his religion frowns upon the consumption of alcohol. Weíll then itch our collective scalp, pick up a basket and bumble about in search of comfort food.
Mr Patel, who owns and runs the store, is always pleased to see us on a Sunday morning. Indeed, if he were a cartoon character there would be dollar signs where his eyes should be. For we are in a certain state of mind, one of frivolity and confusion. We are slaves to the hangover. When we stumble into his store, Mr P gets both comedic entertainment and the opportunity to offload half his shop. We have no concept of monetary value. Why would we? Weíve just spent a small fortune on a night we can hardly remember.
But sadly that moment soon slides.
My mind clicks into gear. The horrific events of last night steal in. My eyes burst open; I spring out of bed, my head spinning with the realization that this particular Sunday isnít lovely. It isnít lovely at all. Or at least it couldnít be lovely anymore. I rub my eyes until tiny stars flicker in the air in front of me, then stumble across the hallway to bang my palm on Donnieís door. But heís already up. Heís showered, dressed and sitting silently in the kitchen.
Donnie looks up and smiles weakly.
ĎReady?í I ask.
ĎLetís go, Sam,í he replies.
His facial expression is one of a man suffering a hangover, all wayward fringe and baggy-eyed. Normally Iíd find this funny. But today isnít normal and I donít feel much like laughing. Our hangover isnít about drinking too much. How I wish that it were. Five minutes later weíre sitting in Donnieís car, shuffling uncomfortably, no music, no talking, no sign of life. I catch my reflection in the wing mirror but it doesnít look like me. My face looks old and loose; a sickly shade of grey save for the pale blue bruising that slowly melts into my eyes.
The doors slam, our belts click in and the engine groans angrily into gear. As we reverse the tyres spin hard, kicking up gravel and spitting it into the side of the car. I peer down the pathway in search of dry blood or skin or teeth or any other evidence of last nightís fight. I canít see anything, save for the remnants of someoneís Saturday night supper: brownish salad bits and damp, crumpled paper, in amongst the grey gravel. I donít know where the proof would be anyway; it all looks so different in the daylight.
We move onto the road and on towards the lights. We are heading straight for the local hospital.
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