The door was slammed in Courtney’s face as she attempted to move back into the classroom she had just been thrown out of for unruly behaviour. She could hear Miss. Oswald starting the lesson again, and she leaned against the glass on the door, trying to listen.
She heard Miss. Oswald’s voice clearly from inside the English classroom. “Courtney, sit down out there, and cool off yeah?”
Courtney shrugged and sat down on one of the little red seats outside the classroom. She sighed. She wasn’t sure why her teacher was so annoyed with her, she was only asking questions. Yes, she’d decided to ask twenty questions in a row at fast speed and refused to spit out her bubblegum when she was told to, but it wasn’t like she was swearing or bullying anyone.
Sitting uncomfortably on the hard chair, she kicked her feet together anxiously and waited for the minutes to pass. She was restless and bored, playing with her own fingernails and peeling off bits of chipped nail polish to distract her from watching the clock that ticked loudly from its place on the dull grey wall. After a few moments of watching the clock, she remembered she still had her mobile phone in her blazer pocket and not in her rucksack as she had thought. She took the phone out happily, immediately deciding to check if she had any messages. As she read one of the messages on the screen, a shadow formed over her and she realised she was no longer alone in the hallway. Standing in front of her was an elderly white-haired gentleman holding a briefcase and wearing a tweed blazer and smart pressed trousers. He smelt of toffees and she looked up at him sheepishly as she tried to hide her phone behind her, slipping it back into her pocket.
“In trouble?” the man asked casually.
“Kind of. All I did was ask a few questions, nothing major.”
The man hovered beside her for a few moments and glanced at his watch. “I suppose I have a minute or two.”
Courtney looked at him. He was a fairly tall man, presentable and neat and she wondered whether he was secretly a spy, sent by the headmaster to check up on her. She was distracted from her thoughts when she glanced down at his feet and noticed that although he was dressed very smartly, he was also wearing modern white trainers. “Sorry, who are you?” she asked.
The old man smiled and sat down beside her on the other chair. “Don’t mind me I need to rest my legs for a moment. I’m Mr. Chesterton, head of the governors. You might have seen me here on occasion, wandering about.”
“You’re wearing trainers,” she said, ignoring what he had said about being a governor.
“I am. They’re quite comfy. I always slip on a pair after a long meeting. Is that important?”
“No, just an observation. We’re not allowed to wear trainers, not that we sometimes don’t wear them anyway.”
“Well if you’re not sent away for wearing trainers, I’m sure you wouldn’t be thrown out of class for simply asking questions.”
“Are you calling me a liar?”
“No. I meant I’m sure your teacher had a good reason and you got the wrong idea.”
He watched as Courtney’s top lip rose on the left side and her eyes rolled upwards. He’d had lots of experience teaching teenagers so was used to the facial expressions they pulled when they were annoyed.
“Look, I didn’t mean to pry…”
“She was being a cow, she must be on her period or something and she’s taking it out on me.”
“Well it’s not very nice to call your teacher that is it? I used to be a teacher once, it’s a tough job, and it’s hard trying to please all your pupils at the same time.”
Courtney folded her arms and looked up at Ian for a moment. “Nah, Ozzie is my favourite teacher! I don’t actually think she’s a cow or anything, it’s just what you say isn’t it?”
“Well I had a few names given to me in my day, some nice ones, some not so nice.”
“What kind of names they give you?”
“The nice ones or the bad ones?”
“The bad ones.”
“Oh I had all sorts of strange things. I got called the ‘nutty professor’ for a while, and things like Mr. Bore and Mr. Square.”
“They’re stupid. What nice ones you get called then? We call Miss. Oswald ‘Ozzie’, she don’t like it much though but we all think she suits it.”
Ian smiled and thought for a moment, looking in front of him as if recalling days gone by. Courtney wondered whether he was one of those strange people who looked to the horizon when they were remembering something.
“I used to get called Mr. Dish.” He laughed for a moment and stopped when he noticed Courtney was staring at him with a bemused expression.
“Does that mean fit?”
“Does fit mean good looking?”
“I suppose they mean the same thing.”
“So the girls had a thing for you back then?”
Ian wasn’t entirely flattered with her surprise. He laughed. “I remember once my wife who also taught at the school told me that my detention was filled with several girls who just wanted my attention. I didn’t think the nickname was appropriate and as soon as I got the pupils to stop saying it, the teachers used it instead.”
“Ha the teachers fancied you too?”
“I don’t know about that, I think it was just to embarrass me.”
“But your wife must have fancied you. Did you ask her out or did she ask you?”
“Ah well that’s a long story.” He looked at her and smiled. “We’d been on a long trip somewhere and gotten close you see.”
Courtney winked. “Oh yeah, I see alright!”
“No, no, not like that, honestly what is it with kids your age? No, I meant we’d spent a lot of time together in rather dangerous situations and it pushed us together I suppose.”
“Oh well…that is to say, we went travelling and faced some rather scary things.”
“You trek through jungles and stuff?”
“Oh yes, and climbed mountains, even met a few monsters.”
Courtney’s eyes widened in excitement. “Wow that’s well good. I went to this place once but I got like travel sick and all anxious. I really wanted to carry on travelling but the company was a little old and I had to come back to school.”
“You have plenty of time for that later, right now you need to concentrate on your studies. You might want to go to university one day.”
“Yeah I want to, want to go into politics or something yeah, make a difference or something.”
“Well that’s very commendable.”
“What did you teach when you was a teacher?”
“I taught science, well chemistry mainly.”
“I like chemistry, you know when we get to do experiments and not just read stuff from books.”
“I know what you mean, I’m the same, I like to get involved and get stuck in.”
“Did you ever blow up your lab by accident?”
Ian laughed. “No, it did see a few close encounters though. I taught in the room Mr. Grant’s in now.”
“What here at this school?”
“Yes, at this very school, on this actual floor as a matter of fact. And that classroom you were in was my wife’s history room. She taught many a pupil about Napoleon and Marco Polo and the Egyptians.”
“So you both taught here, didn’t you want to leave at some point?”
Ian chuckled. “I did leave, eventually. Well had to leave unexpectedly but that’s another story. I worked here during the sixties and now I’ve returned to keep an eye on things. My wife isn’t here at the school anymore, but we care about it and we care about the pupils and making the most of their futures.”
“My granddad went here in the sixties I think,” Courtney told him as she slouched further down in the chair.
“Oh really, perhaps I know him?”
“He’s called Louis Woods.”
Ian took a moment to collect his thoughts and then smiled. “Louis Woods, yes I remember him, a very bright boy, very popular, very lippy!”
“That’s where I get it from dad says,” she said pointing to herself rather proudly.
“And that wouldn’t make you the infamous Courtney Woods would it?”
“How d’you know that?”
“Let’s just say your name gets mentioned a fair few times in staff meetings.”
Courtney folded her arms with annoyance and scowled. Ian looked at her and felt guilty for revealing that she had a reputation among the teachers.
“So, what questions were you asking then in your class, perhaps I could help?”
Courtney hesitated and then laughed. “I just wanted to ask about whether the books had films that I could watch instead, not that books aren’t cool but I thought watching a film might help me get it better. She wasn’t listening even when I raised my hand, so I just asked a few times, and I had to sort of shout because she couldn’t hear me otherwise.”
“If you ask politely she will respond to you. Miss. Oswald is always singing your praises, says you have an inquiring mind, but you have to go about it in the right way. There are lots of other kids there too.”
Courtney fidgeted in the seat and played with her school tie which hung loosely around her collar. “Suppose so.”
There was silence for a few moments before there was the interruption of a phone message. Courtney looked at her phone instinctively and was disappointed when she realised it was Mr. Chesterton who had received a message and not herself.
She watched as he slowly took out his glasses, reached for the phone, held it close to him, and looked at the screen. He let out a big smile as he looked at it.
“Good news?” Courtney asked.
“My granddaughter had a baby yesterday, and she just sent me a picture, a little girl.”
“Can I see? I love babies.”
He handed her the phone so she could see the photograph and he saw her smile for the first time since their conversation.
“She’s well cute. My sister’s got three of them.”
“Not at the same time,” she said with a laugh. “Three kids, all under five though, our house is a mad house when the whole family is there.”
“I hope you help out from time to time,” he replied as he slipped his phone back into his pocket.
“Oh yeah, I’m proper good with kids. Do you have lots of grandkids?”
“I’ve got five. Two are all grown up, two are about your age and there’s little Isabella, seven going on twenty-seven.”
“You got grandkids my age, how’s that go down?”
Ian wasn’t sure what she meant by the statement but he was happy to talk about his grandchildren with anyone and he’d been known to ramble on proudly if no one stopped him. “Teenagers aren’t all that different from my day you know? You’d be surprised to learn about what our generation got up to in our youth.”
“I don’t want to know!” she said as she raised her hands in the air in a form of protest. “This is a place of learning, Sir. That might be inappropriate.”
“I was referring to talking back to our elders…”
There was silence again as the two shuffled uncomfortably on the hard plastic seats. Courtney looked at his briefcase and read the initials that were inscribed upon it. “What’s the ‘I’ stand for, wait don’t tell me, is it Ivan? Isaac? Ippy? Idris like Idris Elba?”
“Oh yeah, didn’t think of that one. Why do you have your initials on your case? You’re hardly likely to forget your own name, or is it an age thing?”
“My wife bought me this as a present. It’s just a nice thing to have I suppose.”
“How old are you anyway?”
“Isn’t it impolite to ask my age?”
“That’s only if you’re a woman isn’t it?”
Ian rolled his eyes upwards. “Well let’s just say I’ve broken past the eighty year mark.”
Courtney’s eyebrows rose and she looked at him like he was mad for still working at a school when he could be at home watching television and eating crisps and sweets.
“You could be at home watching TV and eating crap.”
“I could be, but I like to keep an eye on things here, make sure the school is up to its best. We have an Ofsted inspection soon.”
Courtney laughed. “Yeah I know, Mr. Andrews joked that he was going to send me away on a trip that week.”
“But this time you’ll be good won’t you? You’ll ask lots of questions in the right places and you won’t call anyone a ‘cow’.”
Courtney tried not to smile. “Yeah I can do that.”
Ian patted his legs and let out a yawn. “Well, I better get going. I want to meet my little great granddaughter and no doubt my wife will have had lots of cuddles already.”
He stood up and reached out his hand for her to shake. She shook his hand and then smiled.
“Goodbye Courtney, nice to talk to you, thanks for keeping me company.”
“Goodbye Sir, hope you like the baby. See ya.”
Courtney watched as the old man picked up his briefcase and disappeared down the corridor and toward the doors. It was at that moment that the classroom door swung open and Clara’s head peered around it.
“Alright Courtney, you can come back in now if you’ve calmed down.”
Courtney nodded and followed her teacher into the room.
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