When Praveena entered late to class, her Science teacher had already begun. Seeing her at the door, Ms Marrie smiled and gestured her to enter. She said nothing.
Praveena took her seat feeling miserable. She knew Ms Marrie wouldn’t ask her anything. Marrie knew how much the higher staff hated rule breakers, but wasn’t one of them. She often declared that it’s alright to break the rules once a while.
Marrie continued explaining heat conductors with a flourish. Praveena couldn’t concentrate. Science was not one of her favourite subjects, but she liked Ms Marrie, and tried hard to score more in her subject.
Today though, her mind drifted. ‘Could Ms Marrie be like Andrew? Does she really love teaching, or is she convincing herself of it everyday, like Andrew said?’ Praveena was so immersed in her own thoughts that she didn’t realize the bell that rang to signal the end of class. She startled when everyone stood up to thank Ms Marrie.
Ms Marrie came up to her and said in a quite voice, “I want to talk to you. Follow me.” It was neither a question nor a suggestion. It was an order, but she made it sound like a request. That was Ms Marrie’s speciality; she knew how to talk to a person.
Praveena didn’t think what they would discuss, instead, she followed Marrie out of the class as if possessed. Just then Andrew approached them, book in his hand. It was not his class.
Ms Marrie spoke to him as Praveena watched. His old flourish was back. He looked as if nothing made him happier than teaching his favourite subject. Praveena was confused. He had been so upset and broken the previous day, yet now, here he stood pretending like that never happened. Though she did notice he refused to make eye contact with her. It annoyed her. Why did he still pretend? If he didn’t like the job, he could have at least left to do whatever he wanted, he didn’t have to worry about anyone or anything. Then why was he still voluntarily miserable?
Praveena couldn’t make out a probable answer. She only knew Andrew had wasted his life away. And she pitied him.
“Come on,” called Ms Marrie as she walked towards her room. Her blue sari swung in the breeze, mildly caressing Praveena’s arm. As the sari made contact with her arm, Praveena thought of her mother, and how she doesn’t dress up anymore. She felt her eyes searing and wiped them in a hurry.
Ms Marrie stopped in front of a door, opened it, and entered. Praveena followed.
Ms Marrie’s room was smaller than Andrew’s, but more familiar. The table was strewn with books of various sizes and there were four or five paper cups stacked with tea bags inside them. Praveena smiled. Ms Marrie was an avid tea-drinker, she realized, like herself. The walls were all plain except for a single poster of a man she didn’t recognise.
“Sit down.” Ms Marrie said, shuffling the books on her table. Praveena caught a few titles, The Last Lecture, Persuasion, Tuesdays with Morrie, Wind in the Willows, a couple of Agatha Christie books, and a few more she had never heard of. “Sorry for the mess,” she apologized, taking her chair.
Once she was settled facing Praveena, she asked, “So, how are you?”
“Huh?” That was unexpected.
“How are you?” Ms Marrie repeated more slowly.
“Fine” said Praveena, defiant and a little louder than was necessary.
“No you’re not.” It was just another statement, but Marrie’s was so sure that it surprised Praveena.
“Something is bothering you.” she paused for a reaction, and sure enough, Praveena’s eyes tensed. “You want to talk about it?” she continued.
“I — er — I was just worried about being late…” Praveena trailed off. She couldn’t hold Ms Marrie’s gaze and dropped her eyes to her hands which she twisted on her lap.
“You know,” Ms Marrie smiled, “you make it so obvious when you’re lying.” She sounded amused. She had caught a lot of students telling lies, but Praveena was the easiest by far.
Praveena remained silent.
Ms Marrie leaned over on her elbows, peering into Parvenu’s downcast eyes. “I’ll understand if you don’t want to talk to me about it,” Praveena’s eyes met hers. “but something tells me you need to get it out of your chest. I’ll only tell you that you can trust me. I’ll be a good listener. If you don’t trust me, you can leave. I’ll hold nothing against you.” Ms Marrie’s voice was calm, she hadn’t raised it at all. Yet she had made her point clear. She hadn’t threatened Praveena, or demanded her to talk. She spoke like a friend might — earnest.
Praveena didn’t move. She had her doubts. She was scared to talk to Ms Marrie. Why did Marrie want her to talk about her thoughts? ‘What if she thinks I’m a fool? What if she misunderstands me? Would she tell Ma and Pa that I am a lunatic? What if? What if —?’
Praveena stood up without saying a word, turned around and walked out of the room. As she closed the door behind her, she heard Ms Marrie sigh.