Ms Marrie escorted Praveena through a path she knew so well, but it all seemed new somehow. She guessed Mr Kareem had been doing well as new principal. Ms Marrie stopped in front of a door that had a tiny metal plate with the words,
Praveena turned to Ms Marrie in astonishment. She remembered Principal Vanitha’s name plate, which listed her degrees. Smiling to herself, Praveena rejoiced the school was in responsible hands.
“He’s expecting you. Go ahead.” Ms Marrie smiled reassuringly gesturing Praveena to go inside. Praveena knocked once and a gruff voice told her to enter. She did. “Good morning Sir,” she smiled walking up to his table.
A well-built middle aged man, Kareem had dark and overgrown flyaway hair. He wore a black short-sleeved shirt, and Praveena noticed a pair of spectacles lying untouched on his desk. He had his locked palms resting against his chin examining a piece of paper as Praveena entered.
“Please,” he smiled courteously at Praveena “call me Kareem.”
Praveena’s mouth fell open. She quickly closed it, but not before he had seen it. He laughed, a soft and musical laugh.
“So,” Kareem said once he had stopped laughing. “Ms Kamal. Why don’t you take a seat?” he gestured at the chair facing him. She did, thoroughly nonplussed at the principal’s behaviour.
“Now, Ms Kamal –” he began, but stopped short, “mind if I call you Praveena? It’s a bit easier,” he smiled. Praveena noticed the way his eyes crinkled every time he smiled.
“Please,” she replied easily. For the first time, she felt comfortable in this room.
“Thanks,” he smiled. “Praveena,” he said in a more serious tone, “you are an old student,” she nodded, “so you would know this place quite well. I’ve made changes to this school, and hope you like them.”
“What if I don’t?” Praveena asked playfully. She regretted it the very next second. She wasn’t sure what had come over her. But Kareem didn’t look angry, he didn’t even look irritated. Instead, he smiled slightly. Praveena hadn’t expected that.
“Well, if you don’t like it,” he smiled “you don’t have to.” He continued, laughing at Praveen’s shocked expression.
Praveena took some time to recover. “I’m sorry,” she said her eyes cast down.
“Don’t be!” Kareem exclaimed joyfully. “I like your enthusiasm.” Praveena looked at him smiling slightly. He returned the gesture.
“Well,” he grew serious again, “we need an extra teacher, and I’m personally glad we could get an old student for the position. We’ll discuss your salary later, but first, I think your students are waiting to meet their new class teacher.” he raised his eyebrows. “Marrie will show you your class. Good luck, Praveena!” he stood up and smiled.
Praveena stood up as well. “Thank you, Sir –” Kareem glared at her, and she quickly corrected herself, “Kareem,” she nodded with a smile and left the room, satisfied with herself.
They didn’t say anything to each other but Praveena’s look conveyed everything Ms Marrie had wanted to know. Praveena’s joy was obvious.
Ms Marrie led Praveena through familiar corridors. She went past her own room and stopped in front of the next one.
“Ta-da!” she exclaimed gleefully, gesturing at the closed door. “Welcome to your room,” she smiled.
Praveena hadn’t expected her own room. Ms Marrie opened the room and Praveena walked inside. There was an empty desk with a chair in the centre of the room. Apart from that, the room was void of furniture or decoration. The walls were bare except for the gleaming white paint.
“You can decorate it any way you want.” Ms Marrie announced. Praveena wheeled to face Ms Marrie who leant on the doorway looking bemused at her astonishment. “Kareem’s rule” she added.
“Come on,” Ms Marrie gestured. Praveena walked out of the room, and Ms Marrie handed her the key. Praveena didn’t know what to make of all the strange, but wonderful things Kareem had done to her school.
Ms Marrie next stopped in front of a class Praveena recognized as her classroom during the final year in school. They were the senior-most students, and it was another surprise to see all the students conversing in low tones. Praveena looked at Ms Marrie, suddenly nervous. “Go ahead.” Ms Marrie smiled reassuringly with a gentle pat on her shoulder.
Praveena took a deep sigh, and thinking of James’ first class in college, walked inside the room.
As soon as she entered, a hush fell through the room. She placed her file on the table and faced the students. There were about fifty of them, and Praveena saw eager eyes staring into hers. On the walls hung random paintings and crafts. A particular origami peacock that sat in a corner table caught Praveena’s eye.
Suddenly, she felt comfortable in the room. They were students, they were here to learn something, ‘not unlike yourself,’ her inner voice finished her thought.
“Hello everyone,” she began simply. “I’m Praveena, an old student, now your class teacher.” she smiled. All of them stood up in unison, and said greeted her in one voice, “Welcome back, Ms Praveena.”
Praveena was taken aback. The students, just like their principal, had a way of making new people feel comfortable and welcome.
The first day was smooth. The students were easy to talk to, they were a curious lot and Praveena told them about herself and learned their names.
Suddenly a girl stood up and asked, “What subject do you teach, Miss?”
“I’m a substitute. And…” she stalled. “It’s my first day. Must we talk about work?” she asked smiling. So did the girl, whose name was Grace.
For the first time in her life, Praveena looked forward to school the next day.