فصل 08

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فصل 08

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Chapter eight

Trouble at school

It had been a long hard week for Rod, but it was Friday morning and nearly the weekend.

Dan’s mother really seemed to want to make trouble. She had been going on and on about a bruise on Dan’s arm which she seemed to think was something to do with Rod, though Rod had never touched the boy. It was more than his job was worth to lay a finger on a child, however much they pushed your patience, as Dan certainly did. He was always starting fights, and it was hard not to physically pull him off the other children.

Rod parked his BMW in the school car park and went to get his classroom ready. He was looking forward to this evening. Leah and he were going to the theatre and out for a meal. Then they were going to have a quiet weekend together. They had both been so busy lately, they had hardly seen each other.

Rod smiled as he saw Fanella approaching the classroom with Ellie. Ellie was a lovely child, a real character. He wondered why Fanella worried so much about her, though he supposed she was still getting used to being a parent. It must be hard, he reflected, doing it on your own, especially if the child is not yours biologically.

Ellie really seemed to enjoy coming to school. She always went straight to the book corner, chose a reading book and settled down without being asked. Fanella was therefore much more relaxed about leaving her than she had been that first morning.

She smiled and waved as she left, and the other children began to arrive. When Rod called out the children’s names and wrote in the register, he was quite pleased to see that Dan was absent. It meant there would be fewer conflicts and he would have a nicer day.

Rod was just looking forward to his cup of coffee when there was a knock on the classroom door and the headteacher, Mrs Grey, walked quickly in. She was a tall woman with a sharp brown haircut.

‘I need to see you in my room at break time,’ she said and disappeared again.

Rod cursed silently. Once the head got you in her office, she liked a good long chat and you could say goodbye to your morning coffee. When it was time, he sent the children outside for break and went and knocked on the headteacher’s door. She looked at him seriously across her desk.

‘I’m really sorry about this and I don’t want you to think for a minute that I believe what has been said,’ she began. ‘But there are legal procedures and we have to follow them.’

Rod frowned and his heart jumped a little. This sounded serious and he had a horrible feeling it might have something to do with Dan and his mother.

The head took a deep breath. ‘I’ve had a phone call from Mrs Bedrock, Dan’s mother,’ she said. ‘I expect you’ve noticed Dan’s not at school today.’

‘Yes, it’s quite a relief, actually,’ said Rod, hoping the head would share his humour. But she looked at him even more seriously.

‘Apparently, Dan has accused you of bruising his arm and trying to hurt him,’ said Mrs Grey, looking at Rod.

Rod raised his hands in despair. ‘This has been going on all week!’ he said. ‘His mother has been on and on about that bruise on his arm which, as far as I know, he got fighting with Tom one break time. She wants to make trouble this term. She thinks I favour the other children, but she won’t listen when I tell her Dan’s behaviour is getting worse and that he needs some extra support.’

‘I know, I know,’ sighed Mrs Grey. ‘I know Dan and his mother as well as you do. You’re not the first teacher she’s given this kind of trouble to. But I’m afraid she’s gone to the local education authority this time. This means we have no choice but to suspend you until you are proved innocent in a disciplinary hearing.’

‘Suspend me?’ Rod said in disbelief.

‘Yes, I’m afraid so,’ continued Mrs Grey. ‘You’ll have to stop teaching for a while. You’ll still be paid of course, but you must leave the school until this incident is sorted out.’ Rod was silent. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Suspend him! He hadn’t done anything! Never had he felt so unfairly treated. He had spent a large part of the school year trying to find positive things to say about Dan, and had even given him the star role in the Christmas play.

Slowly, he began to realise that if he was suspended from the school, his reputation would be damaged forever, even if he was eventually proved innocent.

‘I want you to know that I do not believe the accusation,’ said Mrs Grey. ‘I have every confidence in you as a member of my staff, and I consider it a huge loss that we should have to do without you for any time at all. However, I really don’t have a choice.’

Rod got up. ‘I’d better get back to class,’ he said.

‘No, Rod. I’m afraid we have to suspend you right now. You’ll have to go home. I’ll be taking your class for the rest of the day, and we’ll get a temporary teacher for next week, or the next few weeks, if necessary.’

Rod looked at her. He could see how sorry she was - it was written right across her face - but it was clear there wasn’t going to be an easy way out of this.

He went back to his classroom to pick up his bags and coat, then walked quickly, head bent, to the car park. Ellie and Timothy ran after him.

‘Where are you going, sir?’ they asked, as he fitted his key in the lock.

He looked at their eager friendly faces as he climbed into the driver’s seat. ‘I’ve got to go home,’ he said. ‘Mrs Grey will teach you for the rest of the day.’

And he swallowed hard as he watched their disappointed faces in his rear view mirror as he pulled out of the school gates.

He drove fast out of town. At least at this time of day traffic was light, and it was a relief to be in open countryside. It felt strange to be outside school in the middle of the morning. He could hardly believe what had happened. He knew that part of it was to do with his being a man. Women teachers rarely got accused of child abuse; men were always going to court for it.

What he couldn’t work out was why Dan’s mother was so determined to believe her son. Surely she knew Dan was making it up to hide the fact he had been in another fight? Did she realise the consequences for Rod, as a teacher, and if she did, why was she so determined to get rid of him? He had really done his best to be patient with both her and her son - she must realise this!

Then he thought about the other children in the class, the children he had given so much time and attention to this year. He thought of Ellie, how attached to him she seemed to be and how she did not deserve any more instability in her life. It was a terrible situation for everybody.

As he pulled up outside his house, he wondered how Leah would react to his being home at this time of day. He knew she enjoyed having the house to herself; they had once talked about how hard it would be if they both worked at home.

He pushed open the door and called her name, but there was no reply. She must be working in the garage or perhaps she was out with a client. He put the kettle on - he hadn’t even had his coffee that morning - and put some coffee into the coffee pot. Then he went out to the garage to see if Leah was there.

She was there, bent over some plans on her desk. ‘What on earth are you doing home?’ she asked, not looking exactly pleased to see him.

His heart sank. He needed her, at least, to be kind to him today. ‘Something’s happened,’ he said in a low voice. ‘I don’t suppose you could take a coffee break and come and talk to me in the kitchen?’

Leah looked rather annoyed. ‘I’ve got this to finish by lunchtime,’ she said. ‘Is it some kind of crisis?’

‘Yes,’ said Rod.

Leah glanced back at her papers, then got up. ‘I guess I can take a few minutes,’ she said, seeing the desperate look on her husband’s face.

They went into the kitchen together and Rod finished making the coffee. Then he related the story to Leah.

‘So I had to leave right then,’ he finished, ‘and come home. I don’t know how long it’s going to take to sort this thing out, but until they get to the bottom of it, I’m afraid I’ll be at home.’

Leah patted him sympathetically on the shoulder and then looked at him questioningly, ‘And… you didn’t?’ she asked.

‘Didn’t what?’ asked Rod.

‘Hurt the boy?’

Rod looked at Leah in shock. ‘Leah!’ he said. ‘How could you even ask that?’

‘It’s just that, in your situation, I know I would sometimes feel like giving one of those children a good hard slap!’ she said. ‘They must drive you mad!’

Rod looked at the woman he lived with and wondered suddenly whether they really knew each other at all. ‘No,’ he said coldly. ‘I didn’t touch the boy.’

‘Well,’ said Leah, getting up, ‘then surely this will soon be sorted out and you can go back to work. Don’t worry, darling,’ she added, kissing him on the cheek. ‘At least you can have a rest - you certainly need it. Now, I must get back to work. I’ve got an appointment at lunchtime.’ And she disappeared back to the garage.

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