“I don’t know, I mean...” He hesitated again; he didn’t want to sound arrogant, but really, what would he have to talk about with them? That was a long time ago. He wished Tulsa had come. Only a couple of hours and he missed her already like a missing tooth – you can’t help putting your tongue into the hole that was there. That was her, she completed him.
He’d laughed when she’d said “I don’t want to meet a load of losers from your old primary school. I mean come on diddeykins ... you don’t mind do you?” Five foot ten inches of perfectly formed female; she looked good in a dress and great out of it; and she had brains to match. In her final year at Cambridge, she was heading for a high 2:1 (second highest degree), maybe a first if the oral went well. Who could fail to be impressed with her tight red skirt clinging around invisible panties, showing more leg than a swimming costume. She really was clever, but she knew how to add a few points to her scores too. Tulsa was on a scholarship from the Donald Trump Foundation; as she had explained a few times to ‘ugly dykes with shaven heads’ (or feminists, as other people called them), she hadn’t even met the man, so having a body to die for made no difference to her application. She had won, fair and square, for her essay on the Rights of Woman and her oral to the visiting board. That was ages ago, the scholarship got her to the UK, her brains got her to Cambridge. Terence met her at their first tutorial and was delighted when he didn’t have her in his group in the following term; now he could ask her out (it being not allowed for teaching staff to date their students).
They’d been an item ever since. He got a woman on his arm who could have been a starlet, she got a well-honed post-grad with a passion for rowing, and they got night times combining sex with a free-flowing discussion on economics. They were both economists. Well, Tulsa was studying Philosophy and Economics, Terence (she never called him Terry), had a first in Economics and a PhD in “Economics and the Inuit Response to Post-Recession Shrinkage” and was now in his second year as a post-doc/lecturer. It was one of those vague posts that Oxford and Cambridge excelled at – was it a University, College or Department appointment? Who could say? But until he had tenure, he had to be nice to everyone.
And he was, he was nice, respected, keen. He loved his subject, and he loved his life. He caught the 4pm train. Now he was sitting on an old hand-me-down train (the regions getting the trains that London threw out), shaking along a line that hadn’t been improved since Brunel built it, to visit his primary school for a reunion. He’d been to a secondary reunion a couple of years ago. It had been good to meet old friends and compare notes, and come away quietly smug that, even if he wasn’t earning as much as Jaz and Ahmed, he was a respected academic who had been interviewed once on Panorama by Jemima Lossit (the new thinking man’s crumpet – as the Mail had dubbed her in non PC terms).
He re-read the letter offering him the post at Aberdeen University. A full lectureship; they liked his PhD, they loved his paper on “Ethnicity and Economic Control”, and they thought he came across well on the TV. He had been invited up to properly check the department out, a week staying in halls and trying a couple of lectures and meeting the students. ‘Keen as mustard’, the letter said the students were. Do people really say that now? Would he go? He had accepted, but really to keep the option open. He hadn’t mentioned it to Tulsa, who thought that life and civilisation ended somewhere in the Midlands; beyond that was wode and rain and hill farms as far as she was concerned.
He arrived late on the Friday, registered at The Chequerboard (the only pub that still did accommodation. It cost slightly more than the PremierInn, but had beer and crisps and atmosphere), walked round to see the town and went to bed.
In the morning, he was up at 6am and went for a run, then he turned down the chance of sausage-bacon-egg fryup in preference for cereal and toast. He checked out and took his small rucksack and walked up the hill to the old school. He was nervous, which was silly. The event was to start at 10am with a talk from the current Head, he arrived at 9:45. Walking in through the ornamental gate, he was surprised by the emotions that flooded in.
The shouting he had had from Mrs Black for some trivial offence, she was a nasty, old, bitch. When he left the school, he realised that; but all the time he was there, he was terrified of the witch. The time he was sent to the Head because his maths was so messy. ‘Messy, but right!’ he should have pointed out. He was the only one in the class who got the question right, and then he was sent to the Head because it was messy. North Park Primary didn’t spend a lot of time encouraging pupils; it tended not to be carrot and stick, just stick. He remembered the sports he’d enjoyed – running and jumping; and the one he didn’t – football. Mr Large was a paedophile, he had no doubt of that. It had never affected him because he wasn’t in the team; but a few of the boys mentioned him ‘helping’ them with their shorts. He wasn’t as predatory as some, Terence didn’t think any boys were really damaged by a bit of stroking – that’s all it was as far as he knew. Mr Large had died the year after they had left, a massive heart attack at the weekend in his sad lonely room. Even at twelve, Terence had wondered at the sadness of that existence. The one thing he had found interesting about football was the complex patterns the players made as they moved around the pitch. He’d watched it on TV sometimes, a good team like Liverpool or Bayern Munich, how each player would react to the positions of the other players. It looked almost instinctive – like starlings, he thought. He’d come up with a theory, which he was still working on. It wasn’t that crowds acted like sheep, good crowds acted like individuals each responding to their neighbours. He remembered the assemblies, and that last day.
He was in the hall now, and he stopped dead. That last day, that day when he’d summed up the courage to kiss that girl. His friends had dared him, they thought it a big laugh; he pretended it was too, but he had butterflies for weeks after, every time he remembered that kiss. He sat down in row 4, never at the front, nobody ever sits at the front. The piano started playing a medley of songs. “Good God!” he said out loud, she was still there. Mrs Bentham, the kindest teacher ever. The one who encouraged him to listen to Mozart when he stressed over the exams (he had to get to the Grammar school, he just HAD too, his parents had put such stress on it). Mrs Bentham had seen the fear in his eyes; she knew he’d walk it, he knew that now, the exam was not really a test of his abilities. There were one or two like him in every year, the ones who could only fail if they let their fear drive them over the precipice. She had recommended Mozart and it had worked. His parents said something like ‘can you work with that din?’ He had carried on the revision with Mozart’s ‘just the right number of notes’ in his head. He should have visited before. Standing, he walked over to Mrs Bentham, she finished the first medley and looked up, “Terry, well I never!” How could she still recognise him, surely he didn’t look the same?
She had actually retired, but had come back to see if any of her pupils did, she couldn’t resist playing the piano. There was no music teacher now; now it was all Literacy and Maths with some Science thrown in. No time for fun at school. And Music had been fun with her. She had played them Whiter Shade of Pale and then the Bach it was based on. Some had no interest; some were learning the violin or the piano and thought that made them musicians and didn’t need music lessons at school; some, like Terence, found a new door opened. That was what education should be, he said to her, and she smiled again. Even one success made her life worthwhile. She started playing again, and he went and sat down.
Art, that had been a subject he had enjoyed. Absolutely no point to it for his career, but perhaps that was why he had enjoyed it. The teacher tried to get him to be realistic in his colours, and then left him too it. His paintings always used primary colours. He knew now that that was something in his brain; that was how he saw the world – vibrant, clear and bright; he wasn’t one for dull greys and army greens. What was that teacher’s name? She did well by just leaving him on his own instead of shoe-horning him into complying with convention. Another teacher to be grateful too – this time for not getting involved.