This is Part Two of a short fiction.
Several years (and many more cups of vended coffee) later, Mr. Mero found himself at the main desk of the same room he trained in — troubled. Older and more savvy, he had grown to read less music magazines and more broadsheets. One particular morning, he couldn’t put his finger on what disturbed him more. Was it the headline announcing the successful cloning of a rhesus monkey, or rather the side-line story sensationalising an adolescent suicide? Both had ruined his day before it had even started. While finishing his drink and folding away the furrowed newspaper, he sighed as he contemplated the empty space ahead of him.
Mr. Mero’s thoughts were too deep for the hour, but his drifting mind insisted on questioning the future. Would he soon be imparting his wisdom to a procession of genetically engineered clones, each perfectly censored to avoid mishap or wrong-foot? It could be worse, he considered, if children were given more freedom than they already enjoyed. Would he then end up with a herd of “individualised” adult-teens way beyond the station of their age?
Focus, he told himself. He hadn’t gotten to this point of his career by wasting energy on intangible, far-off concepts. History is real. History can be touched, through the ages and erosion, with a simple stroke on ancient stone. Yes, he affirmed in silence, the future doesn’t yet exist and History is everything else! That’s precisely why he chose to teach it.
The door opened with a crash, which knocked two decorative posters off the wall it collided with. The posters usually formed a sickly mosaic around the whole room. Meant to encourage, or provide support, Mr. Mero believed strongly in them. His students, however, treated them with the disregard such garish window dressings often garner.
The new arrival was Adam — a squat-nosed merchant of imprudent disrespect. His brand varied from Ross’ before him, lacking any intelligence or charm. When looking down at the posters on the floor, his only response was to snigger.
‘Get out. You’re early,’ Mr. Mero growled. His demand was laced with intentional contempt. Adam had made constructing lesson plans superfluous for too long. With students like him, it became a case of how much the problem-pupil allowed to be taught. Seconds after Mr. Mero’s command, the bell hammered out an incessant warble. Its deftly timed decibels cackled, as if in cahoots with the arrogant young acolyte (who smiled a smug, provocative grin).
‘The bell’s for me, not for you,’ Mr. Mero intoned — an old teacher’s mantra. The rest of the class contradicted him by taking the bell’s toll as an instruction to pile through the door. While Adam craved the commotion, Mr. Mero felt a helplessness that all of his experience endeavoured to expel. His assertions of History’s importance suddenly seemed irretrievably trivial.
‘Just leave, Adam,’ a passing girl encouraged, who instinctively held her textbooks tight to her chest in protection, ‘you do this every day.’ Mr. Mero, exasperated, was appreciative of the teenage cavalry, who always surprised him with their own personal distaste for Adam’s brutish interjections. Confirming his own predictability, Adam instantly replied with a heavy snort and a gesture involving two fingers and his tongue. When, Mr. Mero thought in anguish, did his pupils absorb such vulgarity? Standing up from his desk, using physicality as a tool, he couldn’t imagine a finer time to use the blunt methods of his predecessor, Mr. Dransfield.
‘Now,’ Mr. Mero barked, pointing to the corridor outside. The girl who had dared to oppose Adam hobbled to her seat with a snort of her own, letting out a muttered “tosser” beneath her breath (which Mr. Mero mercifully ignored). Ross — Mr. Mero’s first rival — may have stamped his feet at being banished, but he had more sense than to call his superior a “tit” before vigorously slamming the door; Adam, unfortunately for all who met him, didn’t share in that sense.
Mr. Mero shook his head, massaged his temples and sat back down. He trusted the remaining students to take their places with minimal uproar. It seemed that other potential menaces in the class upped their behavioural game when sharing Adam’s company, almost as if his very presence advanced them. One student, dressed in a misshapen and unmatched uniform, even busied himself with replacing the fallen posters. Without a movement, a drained Mr. Mero grunted his gratitude as he reviewed his schedule.
The learners ahead filled the room with a cacophony of indiscernible word salad. While each were individually concerned with stationery and gossip, Mr. Mero noticed the extravagance of their pencil cases. In his own childhood, he remembered, every single protractor and compass was a dull monument to monochrome. With the passing years, fresh freedoms had appeared in the exponential outrageousness of hairstyles too.
Enough, he concluded abruptly, recognising his distraction. Mr. Mero rose his hand, leaning his other arm forward, and surveyed his charges. The pupils knew this familiar sign, and the better behaved of them highlighted it to those still discussing the previous night’s video game victories and pubescent conquests. Despite some of the group pushing the limits of Mr. Mero’s passive approach, order eventually fell.
‘Thank you,’ Mr. Mero said sincerely. He switched on the interactive whiteboard with a small, delicate remote, ‘It’s good to know that most of you understand how to resemble human beings.’ A smattering of the seated audience laughed, but at least half of them saw it as the admittance of anxiety it unintentionally was.
‘Who can remind us all of where we were last week, for a gold star?’ Mr. Mero suggested, despising the patronising system and the fact that it got results.
‘Still talking about the Nazis and that, Sir?’ Sean bleated, auburn-haired and freckle-cheeked, from the front row. Sean was noted for his blurting disapproval of the syllabus. Before Mr. Mero could show his own scorn, Charlotte — a girl who wore her tie longer than the others, and sat four seats from Sean — interrupted with a damning cough as a prefix.
‘We were reading about the events leading up to the Holocaust.’ Hearing Charlotte’s voice, his studious saving grace, Mr. Mero turned from the whiteboard to face her, ‘Things like the Nuremburg Laws.’
‘Oh yeah!’ exclaimed Sean, more propelled by the idea of besting Charlotte, ‘All those propaganda films and stuff!’
‘They were dead racist,’ another opined before Mr. Mero had the shortest sliver of opportunity to praise anybody.
‘Okay, okay,’ he spoke in a meditative tone, lifting his hand again in a signal for quiet, ‘Charlotte gets the gold star.’ Slight groans could be heard through the room; but Charlotte plainly smiled a self-satisfied smile at her ever-rewarding gift horse. ‘And if the propaganda bothered you, Alice,’ he continued, ‘you might not like what we’re looking at today.’ He pressed his fingertip against the screen, having always kept adeptly ahead of the technological curve, opening his PowerPoint presentation without revealing the slide.
‘Kristallnacht!’ The title of his work whizzed into view with an exaggerated animation, punctuating the faux-enthusiasm of his words. Behind his well-practised facade, his subconscious speculated on when exactly schoolchildren evolved to need such aesthetic and embellishment to digest knowledge.