I burst through the door and slammed it behind me.
Sweat was trickling down my face, dripping from my brow onto my lip. I blew my nose on 3 squares of toilet paper, which I ripped off the roll and bunched up hastily.
I used my sleeve to dry the sweat and the corner of my eyes. Wait – I’m crying? Why? And when did I start…?
No – not here. Please – I need to stop. I’m starting to get that throbbing pain in my chest and that sinking feeling in my gut. That crushing sadness that I just cannot shake. I glided backwards and my arse impacted the toilet seat hard with a thud.
I let out a little weak groan, but my focus quickly was quickly back on my chest and gut.
My chest was heaving and with each breath I let out a pant, not unlike my dog’s thirsty pants when she was thirsty. Sweat was trickling – and God how embarrassing is this? What the hell were the guys in the other stalls thinking?
I stripped my scarf and woolly grey trench coat off and tossed them on the floor. The door didn’t have a hook, so I had to be content with them soaking up some of that stale piss that left a sheen on the floor.
Yep – that’s better.
Keep breathing. Yes, okay.
I closed my eyes tight and drew a long breath…
I opened my eyes. The lights had dimmed – no, more than that – they had changed completely, now faintly glowing pale green. I pushed the door open and found the bathroom mirror was casting the light. It was coming from the reflection. My eyes darted to and fro to confirm this.
I walked towards the door with the aim of switching the ceiling lights back on – but stopped dead in my tracks. Something in the mirror or rather someone caught my attention. Me? It certainly looked like me but that expression… it was unlike any expression I can ever recall seeing on my face. It’s lips were curled high at either end, eyebrows hung low, and all it’s teeth proudly flashed – which was odd because I NEVER smile without my lips being closed tight.
Apart from this, it’s movements and body language matched by own, which I realised as I stepped closer and closer towards it in some sort of hypnotic trance. I crept slowly towards the mirror with my left arm stretched forward and my index finger extended until the tips of our fingers met.
Then it winked.
Then it was dark.
My heart rumbled in my chest, beating like it was strapped to my eardrums. I stumbled around in the black room in search of the door, relying on muscle memory to get me there.
I opened it and – no.
I was no longer in Royal Priors Shopping Centre – I was in work. In school.
In scanned the corridor from left to right in search of answers, but much like the corridor, I came up empty.
It was dull, not that this was an unusual look, and empty, which was oddly comforting considering the utter fucking bedlam that I was used to seeing when I stood in this exact spot any time between 8AM and 4PM Monday-Friday.
I made a beeline straight for the entrance. Nope. No keycard. I patted my pockets. No phone – it was in the pocket of my coat that was nesting on the piss-stained toilet floor.
Ah. No. Sweats again. Not now. And chest pain, and lookie right on queue my fucking stomach. I clutched my chest and gut, cursing my failing mental health.
Breate. In. Out
I shot back to bathroom at speed but was stopped dead in my tracks by the fact that the door was shut tight. Locked? No. WELDED.
“No-no-no” whispered a voice that swirled around in my mind in the tone of voice of a light breeze.
I crouched and covered my face. A tear rolled down my check which I just about caught with my index finger. 1, 2 3 – more followed and I managed to catch two of the three with my finger. I groaned and wiped my face with my sleeves.
“B12” whispered the wind-like voice.
B12. My prison. My pen. My enclosure. My hell. My… classroom.
“B12” whispered the wind-like voice once more, in a slightly raised voice. I clasped my hands over my ears, willing it to leave me alone.
“B12. B12. B12” said the voice, in a higher and harsher voice with each repetition. I ground my palms feebly trying to wish the voice away but could still hear it clear as day.
I set off at a pace down the corridor. Get to my room. See what it wants. Get it over and done with. I passed Mr Summer’s room, Ms Parkers, Ms Jones and… yep – B12. My room. I closed my eyes as I gripped the handle, thinking about the many fires I’ve had to fight in this room:
Disarming RJ of his chair when he chased Liam around the room, swinging it like some deranged chimp or drug-addled maniac. Or when I pulled Arthur off Jack when he was painting his face red and purple. What was his reason for that? Bad-mouthing his cousin or some inane bullshit. Ah, then I thought of my last lesson in the room – with 8B! Descending into chaos like a swarm of banshees, cackling with feral glee as I repeat the countdown of “3, 2, 1” for the eighth bloody time to try and get them to… SHUT THE FUCK UP…!
I sighed. These events had happened in one week – and there were plenty more fire fights that went hand in hand with it. This was my life. Why was this my life?
The door swung ajar.
I beheld the humble classroom with deadpan regard for it’s horse-shoe shaped tables (that were apparently supposed to make them easier to control!), the tattered displays of great literature; Macbeth, A Christmas Carol, An Inspector Calls – things barely regarded by the students, but often used as a quick means of tearing some paper to use as a projectile against a taunting friend on the other side of the room.
“I’m here. What now?” I asked.
“Sit down” the voice responded, in a neutral tone.
“Close your eye” it said softly.
“Think about Craig”.
I smirked and looked at the drawing the was stuck to my computer screen. It was a detailed sketch of me in an anime-style – exaggerated swooping hair and thick square glasses that take up half my face. It was a precise snapshot of me. It was also an optimistic swing and a miss.
Below the sketch read:
‘My favourite teacher 😊’
“Think about Nadia”.
I giggled – thinking about her exercise book. How it lacked any sort of sustained effort through the months of September and October resulting in an impressive amount of detentions. But last week, right before her Christmas break, she writes 2 pages worth of analysis and gets 18/20. I was so proud of her and how far she’d come.
I smiled at that.
“Not all bad – are they?” asked the voice. Though it had become apparent that the voice, was my voice.
“It’s the 21st of December. We’re flying home tomorrow – and instead of buying our brothers an amazing Christmas present, we’re squatting in a dingy, piss-covered toilet, dwelling on this place. Shall we?”
“Yes, we shall” I replied, still smiling.
I opened my eyes and exhaled an extended breath, then grabbed my coat and scarf, and exited the bathroom – primed to do some last-minute Christmas shopping.