I remember that day perfectly. It was as gloomy as my mood lately. I was twenty-seven years old and already bored with life. Also, it wasn’t the best idea to forget my umbrella at home during a rain shower, nor to miss the bus. To make matters worse, an asshole driver splashed me from head to toe. I explained to him, in my mind, why his mother was an easy woman, but that didn't dry my underwear.
I was going to be late for school, and there was no doubt that in my class there would be pandemonium. The last time I was late, I found the little devils building a tower of chairs and trying to persuade the youngest among them to climb on top. I arrived exactly when it came to bribery with candy and superhero stickers.
After what it felt like an eternity spent in that uncovered bus stop, my rescue came in the form of a number 10 bus. The door opened, I took a sighed and stepped into the world of cheap perfume smelling sardines. I was lucky, at least, that the bus was going to drop me off right at the school.
A quarter of an hour later, I arrived. I got out and ran to my class, but was stopped by an authoritarian voice.
“Sir, wait a minute! Where are you going?”
This didn't help my shitty mood at all. I turned and looked through the wet glasses at the guard of the Elementary School No. 3.
"Mr. Costache, this is the third time this month you've stopped me. I'm Viorel Gaftoni. I teach literature and I’ve been here for six months.
“Oh, yes! I remember now! My memory is not what it used to be,” said the guard, laughing. “Forgive me, Mr. Gaftoni. I see you're a little late.” he said and looked at his watch.
I smiled sarcastically and turned around.
"You know, Mr. Gaftoni," he continued, "I’ve never been late. It's something I learned in the military. At five in the morning the alarm rang and we had a few minutes to...”
"You’re kidding me?" I thought. "You said it yourself that I’m late and now you're holding me hostage?"
“… and we walked five kilometres each morning. Today's young people don't even know how to sew their pants.”
"At this rate, my students will finish medicine and I will still be here."
"Mr. Costache, I'm sorry, but I have to run to my class. I'm already late.”
“Go ahead! Teach these children well. School is the most important thing.”
“Mhm. Goodbye.” I said and walked away.
All that could be heard in the corridor was the sound of my footsteps and the screams from Room 21, my class. I stopped in front of the door to catch my breath when I heard from inside:
“5… 4… 3…”
For a moment I turned into Medusa because eighteen children became petrified by my sudden entry. I wanted to stop anything that might have happened when the countdown reached zero.
In the middle of the class, my inventive students piled up all their backpacks on top of which they put their jackets, forming a kind of mattress, and three boys sat on the teacher’s desk.
“What the hell is going on here?” I said and closed the door, not before taking one last look down the hall for the headmistress.
I could almost hear their hearts trying to penetrate their chests.
"I won't ask again! What are you doing?" I yelled.
"We wanted to be like John Cena," said one of the boys on the desk.
We all stood still for a few seconds, which seemed like an eternity to the "defendants." I massaged my eyes with the palm of my hand and exhaled loudly.
“Please gather everything, move the desk back, wipe it with a cloth and I don’t want to hear another sound!” and I left the classroom to go to the teachers' bathroom to try to dry my hair.
When I returned, the angels were each at their desks, awaiting the judgement. I made a plea about safety and how to behave at school, about civilization and common sense, a speech that went through one ear and out the other.
My literature class was compromised by all the events of the morning, so I took the opportunity to tell the students about an idea that came to me.
“I want to ask you something. What would you think if we made a school magazine?”
No one reacted in any way. They were all waiting for more clarifications.
“It’ll be a magazine for the students, by the students. You’re gonna be the columnists.”
A suspicious murmur ran through the classroom.
“You mean, like, we're going to get extra homework?” asked one of the wrestlers.
“No, Răzvan. It will be voluntary.”
"What will the magazine be about?" another student asked.
“That depends on you. You can write what you want - within the limits of common sense - what you think is interesting and what you think other colleagues would read.”
There were a few whispers in the classroom. The students did not seem convinced of the success of this idea. They saw this as time wasted that could have been spent playing.
“Look, let me give you an example. I'm passionate about computer games. I could write a column about the new game Warcraft 3. What was good, what was bad, and so on.”
A few boys approved of my gaming tastes.
“Or what I think about Avril Lavigne's new single or advice on fashion and make-up.”
They laughed and the whispers turned into discussions.
"Could I write about Naruto?" a student asked.
“Absolutely! You can also make anime recommendations for the uninitiated.
“Can I write about my favourite football team?” asked another wrestler.
“You can, but you'll probably have to run away from your opponents' fans.”
My heart grew when I saw the children's enthusiasm for writing. I hoped it wouldn't be temporary.
“Can we invent stories too?” an almost imperceptible, timid voice came from behind the class.
“That would be great, Ana. If you have an idea for an interesting story, I encourage you to put it on paper.”
The bell rang.
“Please think about what we’ve discussed and leave anything you write in the teacher’s lounge. In two weeks we will discuss the magazine again.”
"Until then, I will have to convince the headmistress to finance this non-profit project" I thought.
It was three o'clock and I finished the classes for the day. I was planning to go home, throw my muddy jeans in the washing machine, open a beer and forget about myself in front of the computer. But before that, I had to talk to headmistress Zaharia about the magazine.
"Mrs. Zaharia , how nice your hair is… No!" I was trying to make a speech while slaloming through the noisy students in the hallway.
"Have you lost weight?... Maybe when pigs fly.”
I arrived at her office, knocked on the door and slowly entered.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Zaharia! May I?”
At the desk, surrounded by documents, sat Mrs. Zaharia , a sixty year old woman with white, curly hair, short and a little chubby, who was signing documents with a look as if she was signing declarations of war.
“One minute, Mr. Gaftoni! Sit down, please! she said without looking up. Damn the minister with the budget cuts! Would be better if he would cut off his head!”
"Wonderful!" I thought. "I’ll ask for financing and she’ll kick me out." I sat down with my hands resting on my lap and tried not to blink too loudly.
"And that's that!" she said a few minutes later, dropped the pen on the documents and took off her glasses. “What do you want?”
"I think I would have had a better chance of success if I would have caught her on the toilet."
“Mrs. Zaharia, I have an idea that I think would bring long-term benefits to our school and especially to the students who want to get involved in the project.” I said with some enthusiasm.
She looked at me without blinking.
“It’s a school magazine written by students, for students.
She still seemed to be petrified. Maybe I really have powers like Medusa?!
“The children would write reviews of movies, or games, or whatever, or their own stories. Maybe it would motivate the others to read more, being writings of colleagues and not of ‘boring, old men’.” I quoted my students.
The headmistress sighed. She had a look that said, "Did you eat something rotten, young man?"
“What do you think?” I said with a silly smile on my face.
They were among the longest thirty seconds of my life until Mrs. Zaharia asked:
"And who will pay for this magazine? Will the students buy it?”
"Well, I thought it would be a free magazine. The costs should be covered by the school.”
For a moment I felt like she was going to use me as a punching bag, but she took a deep breath and calmly replied:
"Mr. Gaftoni, reading is no longer a priority for children," she said, and got up to look out the window into the schoolyard. “ ‘How could I sit in my chair for an hour or two a day and read something written by a ‘boring, old man’ when I can play on the computer?’. I see this in my grandchildren who stare at the screens for hours.
"That's what I'm trying to do, convince them to read more."
“And since everything is voluntary, I’ll bet no one will want to write. They will see it as extra homework.”
Mrs. Zaharia knew the children surprisingly well.
“I talked to my students about it this morning and, indeed, their first instinct was to treat it like homework.” I continued to support my plea. “But that's because they're used to writing reports on things they don't care about.”
She turned to me and raised an eyebrow.
“You should have seen, Mrs. Zaharia, how excited they were when I told them they could write about computer games, movies, anime…
“What is an anime?” Mrs. Zaharia asked.
“See? You would benefit from this magazine as well.” I said with a smile.
The headmistress chuckeled and that gave me some hope. She put on her glasses and flipped through the documents on the table. She read something and after a while said:
“Here's how we’re gonna do it, Mr. Gaftoni. Bring me some writings from the students to prove that there’s some interest and we’ll do a test edition. If it’s successful, we’ll allocate more money.”
I could have jumped into her arms and kissed her, but I liked my job. I nodded and clenched my fists in delight.
"I told them they had two weeks to write something."
“Good. Then I’ll be waiting to read some works of art ”, the headmistress said, and returned to her papers, a sign to me that I should leave.
“Thank you and have a good day!”
“Goodbye and Mr. Gaftoni, set the alarm clock a little earlier, okay?”
I nodded in embarrassment and hurried out.
Five days have passed and my enthusiasm has taken precedence over reason. I thought I was going to read my students' papers over the weekend, but nothing.
“Don't forget about your writings for the school magazine!” I shouted to the class trying to cover the bell announcing the start of the weekend.
Wednesday had come and the deadline was fast approaching. I got off the bus and at the entrance to the school I met the headmistress.
“How's the magazine going? Were you inundated with writings?” Mrs. Zaharia asked.
"Not really," I said. But I still haven't lost hope. You know how children are. They leave everything for the last minute. I'll get something by Monday.
She looked at me over her glasses and nodded with scepticism.
I made myself a coffee in the teacher’s lounge and headed for my first class, hoping to go home at the end of the day with at least one measly story about anything.
"Should I tell them I’ll give an extra point for whoever writes anything?" I thought. "Hmmm, better not. I risk getting only plagiarised things or stories done in a hurry.”
Three o'clock and nothing. I watched each student walk past my desk greeting me and not leaving any papers. After the last one left, I sighed and was gathering my things when I got interrupted by someone.
"Professor," said Ana, who returned to the class after making sure there was no one left, "I wrote something."
Music to my ears! More beautiful than the chirps of birds or the voice of the accountant who would call me to give me my salary.
The girl looked left and right down the hall and entered the classroom, closing the door behind her. She handed me an eleven-page manuscript.
"It's a story I've been thinking about for some time," she said. It's called "Alone on the Swing."
I flipped through the pages with the excitement of a child at Christmas.
“It's about a girl who has no friends and has to play alone, but befriends a big, fluffy puppy.”
“A very interesting premise, Ana. Thanks for the manuscript. I'll read it when I get home.”
"Professor," said Ana, looking at the floor. If you put it in the magazine, please don't say I wrote it. I'm afraid the others would laugh at me.”
I did not expect this and I admit that my heart broke a little.
“All right, Ana. But instead of writing ‘Anonymous Author’ think of a pseudonym. Great writers like Agatha Christie or Isaac Asimov wrote under a pseudonym for a while.”
“I'll think about one. Thank you! Goodbye!”
I walked home whistling and almost dancing. One manuscript was not enough, but it was a start and hope returned a little.
The next day, before class, I gave Ana some recommendations. She had a knack for writing and the potential to become a novelist. Then, my students surprised me.
"Professor," said the wrestler, "I wrote something." It's about the new Spider-Man movie. I went to see it on Saturday and it was great!
"I wrote something, too," said the anime fangirl. “It's about the Pokémon series. I'm sure everyone will like it." she said confidently, and handed me a sheet of paper with a Pikachu drawn on it.
"I wrote about the best football team of all time," said another boy in a white T-shirt with Zidane on the back.
I was so excited that I ignored the loud debate that started between the boys over that foolish statement from the little Real Madrid fan. I had four manuscripts, which was enough for the pilot edition of the magazine.
The next few days I corrected their writing and at the end of the week I received the final versions with which I went to the headmistress.
"Very diverse subjects," said Mrs. Zaharia, after reading the manuscripts. I was struck by the story of this girl, Deborah Nightingale. Interesting pseudonym. Who is she?
“I can’t say, but she has talent. She could become a writer someday.”
She agreed and assured me that the magazine will be published by the end of the month.
It was a sunny, but chilly autumn day. I had my first classes at lunch so I decided to take a walk to school.
As I entered the building a small tingling went through my body and I felt all warm inside. Next to the door was a table with the magazines. Mr. Costache was in his chair, reading with interest the text about Real Madrid. Walking through the hallways among the students, I kept hearing snippets of discussion.
- How can Răzvan believe that Spider-man can beat Batman?
Others were talking about football.
- Barcelona can beat Real Madrid on any day of the year.
- Manchester United is above all, anyway.
- In what universe?
I entered the classroom where the anime fangirl was surrounded by other classmates and they were debating what it would be like in a world where Pokémon would be real. I sat down at my desk, radiating with happiness. The magazine seemed like a real hit. At the end of the class, I asked them what their favourite writing was.
"I hate to admit it, but Deborah's story," said the anime fangirl.
"Yes, her story, for sure," said another student.
Several other children agreed with them. My eyes fell on Ana, who showed the biggest smile I've ever seen on her since I started teaching them.
The potential of the magazine was undeniable, so it became a monthly publication. The professors from the literature department were in charge of editing the works. After the fifth edition, we received more writings than we could publish, to the discontent of those rejected.
Ana continued to write and it wasn't long before she gave up her pseudonym. With each month passing, her stories became better and more elaborate.
Now, twenty years later, Ana has six published novels, one of which became a movie and is translated into over forty languages.
I still teach literature to the students of the Elementary School no. 3 and I am the editor-in-chief of the magazine. Its popularity has grown so much that it’s sold in bookstores throughout the city and all this would not have happened if it weren’t for the little fans of Spider-man, Real Madrid, Pokémon and Deborah Nightingale.