The headteacher doesn't look up from his desk. He has a MacBook on his left, and a cup painted with watercolour cats on his right. He stabs at the keyboard, one key at a time, staring intently into the screen behind a pair of bug-eyed spectacles. He slurps the tepid tea and stabs, slurps and stabs, then curses quietly when the computer lets out its own explicit at his data entry misstep.
His visitor watches him from the opposite end of the room, hidden in the shade of a banana leaf plant, her brown eyes taking him in, in all his senior splendour. He continues to motor away at his spreadsheet, eyes shifting back and forth. The spot where she spies is comfortable and cool, protected from the early arrival of an unexpected heatwave.
The worst thing about being of school age is being forced outside for break times in every season, rain or shine. Kathleen hates both here, both in England are intense. The rain is cold and pelting, and the sunshine brings dust and air devoid of breeze or moisture.
She wonders for the millionth time why they had swapped their lives in the Caribbean for this island. Her mother insisted she had beneficial intentions: good schools, good healthcare- etc etc etc.
“And you’ll be good there too,” her mother assured her. A warning and a command. “You will be good, Kathleen. You will do well in England…”
If the last thirteen months are anything to go by, there is no goodness in the Queen’s country that can rid Kathleen of her badness. Not even a reputable school where they must learn Latin and the girls wear pleated knee-length skirts. Where the “pupils” avoid beef rather than roll up their sleeves and join in. And where being sent to the Headteacher is so mundane, Kathleen has simply invited herself inside. and is now leaning casually against the door browsing the very man who should, by definition, spark awe and fear in her very soul.
Kathleen is disappointed. She felt a rush of anticipation as she skipped down the Biology block earlier, with the latest red slip flapping proudly in hand, pleased she had finally accumulated enough penalties to hit the jackpot. An audience with the man himself. The Big Dog. The headteacher of Blakewood College had requested a meeting with her.
She had heard many things about him during her short but dramatic time as a pupil at his school. He was apparently witty and incredibly intelligent. He was apparently illustrious and always busy. He was apparently invited everywhere, even royal engagements - and yet still remained a mystery.
The truth was in all her thirteen months of being at Blakewood, Kathleen had set eyes on this accomplished headteacher, never. For all his glitzy reputation, to Kathleen, he seemed like an imposter. All bark, no bite - the summary of most of the Caribbean native’s encounters with the British.
Kathleen is disappointed that her efforts to catch the attention of the top man seem in vain. Because here he is, in all his apparent glory and the only thing so far that is remarkable or true about him, from what Kathleen has heard, is that yes, he obviously can’t see Jack all with those ginormous glasses and yes, his hair really is silver (The reason the hormonal girls drool over him and call him a “silver fox”. Which is disgusting because he is at least sixty years old). So far, the headteacher of Blakewood College is undeserved of Katleen’s time and seems like nothing more than someone’s grandaddy.
Kathleen sighs impatiently as the MacBook whirs and a clock ticks away somewhere above their heads.
Perhaps I should have made a more dramatic entrance? Kathleen thinks, kicking herself for not sticking to the plan she had slightly deviated from. Tiptoeing around isn’t her style, sneaking into the office had been a last-minute decision. The adjoining corridors had been unusually packed with teachers all remarkably red-faced from the heat, despite their exclamations of joy at the “gorgeous” weather fit for a Pimms in the evening. Their presence was unforeseen - of course, Kathleen had envisioned stalking down an empty corridor, throwing open the office door, startling the old man and making a scene so that everybody in the neighbouring rooms come running to see what all the noise was about.
It was all about the drama; Kathleen thrived on drama.
But since the corridor was already buzzing, her theatrics would not be effective. No one, to her dismay, had even acknowledged her when she eventually muzzled her way through, grasped the office door handle and slid inside.
Kathleen tenses at the sound of heavy footsteps outside. The walker pauses but then moves away quickly. All the while, the headteacher slurps and stabs, completely lost in his own world, his face still attached to his laptop screen.
Kathleen wonders if he is deaf as well as blind. She has been lurking for three whole minutes without him so much as glancing up. Maybe it was time to stop playing sleuth and ramp things up a little. After all, she had sinned a great many sins to get here…
The crashing of the banana plant does the trick and the silver fox’s face suddenly turns as ghostly as his hair. He shoots upwards from his mahogany recliner chair and tea from his mouth showers over his matching mahogany desk and MacBook. Even his glasses jolt momentarily, smacking into his protruding forehead.
“What in the -” he roars, squinting into his generously spaced office, where the plant has seemingly toppled itself and is lying in its own waste.
Kathleen pushes away from the door, exposing herself to the headteacher - who is, as she had first desired - now startled.
The headteacher gapes at her emerging from the shadows. He glares at his cup and then at the dripping mess, and then at his fallen plant, his response delayed. Kathleen imagines his mind - apparently a mind of smart - working hard like a machine, cogs turning, trying to piece it all together. He seems to be wondering what to resolve first; the beeping from a technology device after contact with liquid or the girl who is grinning stupidly at him from across the peat-ridden carpet.
“Did you - I'm sorry I didn’t hear you come in'', he manages and readjusts his glasses, pretending that the laptop isn’t still screeching for attention beneath his heavy but soft body. Then he clears his throat and asks, “Did you knock?”
Kathleen is thrilled.
“Yessir. I did knock”.
“Oh,” the headteacher sounds pained. He scratches at the tufts of silver hair sprouting from his ear and offers the room a puzzled expression as if to ask it; Did you hear her knock?
“Well,” he concludes finally, pressing his fingers down into the desk, I certainly didn’t hear you”.
“No problem, sir,” Kathleen steps lazily over the plant and flashes him a big toothy grin.
Her mother had always told her not to “kin teet” at people. It makes you look crazy, Kathleen. And then under her breath, she would add; But it’s not your fault. You're not crazy, not really. Just damaged...
“Well, actually it is a problem,” the headteacher recoils, gesturing at his desk and laptop accusingly, “Not only am I incredibly busy at this hour, but as you can see, your interruption has caused quite a mess”.
“I see it, sir. Didn’t mean to cause you a fright-”
“Oh no, I wasn’t frightened...”
An awkward silence. Footsteps clatter past outside again. The clock steadily ticks. The technological shrilling seems to fade into white noise.
“Sorry,” the headteacher powers up again, “ I didn’t…who are you?”
Kathleen doesn’t move. Instead, she rocks, squeaking in her polished Oxfords, patiently enjoying the interaction. She holds up the incriminating red slip.
“You should know,” she insists, “You requested to see me”.
The headteacher frowns and squints at the note but the handwriting is too far away and too illegible for him to read even if he did have 20/20 vision - which was never, unfortunately for him. Lack of sight made up for apparently by a sharper noggin, people said.
“I did?” More scratching at his silver tuft, but he clearly isn’t sure.
Kathleen’s plastic smile flickers. He can’t be serious? She scoffs.
He couldn’t be so smart either. Not if he couldn’t even remember orchestrating such an important meeting.
Receiving one red slip at Blakewood College was frowned upon enough. But pupils who amassed several and faced possible suspension or even exclusion was scandalous. The school was a respectable establishment with a respectable code of conduct. The only way any pupil got to see or meet with the headteacher was through the disciplinary channels. These “interventions” were the last attempt to save face before starting more official procedures. But very few had been carried out in all of the thirty glorious years of the current headteacher’s principality. And so, it was truly unforgivable in Kathleen’s eyes that an occasion so rare - her own intervention - had been forgotten by the very man who enforced the very morals she’d spent months breaking down to rain hell on his perfect parade.
The headteacher lifts his face to the left wall to reveal the location of the ticking clock. It reads quarter to one.
Neglecting to offer Kathleen a seat, he reengages with his laptop and tries to get it back into working order. But by the sounds of frustrated bleeps of each keyboard tap, it’s clear the machine is begging to be left alone. He gives the screen a little slap and then huffs, pressing fists into his side rolls.
“You see that’s the problem with technology,” he suddenly vocalises but doesn’t make eye contact with his visitor, “Wonderful when it works, but an absolute ache when it doesn’t. Funny that, isn’t it? How a little upset, a spilt liquid, can bring such an incredible machine to its knees -”
“You talking to me, sir?” Kathleen chirps sweetly.
The headteacher’s head snaps back.
“Oh,” his laugh comes out like a gurgle, “ I forgot you were, I wasn’t talking to -” he trails, closes his eyes, and sighs heavily. Resetting; Kathleen thinks.
“Julie didn’t tell me I had a meeting today. Or perhaps I missed the appointment in my inbox - gosh do I miss the good old days of paper diaries -”.
The reflective mumblings are annoying Kathleen. That’s enough of that; she thinks irritated and decides finally it’s time to break character.
Striding across the space, like a provoked bull, she announces, “Let’s proceed” and collides purposefully into the desk, so as to collide with the headteacher. Shockwaves ripple through the sturdy wood and its bumbling fool of an owner. He almost cries out, but masterfully subdues it, inhaling the pain like a true Brit.
“Erm, yes. Take a seat”.
Kathleen sits in the adjacent chair and for added effect, lands so deeply that her skirt billows up and out for a moment. Kathleen thrives on drama.
Damp papers on the desk are swept into hidden drawers and the laptop is yanked inwards, placing a security barrier between the headteacher and the unpredictable teenager. He feels suddenly uneasy at her closeness and ducks behind his screen to search for any signs of this meeting or the case notes to get an idea of just who he was dealing with. After showing alarming volatility, the headteacher is admittedly stumped as to how to deal with Kathleen without causing further unpleasantry. Unluckily for him, his calling apps both fail in an attempt to reach his PA for assistance. A notification informs him that his access to the server has been temporarily disabled. Drat.
“Are you okay, sir?”
He laughs nervously, tapping away to find a workaround, a way to salvage this disaster and proceed as required.
“Quite alright,” he fudges. It’s a lie of course. He isn’t alright.
The truth is he hasn’t conducted an intervention in a very long time. He can’t remember how to proceed or where to find the case notes. The room begins to buzz with unventilated heat and the headteacher feels his pits turn clammy, having been caught off guard like this.
“Temporary glitch,” he says brightly, peering at her over the screen and his bowing glasses. “Not to worry. In the meantime, you can supply me with your name so I know who I’m searching for”.
Kathleen crosses her legs and bobs a foot, silently scrutinising his clumsy mannerism, as he dives for a stray Parker and indicates she should write. Conversation seems too exhausting.
Kathleen contemplates resuming gameplay by providing an outlandish name. But no, there isn’t much time to land her delivery. So she chooses to curb her impulses and writes, in slow obedience, feeling his four eyes watching her.
“Kate-lynn? Bel -a- fount?”
Really? She is incredulous at his blindness.
“It’s Kath-leen. And it’s Bella-fon-tea, sir”.
Hmm, he replies, no longer watching her.
So Kathleen leans forwards. “Belafonte,” she presses, urging him to repeat it.
He is distracted, typing one letter at a time into another system, willing for something this afternoon to go right.
"Belafonte," Kathleen raises her voice forcibly over the mechanical whirring. But his attention is gone, returning loyally to his damn laptop.
“Here we are!” the headteacher’s chin wobbles joyfully, as the system pings its approval at his entry, “I have your file”.
Kathleen stiffens, face prickling. He hasn’t acknowledged her, he hasn’t registered her name.
Stupid; she breathes, shaking her head at his bobbing head; stupid old man. She decides that his reputation far outweighs the reality that he truly is a disappointment.
Sinking backwards dishevelled, she begins to plot her next move.
She glares bitterly as he hums whilst scanning through her multiple misdemeanours. He isn’t impressed but his grimaces remain professionally restrained.
“Oh dear,” his comment is understated. He finally looks at Kathleen, tipping his glasses; “What are we going to do with you Katelynn, hmm?”
He asks her if she’d like to comment on her behaviour, to provide “reasonings” for her unacceptable conduct.
Kathleen’s mouth is a hard line. The pair stare at each other. The clock clacks.
“They say I have Daddy issues”.
The headteacher’s brows furrow.
“Oh? Your father is -”
“Absent.” A coward, a deadbeat.
"I understand,” he splutters, uncomfortably.
Ha! You couldn’t possibly understand...
“Well, I understand but I do not condone your actions. This school doesn’t take rebellion lightly, you will know.” He works the trackpad with fat pink stubby digits decked in rings. “I must insist that unless you alter your ways, serious repercussions will follow, young lady”.
Kathleen’s nostrils flare at his disassociation, at his failure to address her correctly.
Say my name, you moron…
The lunch bell cuts through the tensed air. She's out of time.
The headteacher immediately starts packing up, offering his raging pupil a pathetic apology about the inconveniencies and promises absentmindedly that he will have Julie reschedule.
“I’m eager to speak with your guardian regarding your future at Blakewood,” he says to his watch, “I’m sorry, I need to leave, I have a private off-site appointment. Please take advantage of the counselling helpline. It was nice - I mean, it was necessary to meet you. If there’s anything we can do in the meanwhile to assist you, I’d be happy to help,”. His last line is delivered carelessly, he is once again distracted.
But she is sharp and quick even for her age. Ears pricked, she identifies her last opportunity to pounce. Foolish foolish man...
“Yes sir. I’d be grateful if you could contact my father, I don’t have his details, you see”.
“Pardon?” He has already crossed the carpet and is struggling into a navy overcoat with his back to her. He is tutting at his fallen plant but makes no attempt to rectify it himself since Julie would be along shortly.
“My father.” Kathleen stands and approaches from behind. She is breathing hard, heart thumping with adrenaline, but she takes her time to finish her request and deliver the blow, “I believe you know him very well. My mother has told me little about him.
Except that, he’s a disgraced Englishman, who knocked up a girl whilst on a bachelor’s excursion to St Lucia and then fled back to England, following the advice of his equally spineless father, disowning the girl and his child when he realised she was only sixteen. I believe his name is Henry, sir. Henry Blakewood”.
Mr Blakewood’s dressing halts and his entire body stiffens.
Kathleen reaches him at the door and their eyes met.
There is so much she wants to scream at that moment, so much crazy she wants to unleash, for her and her forsaken mother’s sake. For this retribution, Kathleen believes she was born. And perhaps her wit isn’t from her paternity after all, but from the woman who has never forgotten and devised a plan to one day send her daughter to the very school that was founded by her grandfather’s ancestors. The very school that bears their prestigious name and is squeaky clean in every way.
But its reputation outweighs its reality. Scandal and folly are in its blood.
Mr Blakewood inhales sharply. Kathleen imagines his mind - apparently though not a mind of smart - working hard like a machine, cogs turning, trying to piece it all together.
“Funny isn’t it?” She smirks with sarcasm, “How a little upset can bring such an incredible machine of a man to its knees?” Pausing for effect, she adds, “Been insightful to finally meet you, Mr Blakewood. I’m sure my mother’ll be thrilled to meet you too. Give my regards to Daddy, won’t you?”
“You…," Mr Blakeswood swipes for Kathleen, but she escapes, flinging open the door so fast, so aggressively, so loudly that a crowd from the neighbouring rooms come running to see what all the noise is about.
It’s all about the drama; Kathleen thrives on drama.