This is the fifth part of a fiction serial, in 782 words.
During the next History lesson that Roger was teaching his own form, Emily showed remarkable insight into the Norman expansion across Britain. She also added some details about how Harold Godwinson had reneged on his promise to give William the crown, giving some justification for the invasion in the first place. That wasn’t even something Roger had mentioned during the lesson, and Emily went on to reference the Bayeux Tapestry, which was a lesson he had in mind for the following week.
The rest of the class sat looking bored as Emily delivered what was more or less a lecture, and the girl sitting next to her was staring out of the window throughout. After the class left the room, Roger was sitting at his desk considering the fact that Emily Hartmann could easily have taken that lesson if he hadn’t been there.
At morning break, he managed to have a word with Sonia Reiss, the German teacher. Trying to act very casual, he mentioned that Emily appeared to be very bright, and asked how she was getting on. Sonia replied as if she was talking to an idiot. “Hello? Her name is Hartmann. That’s a German name and her family was of German origin, so she speaks it like a native. There is hardly any point in her being in my class, but they are the rules. She will pass all of her German exams with flying colours, that’s obvious”.
He didn’t appreciate her tone, or her thick Geman accent. She always reminded him of those aggressive camp guards he had seen being arrested at the end of the war, in documentary films.
Roger’s next target was Hugh Edwardes, the Religious Education teacher. The Welshman was well-suited to his subject, with his sanctimonious airs, and pale bald head like so many vicars seem to have. He screwed his face up at the mention of Emily’s name.
“She laughed at me! Laughed, mind you. She told me that religion is a myth, and that no God exists. I understand from the headmaster that the girl’s guardian has tried to get her exempted from my class on the grounds that she is an atheist. Eleven years old, and claiming to be an athiest. I ask you, Roger, is that normal? Anyway, it was turned down. It is a compulsory subject until they choose their preferences in a few years”.
By the end of the school day, that familiar headache was starting again, and it was not improved by the sudden appearance of Delia in his room.
“Funny Girl, that’s the film I was talking about. It’s all the rage, and a wonderful musical with so many great songs. Barbra Streisand is the star. She’s so good, a really great singer. If you pick me up about six forty-five, we will get there in plenty of time. Then we can have a drink somewhere after. Okay? Here’s my address, I wrote it down for you.” She placed the sheet of paper in front of him.
Then she left without waiting for an answer, which was just as well as he hadn’t had time to think up a reason to cancel the date.
Unable to face cooking anything, Roger bought a Cornish Pasty and a box of red grapes in the corner shop near his house. He ate the pasty cold as he considered what he was now naming The Hartmann Conundrum.
Could he be the only teacher at the school bothered about the girl? The only one thinking that there was something really strange about her? He was aware that most of his colleagues believed that it was enough just to get through the day, and hope for a decent percentage of exam passes next summer. Performance reviews and promotion were linked to those passes, and the teachers were not supposed to bother themselves with any issues outside of the school, unless alerted to them by other agencies.
Of course, he was taking time to ask about her progress in every subject. His colleagues were likely to only be focusing on what happened in their own classes. Part of him just wanted to get on with the school term, give Emily an A for every paper, and stop worrying about why she was so different. But Roger was not a man who could let things go.
He liked his life to be orderly, from the way he catalogued and arranged his books in subject order, subdivided by publication date, to the way that he always used the same knife, fork, spoon, bowl, and plate. Then washed them up as soon as he had eaten, dried them, and put them away.
Emily was disrupting his routine.