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Boarding school in Swaziland and falling in love with my English teacher Boarding school in Swaziland and falling in love with my English teacher
by Abigail George
2022-10-09 08:59:14
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Welcome to the present day. I am an adolescent girl. To keep my mind away from you, teacher, to stop it from enthralling me, to keep the knowledge of you clean, pure I am a collection of lost and found, an uneducated volcano, impatient smoke and the voice of denial. I have become a series of pounding satellites in orbit, the reminder of skinned knees from meeting the pavement, scary broadcasts on the evening news with the words coming out effortlessly from research. That is where I'm coming from, an illuminist. Fear from childhood gone. Fear from a hobo’s eye. Troops in hardship just an imprint burned on my brain. My bedroom has become my throne room. Here I have turned hours into a spotlight on loves, death, eternity, daughters and mothers.

yard01Alluring lands of magic and wonder, the enduring secrets of my heart have become my playmates. When I was child with growing pains in my mother's house, enchantment was internal in dreams and journeys like water in wild places but after that season passed, that phase of my life, with the elegant curve of the winter sun in the sky, water became more fluid in streams and rivers and for the passage of time that I have known you, I know that there will come a day, a time of night when it will stop flowing from memory. Gravity was the only thing holding you and when the world was a thick, white blanket of snowy mist you kept me company on those walks to and from school even though you did not walk beside me.

When my comprehension of you standing in front of the class, in your thin, pale shirt, darkly serious, when you were an empire on your own, I blinked and in a volunteered instant you were gone from my domain. Your voice was like a rite to me.  Awareness of that voice brought me to your location, grilled me. It made me feel as if I had taken a bullet.

I had a body double stuck in the perfect time machine. It gave me a warm feeling (the same feeling I got when I heard thunder peeling through the dark, the night air’s skies), a feeling not for the fainthearted. You taught me about humanity from a contextual reasoning, the black alphabet that is written on my ego, the ego of all poets and the female wanderlust.

I find in that still life quiet the writer’s soul longs for, the silence that is like a terrible scar before it marks itself as refuge, it manages itself as an intense feeling of joy, a hunting ritual, a spiritual rite, an extraordinary state of calm in that identity of all identities that is created without borders, joints where there is always a motivating space for beautiful learning. I often wonder at the family, background the self-assessment of writers and think to myself that voices male and female will fuse eventually in a sacred contract and the storytelling that will emerge, will emerge (with a universe that has become second-nature to me) as a collective, as a community, as a commodity, writers writing, eliminating the most unnatural.

We will prosper, cross that universal threshold together, changing, seizing the spinning web of history, becoming penning confessors of the intimate, commune with the virgin birth of interpretation with the anonymous, the creative myth, gift and the creative impulse falling into whole infinity. Should we be calling ourselves plain and simple just ‘writers’? Which is the most authentic way of describing ourselves? Why should we label ourselves? A home of writers is a profound community, like mind will often meet like mind. These were ideas I was battling with even then as a learner. A community of writers is a home wherever you find yourself in the world and because of Mr English, the master of English, my teacher I have become more truthful, a reader, a writer, a faithful poet. ‘You’ seem to fade away to noun and pronoun. What becomes of his, he, him, he? I am left to fill the blank spaces, all the details.

I stare at him from my desk. He wears thin shirts. He’s unmarried. He’s published a book for schoolchildren. All of these notes of information I store them up as I come to learn of them through rumours and hearsay as I do my secret love for my English-English teacher. He takes the bus and every day he can be found in a thin stream of schoolchildren walking from school to the centre of town, construction all-around of a parking lot. His fingers are the fingers on a guitar. So, his words become my words. Everything about him is electric. Remembering how futile everything seemed to be in the beginning when I had first found myself in this country. Swaziland.  How miserable and homesick I had been, it had all been worth it.

He held words like a pearl or a shiny bead on his tongue and after he launched them into the air he would swallow them whole. In my mind’s eye in the time he takes with the short story he reads aloud with expression and the questions he poses to different students, while he walks around the class I devour the characters and the lines of poetry he recites is like a flame. He constructs fire, cats, young love, symmetry, sleet beautifully. It is almost as if I can feel the young heroine’s passion. I am that young heroine cast aside in youth, that most high feeling not reciprocated, not given a chance to develop, transition into maturity. Secret love crushed, just a seductive experiment, a material concept for my wish-fulfilment ideals.

There are molecules in everything. Even in Kenneth Smith’s feats of pretty things he left behind. Skirts hiked up high, brushing against thigh, knees quite bare and long-sleeved white blouse, dark heads bowed over their readers, textbooks and binders. There was no warning that he would leave to teach at another school. So, it was something that took me by surprise when the new English teacher introduced himself. And now I was alone again without my ‘ally’ and it scared me because without him I no longer felt quite so invincible but more vulnerable. With the newfound loss came a change of season and I was flung into the winter light, in the hush of soft, secret places of mothers and daughters.

Stars far off were whirling away at a swift glance with a pure, pale rush on this sleeping planet. Loss I learned bound you, the beautiful, the fragile and the rare and in the swan-like wonderland of this ancient countryside I remembered playing with dolls, the wounds children would leave behind that mushroomed, exploded like torture and that was slow to vanish. I melt into the river of darkness all around me in my dreams in this foreign country. (Swaziland is a swimming goddess on the end of my tongue), darkness like a decorative shroud covers me up from view until it seems I can hardly breathe but it is for my own good. It is to protect me from witches, vampires and werewolves. No more Mr Smith to protect me.

The other learners are more unforgiveable yet less conniving and wild than other girls and boys I’ve come across. At first they’re like iced places of cold comfort rush or where you’ll still be able to find a winter chill or breeze in spring air collecting dust. There was part of me that was scared of growing, celebrating another birthday, going through with the ceremony of all of that, scared that others would see me, sense that I was crippled in some way like a Down syndrome babe with a pale face like a moon gutted out that hinted at gods, that would leave a mark on me in society, that other’s would make fun. So this is where my conversations with Buddha and God come in. I found in silence a song of love and the older I seemed to get the more that song seemed to give way to a theory of flight and I simply came alive to see what escape there was in it.

Like shooting stars falling from the night air’s skies orbit to the earth, they do not journey gently in dreams. Mr English, Kenneth Smith is still three suns exploding in my face and in his leave of absence I found that there could be a continual sense of healing found.  Healing multiplied in name, identity, space and peace of mind. When he was no longer there, I would pretend I was writing to him in class, that he would get my letter and that I could touch the fine-fine threads of his silver hair, trembling, that I could run my hands through it, pinch a tuft through my fingers. I would write to him in equations, promising solutions, graphs, essays, assignments. I knew I was only clutching at straws and that nothing would ever come of it.

I was still a relatively young girl on that stretch of open road reaching emotional maturity, a spiritual existence, a sense of my physical being and the sense of the more experienced, less giving world around her and that I was as present as present was present in the abstractedness of a painting. I did not yet know that I was capable and that as a woman I was capable of many things. The female wisdom that I collected in youth would only be put to use later on in life. At this stage it is in the beginning levels of a more striking multi-faceted, it is infinitely far-reaching and more powerful than a male’s. It was a world that I didn’t quite feel up to the challenge of taking head on, made up of chiefs and tribes of men that I didn’t feel I completely belonged to naturally.

I still wished for him but not in seeing things in diamonds and kisses, rubbing it clean away with the back of my hand. I wished to be united against this world with someone who could speak for me, protect me against the harsher, darker elements, harmful dimensions. Already I found an eternally formidable promise, a gap in falling into a tangled web of darkness visible – depression, only it wasn’t called depression. Then I called it ‘being quiet, being slow, soaking up the sun, sucking hollows into warm chocolate Easter eggs melting in my hands, dreaming of the syllables unfolding in my imagination of haiku, everyone knows that I am different and in learning to be different it took the shape of the Hudson.

And when I began to write for English class Kenneth Smith was always in the frame of my mind. I pictured him making his way through the papers, marking them in red pen and finally until he came across my paper in the bunch, there is where he would finally align his vision with mine. At first glance perceptions are normality not borderline or bipolar; they’re usually just realities of light and energy. I felt an undeniable (yet also unattainable sense) of magic drawing in his dance of movement and on the contemporary as he made his way between the desks in the classroom. Memory, memory, memory could hurt the eyes, could pierce the heart away in tune to their own Hiroshima, could half-drown you in a bucket.

There between my pages he would find a poetic ministry, meaning, shielding me (and my secret forever) and standing solid at the same time behind my descriptive words. He made everything sound pretty and as fragile as glass in class, where he stood magnificent and cold upfront reciting poetry out loud, completely detached from the reaction that was being raised in the crush of my schoolgirl heart. It had brought me much undisclosed joy to watch this adult male in my hemisphere. We would have ‘conversations’. We would talk about books. My first choice had to be William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice. I could imagine reading some of his own work, praising him or telling him what to rework, blushing that I could be that brave.

Back home before I had left when I had been a townie with the infinite sea in my backyard, before I discovered ‘the’ Sylvia Plath, her husband Ted Hughes and their baby daughter Frieda in a poem in a time and place unlike any other I had ever experienced, in a country that time had for the most part seemed to have forgot. I stood on the beach, the wailing wind in my hair feeling as if the earth had been chilled by the inclement weather. Smooth, clean, washed shoreline, gulls softened feathers find its place channelled. They scrape against sand. On the beach, my mother blazed a path past me, her mouth set in a grim, determined line. History only keeps repeating itself if you give it permission. Those are my words, nothing borrowed or blue about it.

Abigail George has two books in the Ovi Bookshelves,
"All about my mother" & "Brother Wolf and Sister Wren"
Download them, NOW for FREE HERE!


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