First morning of Autumn term.
I’m in the crush-hall, slouching with Bett and Marion,
stuttering into “business as usual” mentality,
shrinking from school-house stink,
bitterly regretting the absence of a time-machine
to take me to last week and drop me in a tree,
a cacophany of cat calls;
a confusion of piercing wolf-whistles
rudely explode from 3C’s nuisance crew –
led by Bill, with noisy aid from sidekick Dick and the usual losers.
A wit who is in on the obscure joke
Clutches of kids spin
away from crude authors to their protagonist;
a casually-dressed grotesque strolling toward us
by way of the students entrance.
Nobody but schoolkids use that door; the teachers
flatten their own, hallowed lane.
The man is setting a precedent
which he alone will follow for as long as he can tolerate
hypocrites and foolish heads of schools.
Later, he’ll be known by all as Eric,
sports coach by day,
youth leader in evenings and weekends,
heroic defender of child-friendly themes even while he sleeps.
A man who accepts our weaknesses
as natural or pained stages toward our individual choices
of growth or decay.
He’ll never trill the truths we know,
instead planting daisies on the paths we scrape,
to illuminate the better way,
In his presence, my self-disgust will shrink,
and forever, memories of his generosity will boost me.
In latter years we will meet by happy accident and chat in the street.
I’ll reminisce, while he will weave his wise philosophy
like an invisible thread, darning the holes in my head.
He’ll speak of his yesterday’s hockey game,
of next week’s holiday in Thailand,
where he’ll visit his adopted son.
He’ll promise me saffron when he returns.
I’ll want to detain him, that I may bask
longer in his company.
In morbid moments I will think of his age, and imagine
that the sky will collapse, the planets collide
the moment he dies.
The Saffron will never arrive; instead a final announcement;
“The well known hockey coach, Eric Gale, after a brief illness…”
for an instant, I will hallucinate;
see the planets crashing to earth, the sun dying,
then his voice will come to me.
saying that life is about giving; in death,
he will never take away.
Grief and abiding gratitude will engulf me.
I only hear a nickname, “Blossom”,
whose background will remain a mystery.
As he passes through the hall, the bravest rebels repeat:
“Whoa, blossom; drop ’em, blossom,”
yet he smiles benignly, nodding and hello-ing as if
his tormentors are friends.
My friends and I shake our heads,
disgusted by the hecklers,
fascinated even as we are repulsed
by this track-suited, rucksack hugging man whose face
resembles a mismatched collection of unkind jokes
crafted by a demented plastic surgeon.
We do not yet recognise his glory.
Eric passes by,
his smile open, my eyes averted.
I glance at Bill’s elated crew
for a trace of shame,
but that will only come later.
©Jane Paterson Basil