The Betrayal of Bindy Mackenzie (3 page)

I put my laptop down and unstacked a chair of my own.

I also unstacked several further chairs and set them out
ready for others who might arrive. This is the kind of thing I like to do.

‘Wa-hay,' said Toby Mazzerati. ‘It's flying fingers Mackenzie. We got lucky. We got flying fingers Mackenzie. Whaddya say, maestros and
messieurs,
bindi-eyes troubling your feet?' He continued talking in this nonsensical way.

The others ignored him. I sat down next to Briony.

Astrid, her ponytail swinging, was telling Emily a story about a friend at another school whose boyfriend had ended their relationship ‘
on the first day of school!'

She kept repeating ‘on the first day of school!' as if this had significance.

But why not the first day of school?
I thought.

It makes perfect sense. Astrid's friend had had the summer for romance. The school year could now be for study.

I wondered if the others would reflect on this but:

‘
FLAX
that,' said Emily. ‘Why didn't he do it on the holidays so she'd have the chance to adapt herself to her anguished new environment?'

‘Wait but,' said Astrid, ‘you want to know how he did it?'

‘Well,
yeah,
we want to know,' said Sergio, joining the conversation, although no-one would have known that he was listening.

‘She walks into her home room,' said Astrid, pleased to have Sergio's interest, ‘and her guy is just kind of like standing there and he has like his iPod connected to speakers? And he's kind of like staring at her and looking kind of like, sad, and a song's playing out of the speakers and guess what song it is?'

‘What song is it?' said Sergio.

‘It was a song called “It's over”.'

At this, there was silence.

Astrid whispered a dramatic (and unnecessary) explanation: ‘He was telling her it was over by playing a song called “It's over”.'

There was an outburst of disgraceful language from Emily. (As far as I could tell, she didn't even know this other girl. Her reaction seemed excessive. That is Emily for you.) But even Sergio looked impressed.

‘This guy breaks up with your friend,' said Sergio, ‘by playing a
FOXGLOVE
song?'

Now, that is something about Sergio. When he told Astrid he wanted to hear her story, he was just making fun of her. (She knew that, and he knew that she knew. It is a form of flirtation.) But when he
reacted
to the story, he was genuine.

Emily stopped swearing to wonder what song Astrid meant. She didn't know a song called ‘It's over'. Nor did Sergio. Astrid admitted she did not know it herself. Next thing, all three were trying out different musical renditions of the phrase, ‘it's o-o-over' while Toby Mazzerati announced their songs and described them. He used different voices and accents and sounded much like a frog.

Briony tipped her chair back and forth more quickly.

‘You know who it's over for?' Astrid said suddenly, in a voice that cut through the chaos. Obediently, the others ceased their tomfoolery and turned to her. Astrid continued: ‘Ms Lawrence.'

‘Oh yeah?' said Sergio easily. ‘I always liked the Lawrence.'

‘You can't just not show up for a new school year,' explained Astrid, ‘and expect to keep your job.'

‘You've got to have commitment,' Emily agreed.

‘You know where she'll be?' said Toby. (His regular voice is surprisingly well-modulated.) ‘She'll be stuck in a roundabout somewhere. I was out Dural way last week, and I saw
the Lawrence doing loops around the inside lane of a roundabout, and I said to myself: that's not pretty. And I'm here to tell you now, it was not.'

‘Eventually she's gotta find a break in the traffic,' said Sergio.

‘No,' reflected Toby. ‘I don't think so.'

‘She's not on a roundabout,' Emily declared. ‘She's in Thailand, surfing. I heard the principal going into anaphylactic shock about it. It was funny.'

‘Goodbye, Ms Lawrence,' said Astrid, and then: ‘Merry Christmas.'

And they all began to sing Christmas carols.

At this point, to my relief, the teacher arrived.

She must have had a delicate step for nobody had heard her.

Now, the storage room where we were sitting is separated from the gym by a sliding concertina wall. Mostly the room is approached by crossing the gym and pushing open the wall.

This teacher approached from a
most unusual
direction.

The fire escape.

I sensed a reaction among us. Some of us were surprised. Some were curious.
(I have never seen this teacher before. She must be new
—
so how did she know about the fire escape?)
Some distrustful.
(The fire escape! I didn't even know it was there!)
Some were pleased. Some impressed. Some pointedly indifferent. Some were nervous . . .

I suppose there were only six of us.

But now as this teacher stepped into the room, paused and looked about, I sensed the reaction change.

It was her appearance.

She was so small.

She sprang across to us like a lively fawn.

I saw the glint of a bellybutton ring as she sprang. (She was wearing hipster jeans and a short tank-top.) Her hair was threaded into many fine plaits, held loosely at the neck by a bandanna. She stood behind a chair and beamed.

I knew at once that the whole thing—the jewellery, the hair, the smile—all of it was a disguise.

She was trying to hide her smallness.

She could not!

She had an accent, I observed. She was perhaps American. ‘Well, hiya everyone,' she began, speaking through her smile. ‘My name's Try, yes, you heard me right—Try—it started as a nickname, but I've just about forgotten my real name!'

She waited for us to laugh but I heard small noises of confusion.
She
'
s forgotten her real name!
the noises seemed to say.
Maybe she should ask her mum?

Try hitched up her jeans but they fell back into place around her hips.

‘Ok, there's one, two—six of you here, so we're waiting for two more, because there's eight in all these groups except I think one or two groups got—you don't need to hear that, do you? Listen to me babbling, would you? Step one, make sure you're babbling to the right people, I guess. This is Year 11, and this is Friendship and Development. Am I right? Also known by the acronym “FAD”?'

She was clinging to the back of the chair and rising on her toes.

Briony's face beside me seemed bewildered. I remembered that she sometimes fails exams. ‘An acronym is a kind of abbreviation,' I whispered to her, helpfully. Briony stared, and a moment later she shifted her chair away from me.

‘You're in the right place,' confirmed Toby Mazzerati. ‘But
are you at the right time? Is anyone ever really
at the right time?
Who can tell?' He shrugged.

‘Thanks, wow, this room is kind of claustrophobic, isn't it?' Try looked around at the chairs and gym mats stacked in shadows, and then at the cobwebbed windows. ‘Can we open—? You think we can open that wall between here and the gym? The gym's empty, right?'

People agreed and I started up to help, but Try waved me back, and pushed open the heavy wall herself. It was a slow and noisy process. Toby began his commentary again: ‘It's Try the tiny teacher trying tiptoe tintinacity, it's Try the—'.

‘Excuse me?' said Try, looking back at him confused, but he only shook his head.

Just as she finished opening the wall, letting in a burst of light and space, a crowd of Year 8s arrived at the gym, a sports teacher shouting behind them.

Try looked crestfallen.

‘I'll close it,' said Sergio, and he did so in an instant.

Now the room was small and dark again.

‘Huh!' Try sat down in the circle. She looked around, smiling while the Year 8 gym class thudded and shrieked through the concertina wall.

Everyone gazed at her.

‘You probably want to know what Friendship and Development is all about?' she declared. ‘You were surprised to see it on your timetable?'

‘I was surprised,' I agreed. ‘I phoned the Board of Studies, and they said it's not on the official curriculum.'

‘You phoned the Board,' repeated Toby Mazzerati. ‘She phoned the Board,' he murmured to himself.

Try became enthusiastic. ‘Well,
this,
' she said ‘is a new
course. It's kind of experimental. Year 11 is a tough year. Assessment begins. You've got your Higher School Certificate looming next year. You're deciding on your future. And sometimes you might feel like you're drowning in all that worry. Your FAD group is going to be a life raft.'

Then she reached into her handbag and took out some papers which she passed around the group.

The papers showed a cartoon of a boy jumping out of a classroom window and into a life raft.

Everyone looked at it politely and then looked up at Try.

‘So,' she said, embarrassed. ‘This is just something I did on my computer for you last night—but anyway, you have to see this group of people here as your life raft—'

Emily and Astrid interrupted to exclaim, ‘
You
did this? This is
amazing!
'

To be perfectly honest, the art was not that great.

Try was blushing, and had started pulling the fine plaits out of her bandanna, one at a time. ‘Anyway,' she said, folding up her own cartoon, but she was interrupted again.

Someone was pushing back the concertina wall. Everyone turned as Elizabeth Clarry (athlete) walked in, pressing the wall closed behind her.

She seemed surprised by our circle.

‘Is this the Friendship and Development class?' she said. ‘Sorry I'm late.'

Elizabeth Clarry is always late and often misses lessons. She is a distance runner and disappears to train or to compete.

I had hoped she was planning to focus on her schoolwork this year.

‘Sit here,' ordered Emily, pulling out the empty chair beside her. ‘That's our new teacher, Try, and we're the life raft.'
She gestured at the circle, her eyes lingering a moment on me. ‘You have to use your imagination,' she added.

‘Show her the picture,' suggested Astrid.

‘Forget about it,' said Sergio, inexplicably using a New Jersey mafia accent. He passed Elizabeth the cartoon and tapped on the life raft. One, two, three taps. Then he looked at her meaningfully.

‘Is that art like
FOXGLOVE
great or what?' said Astrid. ‘Try did it herself.'

‘It's flying feet Clarry, we got flying feet Clarry, we got—'

That was Toby again.

Try did not seem to mind any of this. ‘So, one more to go,' she said, counting again, and glancing at Elizabeth. ‘I was just explaining that it's tough to be in Year 11, so this course is going to cover issues like self-esteem, stress management, career planning, study management—'

Study management.

I interrupted (politely) to tell everyone that I had downloaded the syllabus for each of the courses offered this year, together with a set of past HSC exam papers and Notes from the Marking Centre. I said I would happily distribute these to anyone willing to cover the copying costs.

Try looked surprised but said, ‘Thank you.'

Then she said that she had taught English back in the US for several years, but this year she was going to develop and direct the FAD course. It was her invention, she said, and she'd be supervising the other FAD teachers and doing general administration. Also, she hoped we could forgive her if she forgot our names. ‘I'm terrible at names,' she said, at which point I thought:
Well, you might want to work on that
.

‘Could we start,' she said, ‘by going around the circle and
all of you tell me your names and what animal you'd be if you were an animal?'

She blushed again.

‘One thing about that game,' said Elizabeth Clarry, who was drumming the heels of her running shoes on an empty chair. The chair would soon be dirty. ‘I always wonder if we're meant to say what kind of animal we want to be, or what kind is most like our character?'

I was pleased by Elizabeth. She had pointed out, subtly, that this game is played so often it is a cliché.

At least, I think this is what she was getting at.

‘Either,' said Try, blushing even more. ‘Or, if you prefer

we could do the type of food you'd be, or which cartoon character or which—' At that moment the final student arrived and the life raft

was complete.

He was a new student, this final student.

I had seen him in some of my classes earlier that day and that week—Biology and Economics—but had not yet heard his name.

He had come through the gymnasium, skirting around the Year 8 gym students, and had pushed back the concertina wall—and the light that beamed upon us seemed to emanate from him.

It seemed like a halo or an extension of his golden hair.

For you see, he was very blonde and here is the remarkable thing:

His name turned out to be Blonde.

Finnegan Blonde.

He sat down and introduced himself.

‘Finnegan Blonde,' he said, and he touched his blonde hair, unconsciously. He said almost nothing else that class,
besides the name. And he mentioned that he had come from Queensland.

Now, I must interrupt myself to predict that the girls in the group—at least Emily and Astrid, perhaps Elizabeth too—will be head over heels in love with him before long. He has that mysterious air. Girls of their nature adore that.

And so we played the game in which we each declare an animal. I will not go into details. Now and then, I made some informative comments about the animals the others chose: feeding, hunting, mating habits and so on. Finnegan Blonde said he would be a zebra. But he did not explain why that was.

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