Saraswati stared at her hostess in dismay. Having never faced a weeping hostess before, she did not understand how to deal with the situation.
“Ambikka, please,” she pleaded. “Please relax! I am sorry if I reminded you of something you would like to forget.”
“I can never forget it even if I tried,” declared Ambika.
After a few moments’ silence, curiosity got the better of Saraswati and she asked, “What exactly happened, Ambikka? Why did you quit your job?”
“I did not quit,” clarified Ambika. “I ran away. I did not even submit a resignation letter. They called after a week and I wasn’t even willing to answer the call. Deepak spoke to them on my behalf. He told them I was seriously ill and sent them a resignation letter via post. He wrote it himself. I was in no position to do so.”
Saraswati was perplexed.
“Actually it is a long story, and I don’t mind telling it to you,” said her hostess, taking another sip of her coffee.
She then told her story.
“You see, it was somewhere in 1999. I was newly married and wanted to work. Deepak had no problems with that, so I started applying to various schools. I had a degree in the fine arts and hoped to be appointed as an art or drawing teacher in some school. I was thrilled when Cacophony School called me for an interview and later informed me that I was hired.
As you know, Cacophony School is a boys’ school and there aren’t many women out there. Initially, I was nervous, but my colleagues treated me very well. As for the boys, I guess they were too bored even to misbehave in my class and that suited me fine. After all, I just had to teach them to draw and a few of them were really talented and interested. One fat boy was in the habit of crawling out of my class halfway through, but I pretended not to notice it.
We were a group of fifteen teachers, but only three of us were female. The coach and the principal were the school’s dictators, fully capable of making not only the boys, but also their parents piss silently in their underwear. The boys intensely disliked the coach, the principal, one of the mathematics teachers, one of the science teachers, and one of the Kannada teachers. The above-mentioned five played a major role in maintaining discipline at Cacophony School. While the principal focused his attention on dealing with complaining parents and sending them packing, the coach and the others ensured that each and every boy in school toed the line.
Those days, we had a group of five rebellious Class X boys who absolutely refused to bow to authority. One fine day, they were caught turning over the pages of a porn magazine in open mouthed fascination. So engrossed were they that they did not even notice the coach walking up to them silently. When they did notice the coach, it was too late. The coach cracked their heads together, rained a few blows on their backs, twisted their ears, scooped up the porn magazines, told them they were finished, and stormed out. Needless to say, he showed the porn magazines to the principal and the two spent close to an hour looking at the magazines with their mouths half open.
The principal later called a meeting of all the parents of the errant boys. I do not know if either the boys or their parents were given the opportunity to speak. Considering the fact that they were caught red-handed, there wasn’t much they could say in self defense. The principal did most of the talking, and I heard that he mentioned the word “TC” at least 40 times. The mothers were in tears and the fathers had turned red.
After this incident, the little group of rebels was docile and well-behaved for many days.
But that was exactly when the nightmare started. One fine morning, we noticed a rather unpleasant smell in the staff room. In fact, the three female teachers were the first to mention it.
‘Something is stinking in here,’ the plump English teacher announced vaguely.
‘Must be a dead rat,’ responded one of the Hindi teachers carelessly. ‘I will tell the cleaning staff to get rid of it.’
The thin science teacher looked under her chair and peered into the corners and said that she couldn’t see any dead rats.
‘They don’t exactly dance in front of your nose,’ cracked one of the male science teachers and laughed like a hyena.
The thin science teacher glared at him and walked out of the staff room with her nose in the air.
Later that day, the cleaning staff searched the room for a dead rat. They found a few dead ants, but no dead rats.
The next day the smell was so bad that even the fat mathematics teacher, the one with the bald head and the pot belly, had noticed it.
He stood in the middle of staff room and bellowed, ‘Something is stinking in here.’
‘Must be a dead rat,’ said the plump English teacher.
‘It can’t be a dead rat,’ insisted the pot-bellied mathematics teacher. ‘Yesterday, the cleaning staff checked this room thoroughly.’
‘It might have died after they finished checking,’ said the thin science teacher and giggled hysterically.
‘I am going to complain to the principal,’ announced Pot Belly.
‘Are you going to disturb the principal just because something is stinking in here?’ demanded the coach. ‘You can’t disturb the principal for silly things like that. It is the fault of the cleaning staff. I am going to tell them exactly what I think of them.’
And he stormed out of the staff room and gave the cleaning staff a piece of his mind. The teachers were then politely asked to vacate the room and it was thoroughly cleaned.
When the teachers could finally return to it, it smelled strongly of disinfectants. In fact, it smelled so strongly of disinfectants that I started feeling giddy and Pot Belly kindly offered me a glass of water from the earthen water pot kept in a corner of the staff room.
But when I drank the water, I felt so sick that I rushed to the wash basin and puked my guts out. ‘The … water … tastes so bad,’ I gasped, clinging to the plump English teacher.
Three teachers rushed to the water pot and began examining it from all angles. The janitress was called and reprimanded for failing to clean the pot. She lost her temper and accused the teachers of harassing her and the rest of the cleaning staff.
‘I have cleaned the water pot and filled it with fresh water,’ she protested loudly. ‘I always do so. I come here long before you start from your houses. And you treat me so badly. I don’t know why you are complaining of bad smells these days. I have been working here for the past ten years. Nobody has complained against me. If you bother the cleaning staff again, I will go to the principal and give my resignation letter. I don’t care if you are teachers.’
‘Well, it is stinking,’ said the plump English teacher as politely as she could.
‘I will clean it and fill it with fresh water again,’ said the janitress sulkily. “But it is not my fault. So quit blaming me.”
I was allowed to go home that day, but when I returned the next morning, the stink was back. I sat down with my head in my hands. One of the male science teachers was walking around the room in an agitated manner, sniffing into the air. ‘It is urine,’ he announced. ‘It is stale urine. I am sure of that.’
‘Someone is not flushing the toilet properly,’ he said loudly.
‘And who is that person?’ asked Pot Belly angrily. ‘Who doesn’t use the toilet here?’
‘It is not the toilet,’ said the thin science teacher. ‘This room … the staff room is stinking.’
I walked unsteadily to the earthen water pot to get a drink of water. The Kannada teacher, who had just gulped down a glass of water from the same earthen pot, moved away and said: ‘Is someone urinating in the staff room instead of the toilet?’
‘Well, it is definitely not the ladies,’ said the plump English teacher.
‘Are you saying the men are doing it?’ demanded Pot Belly, getting angry. ‘Are we crazy? We have been teaching here for donkey’s years.’
‘Be calm! Be calm!’ said the peace-loving Kannada teacher. ‘We can’t start fighting. It is an emergency situation.’
I took a few sips of water, dropped the glass, and fled to the wash basin to puke.
The plump English teacher rushed to hold me.
‘The pot,’ I wailed as soon as I could speak. ‘There is urine in it. Someone’s been urinating in the pot.’
I then burst into tears, picked my handbag, and ran away from the place. And I never went back.
The plump English teacher called me that evening. I tearfully told her that I don’t intend to return. Thankfully, she understood my feelings.
‘The matter reached the principal’s ears,’ she told me. ‘He ordered the cleaning staff to clean the staff room and throw away the earthen pot. He then immediately got a water cooler for the teachers. In the afternoon, he addressed the school and threatened the unknown wrongdoers with expulsion. I don’t think they will do ever do it again.’
‘It’s those five boys,’ I said. ‘They took revenge on all of us.’
‘We think so too,’ she said, ‘but they have denied it fiercely. And since nobody saw them doing anything, we can’t penalize them. We all know they have been extraordinarily quiet and well-behaved after their parents were called in.’
So that was that. The story spread like wildfire all over Kudla. As for me, even today, I don’t have the courage to work in a school.”
There was silence for a long time as Saraswati digested the story and Ambika thought bitter thoughts.
“But Ambikka,” she said, “you needn’t have quit. You could have continued. You needn’t have touched the school water. You could’ve carried your own water bottle.”
“It’s easy to say that, Saraswati,” said Ambika quietly. “I could have carried my own water bottle. But do you seriously think boys are incapable of pissing into bottles?”
Disclaimer: Above story is a work of fiction based on the real world we live in. If you see yourself or anyone you know in any of the characters, the writer is not responsible.