Rebecca’s parents did not appear, but those who did, like their offspring, were punctual. Civilities and smiles were exchanged, and Dave reflected how fortunate he was not to be back at Mike Harris High where teachers and parents were herded into the echoing cafeteria and embarrassingly acrimonious disputes could all too easily be overheard. Poor Diana Cartwright, he mused: she always had long lines of impatient parents waiting to berate her for her high standards and low marks; George Dunn, by contrast, gave out high marks and had no complaints, only compliments on his expertise, as if these marks were due to his exemplary teaching rather than to his dishonesty in inflating them all. In between interviews, Dave reflected with wry humour on some of his own more memorable encounters with parents in the past:
“You can hit him if he doesn’t behave. I do,” Mr. W. had told him even after Dave had assured him that parental permission would not exonerate a teacher from criminal charges if he did.
“Well, if he lost it, it must have been a bad book,” was the rejoinder from a pettish Mrs. R.
“You accused my son of pragmatism!” accused a vehement family physician, to whom he had had to explain the difference between two words he had confused: pragmatism with plagiarism.
“I’m here for the extra four marks,” announced the accountant father of a girl who had failed Grade 11 for the second time with the identical mark of 46, to which Dave had responded by asking him if he ever fudged his figures, in reporting income, for example. “Neither do I,” replied Dave.
At a sound from the door, Dave looked up from his desk. A lady latecomer, tall, grave, stooped, elderly, knocked gently.
“I am not disturbing you?”
“Not at all. Please come in.”
“I am Lotte Visser.”
The name meant nothing. Dave must have looked puzzled.
“Hansie’s grandmother.” A blank look from Dave.
“Oh, I am so sorry. That is what I call him at home. It is a nickname.”
“And his real name is— ?”
“Yes, of course. His mother called him ‘TJ’ for Tomas Johannes, but I don’t like thet.”
“ I am Sath Efrican. Dutch Reformed. An Efrikaner. His mother is my daughter.” She put a confiding hand on Dave’s arm, as if to reassure him out of his perplexity. “He is a person, not an ecronym. Corrie called him TJ because she liked ‘rep.’ Bleck music. It demeans women.”
“Oh, you mean ‘rap’ music? Hip-hop?”
“It is the same. My daughter is… a disappointment to me. She had him out of wedlock to spite me. She was always uncontrollable. She had an affair with a bleck. You must see he’s of mixed blood parentage.”
“It is increasingly common nowadays.”
She set her jaw in silent humbled assent. She sighed. “You see, he is a good boy. My daughter left him with me and my husband to raise, and then she went off. I am now 78, and a widow. Corrie has been in and out of drug addiction programs for years. And with many men. She sends Hansie a birthday card once a year—if she remembers. He never knew his father. I want what is best for him, in spite of the shame. But he is very lazy. It is in their blood, you see. Idle, lazy, no matter what their potential. They can’t help it. It is not their fault.”