Salaam Aleikoum

“So what the heck do you expect me to do about it-- shoot the guy?”

With commendably swift presence of mind, Liz Bayliss, the office administrator, moved to close the Principal’s office door. When he was on the phone, he did not realize how his voice carried. Students at the counter or even waiting parents might overhear and draw the wrong conclusions. Liz was, as always, the soul of discretion.

Jim Leland, the Principal of Lester Pearson High, whose outburst it was, was having a trying beginning to his day. He was a genial big man who still cherished hopes of a superintendency, although, now that he was fifty, white, and male, this looked increasingly unlikely. He was notorious among his own staff, however, for his success in avoiding trouble at all costs. The day had begun with his own physician, Marcus Grey, berating him in his office for his apparent lack of concern about the good doctor’s son Russ, in Grade 11 at Pearson. Russ had been accused, claimed his father, of “pragmatism” by his English teacher, Chris Cheam. Grey had presumably meant to say “plagiarism,” but Jim forbore to correct him. Incensed by the accusation, Grey had called Cheam at home, and had been infuriated by the man’s evident lack of respect for his doctorate in sociology. He had, said Grey, deliberately called him ‘Mr. Grey’, not ‘Dr. Grey.’ The good doctor demanded that Jim put the teacher in his place, and Jim had had to promise wearily to investigate. Privately, he admired Chris Cheam, and thought it unlikely he had deliberately provoked Dr. Grey.

Then there had been a call from Ms. Whipsnade the librarian, to tell him she had caught a student in the act of defacing a library book. She had the culprit in her office, and would Jim attend to this, as she had had enough of this willful damage to school property by those who had no respect for books. Even if this was now the computer age, she had a right to expect to be supported in her attempt to prevent vandalism. The barbarians may be at the gate, but it did not mean they had to be let in. Jim Leland cut her short. “I’ll be down right away,” he said, but he’d been delayed by Liz, who wanted his signature on some forms, and then by a waiting deputation of smiling Korean visiting teachers, and he had to smile in turn, to chat, and pose for an official picture with them before dispatching them on the first leg of their school tour. The photo in the school board’s newsletter could do him no harm, he reflected. Then Bruce, the school custodian, had wanted a word with him about leaking pipes in the boys’ washroom. All of this was before the phone call from his own superintendent’s office, not even from the great woman herself, but from some nonentity of an underling, no less, inquiring about controversy at the previous night’s World Affairs Club meeting. This is all I need, he thought.

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Salaam Aleikoum

author
Peter was born in England, spent his childhood there and in South America, and taught English for 33 years in Ottawa, Canada. Now retired, he reads and writes voraciously, and travels occasionally with his wife Louise.