The shine on the relief of the images and the sharpness of its edges drew her eye to the table. A brand new twenty pence coin sat amongst the dirty shrapnel given to her in exchange for the battered ten pound note she had paid for her coffee. She picked it up to look at it more closely but was disappointed that it had last year’s date inscribed on it rather than this year’s. Never mind: there was still a childish excitement in finding a new coin.
It was an unusual pleasure to be sitting in the café at this time of the day: she would normally be frantically tackling paperwork and marking in this paltry free period but she had escaped the confines of school to alleviate a feeling of claustrophobia. It seemed to be the right decision. The warmth of the early spring sunshine tentatively touched her cheek through the window and felt like a soothing stroke and, coupled with the first mouthful of milky coffee, she allowed herself to relax a little. This really was most civilised.
Half an hour earlier, she had been waging war with a class of 15 year olds who had been entertaining themselves with a supply teacher. They had provoked, irritated and disobeyed in minor ways but their accumulated efforts had wound up the pasty looking figure who was attempting to act in loco parentis to the point where he had lost his temper and shouted aggressively in the face of the loudest culprit. She had been called into the classroom to remove the student who had responded to a simple request with, “Fuck off!”.
Frances had made a comprehensive assessment of the scene in the brief moment it had taken to walk into the room, silence them all with a head of department glare and approach the front desk. She identified the strands of emotion which she needed to soothe: the supply teacher’s anger masking his frustration and sense of failure; the aggressive defensiveness of the teenager who had sworn; the class’ collective mixture of indignation and wariness; as well as her own unreasonable, momentary ire for the sick, absent teacher. Yet it had taken her only three minutes to efficiently calm the turmoil. The sullen and slightly deflated protagonist was sent to her classroom; the supply teacher was reassured and requested to write a statement; her displeasure was expressed to the class in general; and she had then swept out in a silent gesture of indomitable authority to return to her own lesson. All of this formed a much practised routine designed to ensure calm in her small departmental kingdom.
Today had been different though. She was tired and worried about the health of her now aged mother; to make matters worse, it was still a week until the next school holiday so staff and students were fractious. As a result, the brief escape to the café was an attempt to infuse herself with enough energy to deal with the next hoard of teenagers who would soon be reluctantly attending afternoon lessons. The caffeine did seem to be having the desired effect and she nodded with a genuine smile at the sixth formers who came through the door to play grown-ups by having lunch out of school. Not wanting to have to make polite conversation with them, she quickly swallowed the dregs of her coffee cup as she carelessly scooped up the change and dropped it into her purse. She paused imperceptibly before she closed it to admire the shiny 20 pence piece twinkling amongst the grubby coppers and tarnished silver.
Frances merely crossed the threshold of the school’s boundary when she felt a tug at her sleeve. Two year sevens asked what Miss what they would be doing next lesson. The grin she gave them was as much to assuage their palpable nervousness as it was a wry expression of the fact that you were never able to dwell on anything for too long in a school.