The Cheerleader

The office phone doesn’t ring twice these days. It can’t. Every time the steep panel of lights glow to show an incoming call the handset is snatched from the cradle with a breathless hello. Her Majesty’s Inspectors are due; overdue in fact. Each phone call could be them ringing to give the obligatory 24 hours notice of their next 2 day visit.

The next visit could be HMI’s last. That is the hope. For two years our staff of 79 souls have worked to rescue this school and now we think we are ready to drag it out of the wreckage of the most difficult period in its history. If the Inspectorate confirms that the school has moved as far as I know it has, it will officially be removed from its failing category. The notion consumes every waking hour. I lie in bed these nights thinking of nothing else.

The phone rings. It vibrates the desktop and the jolt travels down my spine. Hour after hour it is the same. Still no call.

I joked today that I was like an expectant cheerleader, waiting for the quarter back to ring me and invite me to the Halloween Ball. Outgoing calls are kept short to keep the line open. I try everything,; bargaining with God, telekinesis, double checking the handset is replaced properly, just to make it ring. I hover over the office staff as they screen the 25+ calls we receive each hour. “Have you considered X-Calibre for your photocopying paper needs?” the chirpy sales voice sings out via speaker phone. There is no time to reply and the conversation ends with an abrupt CLICK. I will have to live with the eternal knowledge that we hadn’t considered X-Calibre for any needs unless they can supply an end to this incessant waiting. Waiting.

Luckily it is a busy time at the school. Already this morning I have spent 45 minutes with the contractors who are resurrecting the Evangelical Church of Jesus Christ Built on the Rock. They needed access via the school site but could not work unsupervised. Everyone with contact to the children needs a detailed Police check. The builders have no such credentials. Therefore I must shadow them and their work as they move materials onto the site. Deferential and overly polite they apologise profusely at dragging me away from my work. In truth the intrusion is a relief. I cannot hear the phones from here.

Re-entering the office, the cheerleader kicks the dust of the building site from her saddle style shoes. She doesn’t need to ask, the office staff know the question before it leaves her lips; “No they haven’t rung. If they had rung don’t you think we would have come and got you?” She looks at the Halloween ball decorations; inflated balloons, champagne on ice, elaborately adorned cake. One phone call will put the whole scene into motion.

The phone rings once, not twice. Snatched from its cradle the voice on the other end is too familiar to be officious. “My daughter does not lie…” It is a helicopter parent. I am frustrated and the call is wearisome as we cover the same ground we have 200 times. I want to speak the truth, “Your concerns are about your own neediness as a person, not about the school.” For the sake of my future career I settle for, “Your daughter needs to develop a thicker skin otherwise she will always be a victim in life.”

The cheerleader finishes the pot of strong Italian coffee. She walks the school corridors doing the normal things of a normal school day. It is refreshing to do so. Gone are the days of change at a breakneck pace here. The school feels normal. The school looks normal.

Someone has left their Cinderella lunchbox by the playground door. Cinderella elegantly sweeps across the pink plastic lid, “You shall go to the Ball,” I whisper.

The cheerleader’s saddle style shoes have morphed into my familiar size 11 Doc Martens (remember dear readers, equally at home in a business meeting or waiting for the quarterback to ring with an invitation to the Halloween Ball). They echo down the corridors as I walk past the muted sound of a music lesson behind a closed classroom door. Rhythms are played out on muffled wood blocks: FIRECRACKER, FIRECRACKER, SIS-BOOM-BA. Fireworks. There will be fireworks after the Ball.

A group of 7 year olds invite me to watch their drama of Captain Kidd. I smile to myself as the King has a thick Nigerian accent and the good captain himself has morphed into a Pakistani girl. It is a good day for taking on cross-gender identities, it seems.

There is a metallic, musical sound as someone drops a pair of scissors on the floor. I stop short. I thought I heard the phone ring.

Keep the Faith,

The Head


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