The tension was thick as we stepped into the room, so thick that I could literarily cut it with a knife. It was a very awkward moment. The only focus I could zoom into was the white tunic garment that was worn by Abu Maoum. It presented the only hope there ever was.
Though it was winter time, the air was on. The square room was cold. The hum generated by the air conditioner was a bit grave. The room wasn’t well decorated, perhaps to depict the mood of seriousness. There was a large rectangular desk at the centre of the room with two chairs in front of the desk. There was a big black chair behind the desk. A large woman in black sat on this chair. We could only see her face. Black was usually associated with obsequies and elegies, however in this part of the world, black is associated with ladies and latency. Two comfortable sofas sat by the sides of the room not too far away from the desk. The wall behind this lady was decked with bookshelves which had dust as a thin film clinging to the folders that were stacked nicely and neatly in the shelves.
In front of the lady sat an elderly man with a grave look on his face. He wore a pair of spectacles that was thick with black frames. His white tunic was spotless and a sharp contrast to the demeanour in the room, he was Abu Maoum, Maoum’s father. Sitting on the other chair opposite the lady was a young boy who was about nineteen years old. He was slender and wore a pair of dungarees. The type he wore would be associated with the ones worn in penitentiaries. He looked scruffy, and seemed to be shivering. I could spot some perspiration on his face. His legs were shaking visibly almost knocking together. This was Maoum.
Maoum’s father was ashamed and speechless. He was a devout Muslim who believed so much in self respect and in respecting others. When he finally muscled enough courage to speak, he said that his son was an adult and being an adult came with responsibilities. His son should be responsible for his actions. He was still trying to grapple with the reality that his son had been involved in such shameful acts as grabbing fellow students by the neck, making noise to disturb an ongoing lesson, spitting at his own teacher and threatening to kill him. He wondered whether the boy was secretly doing drugs!
It has been a full week since the incident; enough time had been spent trying to establish the gravity of Maoum’s offence and the consequences. He had written a detailed letter of apology to me and to the entire class. Now we are faced with two options: his permanent exclusion or to accept his apologies.
Captain Mvete turned around to look at me and said, “What would you like us to do Lieutenant Seth? Accept his apologies or proceed with his permanent exclusion?” At that instance, the ugly incident of the past week came flooding to my mind; it was bizarre and very annoying.
It was during Physics class, the topic was dynamics. I wrote on the board that, ‘dynamics is the study of the motion of objects (i.e. kinematics) and the forces responsible for that motion’. I was about to explain this definition to the students when Maoum suddenly screamed from where he was sitting at the back of the class and started yapping.
“Are you alright Mr. Maoum?” I asked showing concern.
He ignored me and continued to talk incoherently.
The air in the classroom became charged as the students were torn between concentrating on what I was teaching them and watching the shameful scenario that was being played out by Maoum. I decided to ignore him because I suspected it was either he took an overdose of his meds or that he completely forgot to take them. Maoum has had a brief history of neurotic disorder in his junior year.
“What are you going to do to me? Write a report, do what you want to do. Call Captain in, I don’t care”. He kept saying over and over again, and it took a while before I realized that he was actually referring to me.
I stayed calm, ignored him and carried on teaching. The other students were watching and taking the cue from me. They ignored him as well and tried to concentrate. He started making some grunting sounds, the type I used to hear at night when I camped near the Massai Mara game reserve in Kenya. He made these sounds repeatedly. We did not dignify him by giving him attention. Then he stood up and went from desk to desk grabbing students’ necks. By this time, I knew it was going to degenerate into total chaos, so I pulled out my mobile phone and called captain.
Captain Mvet was holding a brief with Major Sambo. “Lieutenant, I will be with you in ten minutes he said”.
Ten minutes? That sounded like a decade! I needed this guy extracted straightaway from my classroom. I wasn’t trained to deal with the scenario he was presenting. I needed to just ward him off nicely.
I acted fast. I walked to the door and held it open. “Sir, you may leave now, ok?” He refused to leave the room. I asked him nicely again to leave the room. He refused. I raised my voice and spoke very strongly. He walked towards the door and said “Now you are angry. Relax, don’t be angry”.
Darn! I thought, hell must have been overpopulated the previous night and they needed to decongest the place, so some demons were sent out and this is the manifestation of that decongestion. I kept holding the door for him to walk out.
He eventually budged, but on reaching the door, he spat on the floor and made some comments in Arabic, pointing his forefinger at me. I heard my name being mentioned, and the students went, ‘Oooohnoooo!’ Apparently they understood the implication of his action better than I did. But it didn’t bother me; all I wanted was for him to just get the hell out of my classroom. I did not want to lose the plot. I wanted to hold on to it till the very last minute in calm and confidence.
I asked Rashed what Maoum said when he spat on the floor. The students wanted to tell me what he said and the meaning of his actions all at the same time.
“Teacher, me, me, me, me!” They chorused, with their hands raised.
“No, I need you all to be quiet. Rashed you talk, you are the class leader.”
“Teacher, Maoum said that he will stab you to death” Rashed proffered.
I was very angry but I held my peace.
As soon as he stepped out of my room, Captain Mvet arrived and I narrated all what transpired. Captain asked the class leader what happened and he corroborated what I said in Arabic. I was instructed to write an incident report, and Captain Mvet sent a message to Maoun’s father, requesting his presence. The ongoing meeting was the outcome of that invite.
“Yes Lieutenant, we are waiting to hear your decision” The lady in black said. She was speaking for the very first time since we got to her office.
“Alright madam” I replied. I sat still for a while; my mind went back to me as a young man, full of misdemeanor. My mind raced back to me with all my foolishness in life. My mind travelled back and forth with my calling as a teacher, which is to make lives rather than to destroy lives. However, there were punishments and consequences that must be meted out. Here was I with the power to make a boy lose hope in life versus to give him another chance.
I thought about the frustrations he would face, the bitterness, the reality that would beset him. I thought about his feelings, his repudiation from the society. I thought about the guilt he would harbor for the rest of his life for letting himself and his family down.
The whole room watched me!
“I forgive him” I said finally, carefully choosing my words, “but he must tender an apology in front of his mates in the classroom with his father in attendance, and he must promise not to ever repeat such a thing again”.
Maoum was pleasantly surprised; I could literally see relief spread all across his face. “Thank you teacher” he said. “I will do it, I will apologize in class.”
As we walked down the stretch of corridor towards my classroom, I could see heads strain through the see- through windows to catch a glimpse of this unusual entourage. Teachers, instructors and even the cleaners stopped for a sec to imagine what was going on. We marched on in gallantry to the classroom where a life would be given another opportunity, where this public act would perhaps serve as a deterrent to others, where the presence of a father would ignite and stamp a seal on other students’ minds that you do not want your father to suffer this humiliation of leaving his work place to come and witness you do this. No, you definitely don’t!