The Birthday Wish

But, that was where she had gone wrong. She had been carried away by her own myth. She had let herself believe that she was different. That she could succeed with these damaged youngsters where others had failed. She had imagined the glowing end-of-year results, with sullen kids achieving unexpected exam success, and metamorphosing into happy, pleasant young men and women, with hearts full of hope and heads full of optimism. When she volunteered cheerfully for the job that no one else in the team wanted, she had been soaring high on a flight of fancy. She did not think of the hours of planning, assessment and actual teaching that she would have to do. She did not think about the fact that she knew nothing about curriculum requirements, or even the matter of the subjects she would have to teach. She had forgotten how cruel teenagers can be when they sense weakness or incompetence. She had forgotten how hard she found it to be firm. She had forgotten how frightened she was of losing control.

And to make things worse, she had chosen to deal with the problem in her customarily dysfunctional fashion – by burying her head in the six-week holiday sand. She had not faced up to her short-comings. She had done no planning to make things seem less daunting. And here she was, three days away from the start of the gruesome term ahead, with not one single idea for one lesson for one day, let alone a carefully planned-out scheme of work to see her through the first six weeks. She had always lived her life off the top of her head. She had winged it and got away with it. She had ad-libbed and carried it off. She was a fraud, taken in by her own fakery.

She started to feel nauseous. Returning stomach-churningly to the present, Emma noticed they were climbing steeply, sweeping round hairpin bends with a precipitous drop to her left, giving her an airplane view of town they had recently by-passed. Suddenly hit by a loss of confidence, Emma tensed up and lost the flow. As she gripped the grab-rail tightly and tried to shift her position a little to ease the pain creeping into her neck and shoulders, Peter sensed the change.

At the same moment, they both spotted the welcome sign at the side of the road depicting a picnic bench under a tree. Two hundred metres later, Peter pulled off the winding road to a flat car park atop an unexpected rocky outcrop at the edge of the otherwise relentless ascent. The view was stunning. Hurriedly extricating themselves from their sweaty helmets and tight jackets, as the heat trebled in intensity with the lack of movement, they stretched extravagantly, and wandered over to the edge.