“Please teacher, it wasn’t me. I did not do it." Debbie dared not lift her eyes to look at Mr. Daniel. She tried to sound convincing but she didn’t. She stared down at the tip of her shoe as she made small circles on the floor.
“Come on Debbie. Look me in the eye and tell me that you did not take the money,” Mr. Daniel coaxed again. This time Debbie remained silent. She said not another word. “Well,” said Mr. Daniel, “We’ll just have to call your parents to the school again. I am sure you wouldn’t want them to know that you have been doing naughty things again. Would you?” He placed his hand under Debbie’s chin and raised her face so he could look into her eyes. What he saw there startled him. Her eyes were vacant and distant as if her body was standing before him but she was somewhere far away from there.
He decided there and then that Debbie needed help and she needed it quickly. He did not know what she was experiencing but he knew it must be something terrible. She was lying. She had been caught in a lie several times before. Several children had seen her take the money. They had even warned her what would happen if she did not put it back. She had run out of the classroom and hid it. It was not in her bag, or her shoes or any of the places that a clever child would hide something. At the beginning of the interrogation, she had sounded quite convincing and Mr. Daniel would have believed her were it not for the several witnesses to the act. He determined that he would have a chat with the principal concerning Debbie and her latest offence.
The chiming of the school bell alerted the pupils that it was time to stand and say their afternoon prayers. “Stand, clasp your hands and close your eyes. “Bless Lord....” The pupils recited the short prayer and then queued up in the accustom way, awaiting their dismissal instruction. As the girls walked to their line, Mr. Daniel instructed Debbie to remain. The pupils filed past the teacher, several saying good afternoon as they passed.
When the last pupil had gone, Mr. Daniel called Debbie to his desk. “Are you ready to tell me the truth now?” he asked. “Listen to me, Debbie. You might not understand what I am going to tell you, but I am not only your teacher, I am your friend and I want to help you.
Debbie began to cry. She knew that she had a problem but she did not know how to solve it. She did not want to do these naughty acts but she got all of the attention when she did. Everybody suddenly remembered that she existed. It was not the kind of attention she really wanted, but it was better than no attention at all. Now, teacher was all hers. She had his undivided attention. It was mostly the bright pupils that received his attention. Sometimes it was the pupils who were good at games but it was never Debbie except, of course, when she did one of her mischievous acts like that afternoon.
And then out it came, like a caged animal which had at last found its freedom. “Nobody likes me!” she shouted. “Even when I do my best, nobody cares. Not my mother, not my father, not my classmates or even my teacher.”
Mr. Daniel was stunned into silence. For a few moments he did not know how to respond to this accusation. Suddenly he was numbered among the accused. The accused had turned the tables on him and he was forced to answer the charge. She had felt that if anyone could be her friend, certainly it would be her teacher. Now even he had abandoned her.
Now it was Mr. Daniel’s time to feel awful. The words “not even my teacher” struck him like a bolt of lightning. He had disappointed one of his pupils. He had not meant to, but it had happened. The sooner he set about to restore her confidence in him the better. Mind you, not that he condoned her naughty act, but he thought he could have done much better to reassure her that she had at least one friend...her teacher.
He lifted a finger to brush away something from his face. Although he did it in a casual way, the gesture did not escape Debbie. She had never seen a man cry and it touched her in a way she had never been touched before. Next she heard Mr. Daniel’s voice reaching through her thoughts and saying to her, “I am sorry Debbie. I should have picked up your call for help but I was too distracted. Please forgive me. Please give me another chance to be your friend.”
There was a surge of joy in Debbie’s heart. She suddenly threw her arms around her teacher and said through her tears, “I am sorry, Sir, for being so naughty. I promise that I will try to be the best girl that I can be from this moment.”
Mr. Daniel replied, “I am sure you will be. But for the record, did you take the money?
“Yes Sir, come and let me show you where I hid it.” In her trial she had found triumph. In her time of need she had found a friend, her teacher.
Debbie stuck to her words of promise and Mr. Daniel made sure that none of his pupils could ever say again, “not even my teacher”.
Stewart Russell © 1999