We all cheated in the test, so he lined us all up against this wall outside the classroom like he was going to bring out the firing squad or something. Then he asked us one-by-one, did you cheat, did you cheat, even though the answer was pretty obvious – yes. He’d walked out the classroom during the test, and anyway no one had revised anything, since all we did all lesson every lesson was copy pages sixty-three to whatever from this shitty textbook – I still remember the earthy colours, just in case we mistook it for English Lit or something, the yellow border and the word Geology written on the front in an uninspiring font.
When he eventually asked me – for some reason I was nervous about admitting it, even though part of me didn’t see what I’d done wrong – I said yes, like everyone else, but instead of moving on, he paused for a moment and said, yes, I thought so. Your mark was much higher than usual – like it was my fault, or I was usually some kind of retard (maybe I was, who knows).
I remember I felt my eyes prick with shame or anger or something I can’t really place anymore. There was no reason I could think of for him to single me out, but he did, and I wanted to punch him, but knew if I did he’d kind of won, as I’d be the one showing weakness by doing so, and he’d have more of a reason for punishing me. I thought, fine then, I won’t bother at all from now on, but then if I didn’t, he’d be proved right – I was a retard – and if I did, bother that is, and get good marks he’d either think I’d cheated or he’d claim to be some kind of inspirational teacher as he’d made me work harder.
In the end, I did neither. I dropped Geography at the end of the year even though I had found it interesting, and never really spoke to him again. I remember once – maybe later that year, or perhaps it was before the cheating and that’s why he singled me out – he tried to get my parents in as I stuck my middle finger up at him during class (I can’t remember what for, probably because I was bored). But when he said, what’ll your parents say if they knew you were being disrespectful, I said, nothing. Or that he was being disrespectful by basically doing little more than giving us copying practice. I have this memory of my parents coming back from parents’ evening thinking he was a bit of a twat anyway.
In any case, I don’t feel bad about the cheating, not now. The only thing I feel bad about is getting caught. Or not getting caught, but remembering the whole episode and remembering him – his ginger beard, his Lada, the fact that he was in his forties and apparently still living with his mum – even though I want so much to erase him from my life, especially since because he’s still there, in my memory, it probably means he’s somehow had an effect on me, contributed to who I am, when I wish to God he hadn’t.