Though the savage winter air clawed at my flesh the instant I stepped out into the courtyard, I found myself letting loose a long sigh of relief, silently thanking a God I'd never truly believed in that another long day had come to an end. It didn't seem to matter that I still had a dozen essays in my bag waiting to be marked, I was on my way home, ambling towards my car, the taste of freedom dancing on my tongue.
The building behind me was dark. It had been deserted by all but me and a handful of cleaning staff for over an hour. Every day it was the same. The instant the final bell sounded the students and my so-called colleagues rushed towards the exits, anxious to escape a place they regarded as more of a prison than a place of learning, while I headed to the staffroom, made myself a coffee and sat marking the various homework assignments I'd collected that day.
It wasn't that I was any less eager to take my leave of the school. There'd been a time when I'd been excited by the idea of shaping young minds, brimming with idealism and enthusiasm, but five long years had crushed all but the memory of those fanciful notions. Back then I'd stayed behind after school believing it to be a teacher's duty to diligently mark his student's work and plan his lessons for the following day, but now I simply chose to avoid the chaos that followed the sounding of the final bell.
I'd almost reached the car park when I spotted them, three students still in their school uniforms. They were some distance away, on the grass behind the sports hall, but I didn't need to get any closer to know what was going on. One of them was lying on the ground, his nose bloodied, his bottom lip split and swollen, his dishevelled shirt torn open save for the last two buttons across his belly. Two older boys stood over him, their stance aggressive, their eyes fixed on him, one of them growling what was almost certainly either a threat or obscenity at their young victim.
I didn't recognise the two older boys, but I knew their prey. He was one of the little bastards I'd had the displeasure of teaching that very day, a bright but mouthy youngster who seemed to enjoy disrupting every lesson with idiotic jokes and crude comments. As I watched, one of his tormentors stepped forward, delivering a sharp kick to his abdomen that caused him to double up in pain, a blow so forceful I felt myself flinch.
For a moment I heard the idealistic young teacher I'd once been instructing me to intervene, to help the boy, but I quickly quelled the voice, continuing towards my car. It wasn't that I liked the idea of the mouthy youth suffering or that I approved of bullying. As I reached my car and another shrill yelp reached my ears, I realised that I just didn't care.
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