In this story I attempt to juxtapose two versions of masculinity — the predatory and the nurturing male. Men nowadays are seen as ‘unsafe’ figures for children to be around due to the idea that adult men have sexual appetites that are barely under control. I would like to modify this idea. Can we all agree that we have both male and female predators in our midst, and that the task for all good people in society is to weed them out? Most of us are decent, anyway.
Students have pointed out to me that this story might be inappropriate for young children due to the hint of sexual abuse in this story. You have been warned!
Jane did not want to go to school that Tuesday. Monday was horrible enough, and they had an English test on Tuesday. The thought of the test made Jane’s stomach ache. She used to be able to tolerate going to school, until that monster of an English teacher replaced Mrs Tan, Jane’s favourite teacher.
Jane knew she wasn’t sick. In fact, she was probably the fittest girl in class. But the thought of having to face her new teacher made her feel like an ant facing a giant boot. She thought, “if I think about Mr Bridge hard enough, maybe I’ll get such a bad stomachache that I’ll be allowed to skip school!” So Jane thought about Mr Bridge screaming at her, picking on her just because she had won that short story competition.
“Jane, since you’re so clever, won’t you tell the class what the correct answer is?” Jane imagined Mr Bridge sneering at her through narrowed eyes. Jane cringed into herself as she recalled that day – she had stood in front of the class, tongue-tied because she was terrified of what Mr Bridge would do to her. Not being very popular with anyone, her classmates just needed the tiniest of excuses to make fun of her. The memory of the jeers and the taunts made Jane want to hide her head underneath her blanket, and not come out until she was a wrinkled old lady.
It wasn’t always like this. Mr Bridge had treated her very nicely, at first — too nicely, in fact. When Mrs Tan got pregnant, Mr Bridge took over and treated Jane much like Mrs Tan had, except with a bit too much praise. That made her classmates hate her even more.
Then came that day that Jane always remembered with terror in her heart. Mr Bridge had asked her to stay after class, to discuss another writing project that she was always so good at. He asked Jane to sit at the teacher’s table, while he got up to look around, outside of the classroom. Jane remembered feeling scared, because she knew that even though the doors and windows were open, nobody would look into their classroom that was right at the end of the corridor. Mr Bridge came back with a strange smile on his face.
“Jane, I think you could do with some private coaching with me. And you’re so pretty and clever!” He raised his hand as if he was going to stroke her hair. Jane remembered being able to smell Mr Bridge’s slightly sweaty smell, since he was standing so close to her. Her head was perilously close to both his stomach and hand.
In that moment, Jane panicked. She knew that her teacher was acting in a very strange manner, and that something was really wrong with the situation. Jane panicked, and stuttered something about telling her mother about him, and ran out of the classroom. Even as she ran, she realised that Mr Bridge had never touched her, and that she couldn’t accuse him of any crime.
From that day onwards, Mr Bridge started to pick on Jane. She felt helpless – she was only a student who got bullied by her classmates. Now, even a teacher had joined in. As she lay in bed, willing her stomach to ache, her frustration got the better of her, and tears started to flow down her face. Just at that moment, her father walked into her room.
“Jane! Is everything alright?” her father asked, concern etched on every line of his bearded face.
Seeing her father’s concern made Jane cry even harder. In a burst of emotion and barely-coherent words, Jane told her father everything. As Jane told her story, her father’s concern grew hot with anger.
“Don’t worry, Jane, I’ll get this fixed for you.”
Jane sobbed with relief into her father’s shoulder. Maybe school wouldn’t be so bad, after all.