But sometimes, proverbs are not the best guides.
|"You had to open your big mouth."
"Listen, it's wrong ..."
"The only thing wrong you've done is to land all of us in the damn soup. And it's mighty hot and all of us are going to boil."
"Yeah. Keep that pious attitude to yourself."
Minu looked around her at the stony faces. Not one pair of eyes softened. Not one face broke into a reassuring smile. But these were her closest friends! These people had been her colleagues since she had joined the school, five years ago -- and they'd stood by her through thick and thin! Now, here they were, all against her ...
Minu felt a tear slide down her cheek. She raised a hand to wipe it off, and realised she was still holding her cheese sandwich, of which she'd only taken a small bite. She replaced the sandwich in her lunchbox, closed the box, and then used her sleeve to wipe the droplets that were now flowing down her face.
"No point crying," Jaswinder said, turning her back on Minu and busying herself with her own lunch-box. "You've done the damage."
One by one, the other teachers went to their own lunches, sitting in pairs or threes, all avoiding the table Minu was at in the staff-room. They dragged the chairs placed around Minu's table to other tables, and grouped themselves to avoid facing her. Minu put her lunch box away in to her bag, put her face down on the table and sobbed. Nobody came to comfort her. When the bell rang for the end of break, the others dispersed to their classes, leaving her there alone.
Minu shook herself. She couldn't remember whether she had a class after break or not. What day was it? She couldn't remember anything much. She groped in her bag for her time-table. Was it Tuesday? She'd been in Class 4-C before break, so it must be. Thank goodness -- she was free this period. She was sure at least two other teachers were actually free as well, but everyone had left the staff-room because nobody wanted to stay in it with her there.
She stood up and went to the bathroom. Felt good to pee. Like doing something normal. She shook herself. She had to take hold of her emotions, she had class next period. She washed her hands and splashed her face with lots of water.
She made sure her clothes were properly smoothed down before she unlocked the bathroom door and went back to her seat. Jaswinder had returned in the meantime, and was sitting at her own seat, just opening a student's notebook to start correcting.
"Jaswinder," Minu said, not quite knowing what she was going to say next.
Jaswinder's response was completely unexpected. She put the book she had taken back on the table, turned to look Minu full in the face, and sighed. "You young ones."
Minu gaped at her.
"Listen. Are you Reijul's teacher?" Jaswinder asked.
"Have you been teaching him elocution?"
"Yes, but ..."
"So if he does well in the elocution competition, you deserve the credit."
"But Jaswinder, he ..."
"I know, Minu. He found the poem himself, he learnt it himself, he presented it himself. It was meant as a surprise for you, that he could recite a high-school level poem when he is only in Class 4. I know all that."
"Yes, Jaswinder, and he did surprise me. I had been teaching him 'Grasshopper Green'. When he suddenly burst forth with 'Lochinvar' I was completely ..."
"And so you did the noble thing. When Principal Ma'am announced to the assembly that Reijul has won first place and that you deserve the credit, you took the mic and put the record straight. You said you didn't deserve any credit, that the child has done it all himself. All very nice and sweet, but didn't you realise ..."
"Jaswinder, If I'd realised, you think I'd have done it? It was all on the spot."
"Now you've put us in a spot. Now Principal Ma'am is going to ask any child who participates in anything whether the teacher in charge really helped or not. We'll slog our butts off and those brats will say they did the work themselves."
"Jaswinder, I honestly ..."
"Don't say HONESTLY. It was you being HONEST that got us here. It's a thankless job, getting those kids ready for competitions, and now we won't even get any brownie points."
"Listen, what can I do to make up?"
Jaswinder was still gazing at Minu, attempting to answer the question, when Shaila walked in two minutes later.
"What's going on?" Shaila asked, looking at her colleagues -- one sitting, one standing, both still and silent.
"Minu is asking how she can make up for this blunder. It happened spontaneously, she didn't know Principal Ma'am would do this ..."
Shaila looked at Minu. "Your eyes are still all puffy," she remarked.
"I tried to wash them. I need to look normal for my next class."
"Well, you cried a lot," Shaila said. "They're still a bit red, too."
The other two looked at Minu. Minu looked back. There was a long pause.
"I'm sorry," Minu finally blurted.
"The answer is, nothing," Jaswinder said, taking up the notebook for correction again. "There's really nothing you can do now to make up."
"Yeah," Shaila said. "Anything you try to do will only suck you into a deeper mess, like quicksand. The best is to let it be at this now."
"But you do forgive me?"
Could she dare to hope? Jaswinder's eyes were twinkling. Shaila's lips seemed to be twitching.
"Well, now that you mention it ..." Shaila said.
"Yeah ..." Jaswinder looked up from her corrections.
"What?" Minu gasped.
"We haven't had that lovely chocolate cake you bake, for a while now. Our taste buds are sort of craving it ..."
Minu's face was wet again, as the other two pulled her into a group hug.