At the chalkface: Walk in fear and dread...

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:

Roxana wanders the Halloween night. She can’t avoid passing through an ill-lit subterranean car park. Boys in grey hoods on baby bikes – more ugly victims of the rancid public discourse – threaten and menace

Roxana is Iranian and in YEAR 7.

She sits in the English class, the last lesson of the day. The teacher is reading the magical Ancient Mariner.

“There was a ship...”

Most of the class are hooked.

Roxana isn’t. She’s Elsewhere. She’s been Elsewhere most of her life.

She catches a few lines, a few images, but ponders on the terrors of her journey home. She dreads it, especially now the clocks have gone back – and it’s Halloween.

The darkness is rich in malevolence.

Roxana is a survivor of savage wars. Her father was killed when she was a baby. Mother and daughter sought asylum in England. Mother is a PhD and a translator and a cleaner of rich folk’s mansions. They came to London and lived in a Bed and Breakfast in Paddington, a hostel in Queensway, and are now in a block near the skeleton of Grenfell Tower.

It went well for a few years. And then it didn’t. It became a “hostile environment”. They became “citizens of nowhere” in

Theresa May’s indelicate phrase. Their life became one long emergency, uncertainty, insecurity.

Something called Brexit was in the mix. Will she get sent back “home”? Who knows?

The air’s been thick with malice for a long time now. She sees the signs. “Go Home!” “Get Back!”

On trucks and vans and posters and graffiti and tabloid headlines. The TV is full of terrifically angry White men in suits peddling hatred.

The prime minister blathers and blethers on like a Machiavel about Muslim women “looking like letterboxes” and Black children looking like “piccanninies with watermelon smiles”. Shouldn’t you be arrested for this kind of thing? Isn’t it against the school rules?

Whatever, it’s catching on. It’s all the rage.

Roxana no longer feels safe.

Sometimes she wakes up screaming and imagines Robocop thugs kicking in doors at dawn or armed police tugging her from her mother’s arms or being incarcerated in a rat-infested detention centre – or being washed up dead and dangling on alien shores...

The lesson ends.

It’s time. Time for that walk home.

Roxana wanders the Halloween night. She can’t avoid passing through an ill-lit subterranean car park. Boys in grey hoods on baby bikes – more ugly victims of the rancid public discourse – threaten and menace and spit vile words at her.
She tries to be tough like her mother advised.

“Trick or treat – Eh! Eh!”

She weeps under her hijab.

“I said Trick or bleedin’ Treat?”

And worse. Much worse. The words sting. The words scar. The gauntlet ends. The words don’t.

They have consequences, like her English teacher is always saying.

She feels an alien, a stranger – she feels like that Ancient Mariner.

“Like one, that on a lonesome road. Doth walk in fear and dread.”

  • Ian Whitwham is a teacher of English, now retired, who spent many years working in the state school system of inner city London. He has written his At the Chalkface column for SecEd since 2003. Read his most recent articles at http://bit.ly/2UIMd1O


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