A:Mrs Valencia was the most magical teacher I ever had during what could have been the worst years of my school-life. She was Maltese and in her mid-thirties. She would sit in the smoker's section of the staffroom between mountains of papers/books and behind whorls of pure magical marlboro smoke. Her favourite outfit was a black sleevless tube mini or a black halter with swirling mangoprint skirts. i suspect she never wore a slip, but you'll see why this didn't matter one bit to me. On worse days, she looked beseiged and could have passed for a drug peddler on a roman side alley.
I don't remember what she taught us really - something like English Language, Geography and sometimes even Religion. She'd arrive in class like a dump dragging her feet in her flats and tumbling her bag on the table. And sitting in front, I would take in a deep breath of her fresh signature smoke scent and listen with
new understanding, comprehending everything she said in a special way. That's how everyone like me felt. With a rheumy eye, i'd always spy her marlboros winking out of her bag, and sometimes whole packs tumbled out.
Sometimes she'd tell us stories of Malta but taught us what she had to. Her special husky voice whispered its own stories in overtones, above the official one we were meant to hear. In every class we badly vied for being sent to the staffroom by any teacher who wanted to get something they'd forgotten. on the few times i was ordained i shook harder with every step I took closer to the hallowed flush door of the staffden. Falling in, we'd be hit by what we had come for: the spinning odor of smouldering coffee and sacred cigarette smoke. None of the teachers liked student intrusion but the smoker table, which was kept closest to the exit, never had a problem. In a wise stupor, they almost considered us equals.
Mrs Valencia taught Sports. and she made me something: she made me captain of the most electric netball team in history. It could have been anyone. but the quiet inconsistent inconstrue among branded portugese philipino spanish students? the one who would miraculously find herself left out of every concert, even the horrific ones?
That year me and 2 other underdogs even managed to get left out of some organic show where we were ironically meant to perform - 'i'm a lonely little piranha in an onion patch' (yellow submarine was for earlier forms). What students were doing singing that at 13 was the least of my concerns, but even that was a second division performance put up only to accomodate those who hadnt made it to the main billing - 'snow white and the 7 frigging dwarves'. i ocassionally ogled at the boys as they practised their ogling dwarves role to a bitch snow white. But to get back to the point, these 3 leftouts posed something of a logistical problemo in a school that could never leave their charges without supervision, but would do so anyway when the problem was this small (3).
And this was where Mrs Valenica did the most remarkable thing which really made her the greatest and most magical teacher only we 3 would ever know ...
To those who look out for these things for comfort, she was quite ravaged by her smoking, with bags under her eyes, stained teeth, drymouth and stained fingers, but I could only see how beautiful she was. I have a photograph of her where the flash covers up everything and you only see her as she was to me everyday. A devellish angel who gave me a shot. I'm not grateful to her for the time she took out for me and some sun dazers that day and a few times after. Because she spent that time as she made it, entirely as she willed. She taught me to listen for multiple polymorphic messy evrywhichway narratives, forms that built and then negated themselves, free play, empty spaces and full time. Magic out of nothing.
To be certain, when they weren't ruining the lives of their students, the conservatives were grinding their teeth in their corner of the staffroom and hatching every way to get the errant and unfailingly exciting smoking set banned. There were even the snitchy students who lived to rat on something that was open. A year later in final school, there was this silly show put up for NoSmoking day. It cut no ice with me and made me very angry for the insult to mrs. Valencia and some of the other special ones in the set, who it was ensured, were present. I saw the hand of the small nefarious censorious selfrighteous lobby (populated mainly by vapid Indian teachers) who advised management on the bad danger of such teachers to students.
I want to meet Mrs Valencia again. Inspite of my chronic allergy to the block, I'll be sending mails to that school to find out what became of her. Mrs Valencia, if bad health or accident hasnt taken her away, would receive with cigarettes and without expectations and be proud of whatever we had become away from a distressed club primed for shine.