May was in charge of the school and made Brian’s life as miserable as she could in the hope he’d grow tired of the torment and leave to be replaced by one of her kind. But he brushed off her torment with good natured humour and even May had to admit he got on well with both tribal people and the few whites who made this remote part of the world their home.
Most of the student body were tribal with only a few white students in attendance. But the tribal students would often go walkabout and be absent from school for long periods of time before reappearing to continue their education. It was extremely difficult for the three teachers to remember what level each student had completed, and in essence it was mostly individual tuition making it very difficult to manage. Somehow they shared the load between Brenda and Brian in the upper grades while May dealt with tribal lower grades because of the difficulty of learning firstly in their own dialect and then transitioning into English. This meant the occasional lower grade white student was placed under Brenda and Brian for supervision too.
The relationship between the three was cordial at most times in spite of heat and isolation as well as living in such close proximity. May’s torture continued in subtle ways but Brian endured and never showed an angry reaction. Brenda watched it all with amusement at first, and gradually with sympathy as she considered the unfairness of May’s treatment. Brian was a nice guy the kind of guy she’d love to spend her life with she mused.
But she also remembered the conversations she’d had in her boarding school where derogatory comments were made about tribal people. She decided to put him to an attitude test when they were sitting together planning assignments for the following week.
“I suppose you think I come from a typical white suburban background and wonder what on earth I’m doing in this forsaken place?” She forced a laugh and looked to see his reaction.
Brian continued to mark papers and make notes in his schedule at the same time not looking up from his work.
“I’d say you’re running away from something in coming out here Brenda, and I’m beginning to think it has something to do with tribal culture.”
He continued working without looking up.
Brenda gasped in surprise, then it burst out of her.
“I’m tribal, at least my Mother was, but it sure had you fooled Brian O’Malley. May picked it up the day I arrived.”
Brian continued scribbling in his book.
“So do you feel better after telling me that?”
He looked up and smiled at her.
“I don’t have patience with racial stereotypes. From my point of view people are just people. Underneath our skins we all look the same to doctors and we all have the same basic hierarchy of needs.”
He went back to making notes in his book.
Brenda was surprised and considered this for a long time before getting back to work on her assignments.
That evening as she and May went for a walk around tribal huts down by the dried out inland stream bed she asked May about the background of Brian O’Malley. May laughed out loud.
“Don’t tell me you’d betray our tribal nations by getting interested in a white boy. You better tread carefully, it would not be appreciated.” He’s the son of a cattle man who worked one of those huge cattle ranches near here. When his father died his mother took him to live with relatives on the coast. He graduated as a teacher and headed right back here. He speaks the dialect of our local people fluently and they like him for that.”
The next day as Brenda and Brian worked on their assignments she sat back and studied him out of the corner of her eye.
After a while Brian spoke without looking up, “Why are you watching me Brenda?”
“What makes you think I’m watching you?” Brenda flushed as she spoke.
“I just know! Weren’t you?
Brenda busied herself with her notes and didn’t respond.
“No I wasn’t!” Brenda was becoming flustered.
“I know you were because I was watching you!”
Both of them roared with laughter and May poked her head around the corner of her room to see what the joke was, then shrugged and went back to her room.
After that Brenda and Brian became close. May watched it all with a mixture of amusement and alarm. It was hard to get people to agree to come to this isolated place to teach and she feared that Brenda would eventually return to the coast and take this boy with her. She determined to be kinder to him and do what she could to discourage Brenda and force her back to the coast. Her local language skills were only at a rudimentary stage, but Brian was fluent and much more valuable to the community. So the campaign started as May tried through misinformation and untruths to drive them apart.
There were times when May almost succeeded with her plan but Brenda and Brian would confront each other and learn the truth. Both began to understand the game being played and it made for an unhappy relationship between the three.
Then one day Brian dropped a bomb shell. He was thinking of going back to the coast to further his education. He needed to get out of this unpleasant environment and thought perhaps May and Brenda would be friends again if he were out of the way.
Brian studied Brenda as he outlined his plans. She sat fidgeting and though trying to look disinterested actually looked miserable.
“Look at me!” There was urgency in Brian’s voice as he spoke.
Brenda turned slowly as tears coursed down her cheek.
“I was going to ask you if you’d come with me as my wife?”
Brenda sobbed loudly.
Brian looked crestfallen. “I thought I may have a chance with you Brenda, but sorry for upsetting you that way. Forget what I said and be happy.”
He stood and stretched, then silently went to the stairs and slowly descended to take a walk.
“Wait for me, a wife should be with her husband!” Brenda flung her assignments aside and raced down the stairs to join him.
Brian turned and folded her into his embrace.
“You just made me the happiest man on earth!”
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2016 All rights reserved”