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So Here’s to a Life of Glory

Hibah Shabkhez

Alya tossed the last copy onto the pile, checked and signed with a flourish. The whole zigzag tower teetered and came crashing down, despite her panicked grabbing. “D-n,” said Alya, and started rounding up copies with her fingers and toes.


Umbreen passed her the two that had missed her tea cup by the width of a ball pen. “Your sister’s demo-lesson is today, right? What’s her name again?”


“Alina. You’ve met her. At my cousin Samira’s wedding? Remember?”


“That sister. The high-strung, poetry-scribbling child? And you decided this was the right place for her. With a degree in English, she’s going to have to teach, I get it, but – here?! Are you insane? Find her a posh little all-girls school, at least for the first year!”


By now everyone was listening. “I found her two,” said Alya. “I sent in her CV myself and dragged her to the interviews. One offered her the job: she said no. She wants to teach here, if you please.”


“Which class did the Head give her?”


“Oh, I picked it. 5B. She’s there now.”


An appalled silence descended upon the room. “5B? They’ll kill her. In the unsupervised twenty minutes, they will definitely kill her, even if the Head manages to control them for the rest of the period.”


“That’s why I chose it.”


“Yesterday,” said Saima, before Umbreen could answer. “One of them threw a compass at me. A COMPASS. Missed my eye by inches, I tell you. Inches. And on Friday –”


“One minute to the bell,” Umbreen cut in hastily. “We should go.”


Alya had re-stacked the copies in three demure piles by now, and criss-crossed those neatly on top of her folder. “Maybe I should drop by 5B on my way to 5G,” she said in a low voice to Umbreen.


“You think?”


The bell rang. Umbreen reached for the door-handle, but it was opened from the outside. “Alina! Are you okay?”


The girl in the doorway was panting slightly, and her hair was falling out of her half-unpinned bun. There was chalk on her sleeves and an ink-stain on the hem of her shirt. But she was grinning.


“Well?” said Alya “How did it go?”


“Oh, it was fine,” said Alina, sitting down on the sofa with a thump. “I forgot to give the children the homework in the plan, but the Head says just this once it doesn’t matter.”


“Did they throw anything at you after the Head went out?” asked Umbreen


“Paper balls and erasers, but I caught them all so they stopped. They’re not that bad, you know,” she said to Alya. “You always make them sound like such demons. But there is one thing I don’t understand. Why do all the boys in 5B want to be psychotherapists?”




“That's what they all said, every single one of them, when I asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. Was it like a career-day thing? I was thinking, maybe they met a counselor or someone who really inspired them, and … Wait. Why are you two looking at me like that?”


Umbreen glared at Alya, who was laughing uncontrollably. “You’ll do, kiddo,” she said to Alina. “You’ll do. Welcome aboard.”


Hibah Shabkhez is a writer of the half-yo literary tradition, an erratic language-learning enthusiast, a teacher of French as a foreign language and a happily eccentric blogger from Lahore, Pakistan. Her work has previously appeared in Black Bough, Protean, Ideate, Songs of Eretz, Sparks of Calliope, The Dawntreader and a number of other literary magazines. Studying life, languages and literature from a comparative perspective across linguistic and cultural boundaries holds a particular fascination for her.

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