The headmaster

By Johannes Adriaan Snyman

“Klaradyn?” the headmaster of the school said as he saw the total lack of emotion on the face of the sixteen-year-old teenager sitting across from his desk. “Are you more comfortable in German or English?”

She was staring at the newly planted trees through the windows of the large office, but slowly turned her head toward the authoritative figure, so full of himself that she deemed him more pathetic than anyone she has ever met. She looked straight into his eyes, and without so much of a blink, proclaimed;

“My name is Mira.”

“You are no longer in Bulgaria, you are in South Africa now, and you would recall that we, together with your foster parents, who by the grace of God, were so kind to adopt you, decided to go by your second name of Klaradyn. Now I know that you have not been able to adapt to the Afrikaans language in such a short period of time so I am not going to ask you again, do you prefer to speak German or English?”

“Hungary,” the little brunette said staring out the window again.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Hungary. I am from Hungary. Not Bulgaria. These two countries are worlds apart.”

”I’ll take your preference as English then,” he said, with a hint of annoyance in his voice, yet still exercising the absolute self control required from a man of his profession.

The baldheaded schoolmaster sat back in his chair, pushed his glasses further up his nose, and continued with his probing.

“Now after what you have done, I am by the constitution of this school compelled to give you the necessary punishment, and I assure you, for what you have done, it will be of the most severe kind.”

He paused to see if the words had the desired effect, but after seeing no change in her expressionless face, and not having any more words to frighten her, he continued with his planned action.

“Now because I find myself to be very reasonable man, I would, in the instance of you telling me exactly what happened, and why it happened, be willing to make the punishment less severe, and by that I mean, you might even get away with a light flick on your backside… that of course upon you telling the truth, and nothing but the truth.”

The latter statement of the truth and nothing but the truth sounded so good in his own ears that he almost repeated it, but Klaradyn penetrated him with eyes so cold and blue, he decided against it.

“So? Are we in accord?” he asked.

She waited for a couple of seconds before she started to speak in the strongest of Hungarian accents.

“The boy sitting behind me was pestering me. I took my scissors out of my briefcase and while taking it out, the boy’s hand was in the way and he accidently received a cut.”

“Klaradyn,” the headmaster said calm. “The name of the boy sitting behind you, it is Dieter is it not?”

“I wouldn’t know,” she said in a firm tone.

“I think you do know. I also think that you are well aware that poor Dieter, whose hand you butchered, is of German decent. His father is a well respected German farmer and a very good friend of mine. Now I sympathize with you being sent to South Africa as a result of your Jewish background, but you have to realize Klaradyn, the war is in Europe, not in South Africa, and certainly not in this school!”

The schoolmaster’s voice rose to such a level that even the secretary stationed in the adjacent office, stopped her work on the Remington typewriter for a moment.

Klaradyn remained calm as ever, and for the first time ever, she appreciated her natural pale skin, in the unlikely event that the schoolmaster might see her face turning pale.

“I don’t see how this has anything to do with me.”

“Klaradyn,” the headmaster said slowly. “You drove a blade of a pair of scissors right through a student’s hand, and you don’t see how this is relevant?”

Klaradyn didn’t move, and just looked at him.

“Dieter was looking for something, wasn’t he?”

Klaradyn still didn’t move an inch.

“Tell me, what was he looking for?” the schoolmaster continued hoping that he might get a reaction from her.

“You aren’t too popular with the students in your class, and yet no incidents whatsoever. Your school work is outstanding, you ignore boys teasing you, yet a boy reaches for something, and he gets a stab in the hand which will probably effect him the rest of his life.” The schoolmaster’s voice changed to a low, manipulative tone, presumably giving him the feeling that he is in control. “He was reaching for a note, wasn’t he?”

Klaradyn with a shock realized that the schoolmaster knew a lot more than she originally thought, and she could feel a sudden, uneasy tightness in her throat.

“You can tell me Klaradyn, your secret is safe with me, dear. What are the contents of the note?”

Klaradyn, amidst thoughts racing, managed to remain calm but knew that someone in the class, perhaps a student or a teacher, must have seen what happened that afternoon, and somehow, made their way to the office in which she found herself sitting.

Having last had a father some nine years ago, she so longed for someone, anyone who could stand up for her. But there was no one. Her foster parents lived on a farm in an entirely different town, and the guardian at the boarding house was as old as the boarding house itself.

“Klaradyn, you still have the note with you, haven’t you?” The school master persisted.
She just stared at him.

“Right! That’s it!” he proclaimed while getting up and with rapid movement swung around the table whilst simultaneously grabbing a cane leaning against the wall with his right hand, and got hold of her left wrist with his other hand. He pulled her so hard out of the chair that it fell on its backside, and forced her to bend over with her two hands on the table. Klaradyn knew what was coming but saw it as absolutely necessary for the preservation of the note she had.

The cane whistled through the air and the first blow landed neatly on her backside, instantly creating a lump in her throat, yet she refused to make a sound. The next one connected with the same intensity, upon which she closed her eyes, before feeling the burning sensation of the third blow.

The hiding promptly came to a halt, as the schoolmaster saw a little piece of white paper sticking out on the outside of her right foot, tucked in between her ankle and her black shoe. He bent down, reached for the paper, and slowly pulled it out.

She felt his hand pulling out the paper but then, totally unexpected, felt his fingers gently running up her leg. Before his hand reached her knee, and without thinking, she lifted her left heel with a forceful backward kick, and in the process of connecting the back end of her sole with his face, broke his glasses and fractured his nose.

While quickly turning around, Klaradyn contemplated the grabbing of the note the disorientated schoolmaster so viciously clutched in his left hand, while trying to prevent the bleeding of the nose with his other hand. With his vision nonexistent, both as a result of his broken glasses and his eyes being involuntary filled with tears, she decided to calmly walk out of the office, as if nothing happened.

Klaradyn didn’t want to burn down the house of the schoolmaster that night. She wouldn’t have, if only he had not locked the note in the top drawer of the big desk in his study room. That night, she stood, some distance from the house, looking at the flames, reaching high into the sky, consuming the sandstone building. She had to be there, watching how the schoolmaster and his wife stood outside in their nightgowns, devastated at their home being destroyed. She knew that the contents of that note would never be revealed, as she deliberately started the fire in his office, ensuring the desk with everything in it is thoroughly destroyed.

Many of the Hungarian Jews who were saved, found safety in Sweden. Klaradyn, because of her mother being locked up in an asylum for the mentally in sane, was not as fortunate as to obtain a Swedish passport, and ended up making her way to South Africa. If ever she wanted to make contact with the residents of her town again, she needed their new names according to the passports they received. Their new names, being encrypted in a list, written down on a piece of paper, she saw filling the dark night in the form of smoke and ashes.
A hint of satisfaction could almost be spotted in her eyes.

*****