One of the blandest characters I ever met was Mr P. He stood out only because he was the sole male teacher in a staff of spinsters at my all girls school – although there was talk of the physics teacher being a man in disguise. Mr P taught Maths and seemingly he had been brought out of retirement to convey the complexities of trigonometry and Pythagoras’ theorem to those of us able to listen to his barely audible monotones.
I remember him as tall, straight-backed and overtly ill-looking, with a jaundiced skin and dark rings under his startling, grey eyes. Rumour had it that he was a pacifist, a quaker and a vegetarian which somehow seemed to explain his appearance. As it was, rumour turned out to be correct, for every so often, he would invite a small group of us fifth form boarders to tea and there we came to know him a little better.
He lived as a childless couple, with his small, dumpy wife who barely made a sound, whilst we chatted in curbed excitement round the table. There were sandwiches, biscuits, cake and fruit and we tucked in with a zeal borne of boarding school portions. The first bite filled me with a repugnance as I tasted my first lentil sandwich, though out of politeness, I took more when offered and downed them all with copious quantities of tea. This was a performance that had to be repeated with the cake, which was an equally repulsive, pulse concoction.
From that moment on I felt sympathy for Mr P, existing on such a dull and distasteful diet and sensed his kindness in offering us marooned school children a few hours of homeliness. So I did not enjoin with the suppressed giggles of bystanders when he slipped on the stairs, restoring his dignity with all the ungainly movement of an aged man. In that instant I forgave him too for failing to impress me with the wonders of Mathematics that had absorbed me at my previous school and was equally grateful, that he did not belabour my shortcomings on Parent’s Day. Instead he took me aside and out of the blue said:
“Reach for the stars Laura and you might attain the moon”.
The possibilities alarmed me and perhaps he knew then that I would play it safe , aim for the moon and still tumble through the sky. So with hindsight I’m thankful for the lentil sandwiches and the profound piece of encouragement, on an otherwise ordinary day, from the most ordinary of men.
Written for the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: Characters