I ran into Joe, aged twenty, on the long walk home from school.
As I greet him, his handwriting floats into memory. For four years, Joe had seemed functionally illiterate, adopting the pose of classroom joker, of kid on the brink of terminal stupidity, wise cracking his way to the juvenile detention centre.A glance at his eyes reveals he's still smoking too much weed, but a glance at his tattered and plaster spattered clothing reveals he's in gainful employment.
Seeing the ingenuity with which he dodged work, dodged lessons, sent teachers to an early nut house, I'd tried to convince him otherwise. Learnt that there was an active, questioning brain in that head, though dampened by a family background that allowed too much freedom, too few boundaries, that actively promoted the casual drug use that could kill his future.
I recalled many meetings where I'd sat him down to explain why he'd got a grade G every time: his handwriting was awful. An examiner would not read it. Write less, massively less. Let his brain shine through. Spend two thirds of the exam re-reading, checking, mitigating his own terrible handwriting, disguising the thing that was screaming 'G' at the unknown exam marker.
Joe isn't stupid. The honesty worked. He followed the prescribed plan of attack. And miracle of all miracles, did pretty well, in the end.
The slow spiralling ocular refocus means he takes a moment or two to recognise me. Could be the genuine tiredness of a difficult day's graft, could be the grey fug of soul-sating marijuana that clouds every council block in enervating under achievement by five o'clock every day round here.
"Miss L, you're not still bloody working at that place, are you?" Joe jerks his head uphill towards the massive sixties block of the school against the afternoon sun.
"Ain't it time you got out, yet? I mean, you could go somewhere else. You can actually teach, y'know."