The day Tony broke down in the car park

19th May 1995 at 01:00
We found Tony wandering around the car park. We knew he was in danger of "going under", and so there was an air of inevitability about the whole thing. He'd been seen sitting in his car, expressionless, apparently psyching himself up to come into work. But he hadn't made it.

We took him into the staffroom and thought about who was best able to talk to him. It was only then we realised that there was nobody who was in any way close to Tony; he'd only been around for a couple of terms, and always seemed too busy to form any work-based friendships.

He was the sort of bloke you'd see by the Xerox, pass the time of day with and then he'd be off, muttering.

So we didn't really know much about him. We did know that he was living in some B B locally, and had yet to bring his family with him. There were also some rumours that his marriage was "in trouble", although no one knew the details. Consequently, small talk was difficult and awkward - not much use talking to the bloke about his garden when someone else might be clipping his hedge.

We took him to the staff common room and made him a cup of tea. He didn't have a mug. I lent him mine and he started crying. We looked at each other over his thinning hair, and wondered what to do. I wished I had a class to go to.

Eventually the school secretary, full of commonsense and natural concern, came in and put her arm around him. With a look that only certain women can manage - showing understanding of the predicaments and inadequacies of both Tony and ourselves - she let us know we could wander off, secure in the knowledge that we had "done our bit".

Somebody later drove Tony back to his grim digs, and that was it. Tony didn't appear again. Apparently he went back to his home, patched it up with his wife, and tried to make another go of it. He also returned to his previous occupation, his brief fling with teaching over.

Tony's (ex) head of department was not impressed. He'd been seriously let down by a guy he'd trusted. What's more, Tony's departure had left him with a huge hole to fill: Tony had been working well over his contracted hours. In fact, the rumour was that he didn't know what hours he should have been working. Nobody had got round to telling him.

Malcom Preston is a teacher in Sussex writing under a pseudonym.

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