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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 25 page 02

fiction

Priorities

by Ajay Tulsiani

Nathan lifted his glass of water for the third time in the past ten minutes. Drinking water was a way to avoid participating in the discussion. After a long sip, he placed the glass back on the table. The crisp white shirt of Arjun reflected on the glass.

“I still can’t believe you betrayed our trust, Arjun. You should be ashamed of yourself,” said Principal Ishita, sitting to Nathan’s left. She tapped some papers on her desk. “These are my certificates, and I have earned every one of them. Even my life wasn’t easy. Even I’ve struggled and dealt with problems, but I didn’t cheat to get ahead in life. Compared to me, your life is a bed of roses. Still you had the audacity to lie to get this job. And for what? For money? A meagre salary?”

Nathan managed a brief smile. At least the principal realized the school was paying its teachers a meagre salary.

“This is completely unacceptable,” Ishita continued. “If people find out you’ve submitted fake certificates to get this job, it’ll tarnish the school’s reputation. I can’t let that happen.”

Sitting on a chair before them, Arjun gave a slight nod. “I accept my mistake and am very sorry for—”

Ishita raised an open palm to him. “I didn’t ask you to speak so please keep quiet.” She turned to Veena to her left. “What do you have to say?”

Veena was sitting with slumped shoulders, hands on the table, head tilted to her right. “Why did you do this, Arjun? You were such a brilliant teacher. All the students like you, and they always get good grades. Why did you lie to us? If you had told us the truth earlier, we could’ve considered you.”

“No way,” said Ishita. “I have to interrupt you, Veena. We cannot, under any circumstances, have a fraud in our school. So what if the students like him? At the end of the day his degree is fake.”

But Arjun teaches well, thought Nathan. He had witnessed the teaching style of other teachers in the school. They had fancy degrees but zero interest in helping children with their problems or doubts. On the other hand, Arjun could inspire even the most rebellious student to study and learn.

Nathan closed his palms as he kept his thoughts to himself. Arguing with Principal Ishita might cost him his own job.

Ishita raised an index finger at Arjun. “I want your resignation on my table by the end of the day. And don’t expect any experience certificate or reference letter. Be glad I’m not filing a police complaint against you. I have a big heart, that’s why I forgive you. You may leave.”

As Arjun stood up, he gave Nathan a slight nod. Nathan thought of it as a sign of assurance that everything will be all right.

This is horrible, thought Nathan. He was losing his only friend in the school.

No sooner did Arjun close the door of the principal’s office, than Veena turned to Ishita. “But he’s a good teacher,” Veena spoke Nathan’s thoughts. “Of course, you are the principal, and being a principal isn’t an easy job. God knows how stressful your job can be, but what I’m saying is that Arjun teaches very well and he even takes on extra classes if any teacher is ill and he doesn’t complain. I am agreeing with your decision, and it’s yours to make. After all, you are the principal of this Purple Elite International School and to look after two thousand students, their parents, and the teachers is not easy. However, Arjun is a really good teacher. Is there any chance we can let him stay? At least on a temporary basis?”

Ishita shook her head. “I have a responsibility toward the parents of our students. I can’t give them a fraud for a teacher.”

“But he does teach well,” said Veena again.

Better than you for sure, thought Nathan. All Veena did was sit in the staff room and read novels. Every other day Arjun would take half of her classes.

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