I can remember the face and name of every child I’ve ever taught. So when the smartly dressed man got up from the table opposite and came over to talk to me, introducing himself as one of my ex-pupils, I was rather confused.
‘Jason Parker, Mrs Arnold; you used to teach me at Mount View,’ he said, wearing a big beaming smile.
I took off my glasses to get a better look at him, just a fairly ordinary looking chap of around forty, with short, dark brown hair, and no distinguishing features at all, unless you counted the relentless staring grin, which surely I would have known if I’d seen it before. There was nothing at all that I recognised, which I found more than a little disconcerting.
‘Jason Parker?’ I tried not to sound too unsure, not wanting to hurt his feelings.
‘Yeah, that’s right. I can see you remember me, and how could you not, eh?’ He grinned even wider, and winked conspiratorially, as if sharing old memories.
I smiled, and put my glasses on the table. Not wishing to offend him by admitting that I had no recollection of him at all, I decided to say nothing and let him carry on. He must have confused me with another teacher, and yet he knew my name.
‘Ah, them were the days, Mrs Arnold, them were the days.’ He stopped staring and grinning, much to my relief, and gazed somewhere into the middle distance, picturing scenes from his supposed old life. ‘Mind if I sit down?’ This caught me off guard, and although I was feeling decidedly uncomfortable in the presence of this person, my good manners instinctively took over, and I immediately consented.
‘Why, no, of course.’ I tried to smile at the man, but found that I could not make eye contact, so simply smiled at the air over his right shoulder. He sat down, and resumed grinning and staring.
‘Well now, Jason, just remind me which year I taught you in?’ I picked up my glasses again, and closed the arms, then returned them to the table.
‘Oh, it was erm, let me just think …’ the man closed his eyes, and I was able to look at him for a moment, and see his eyelids flickering as his eyeballs moved about, searching for the information. ‘I think it was 1985, or thereabouts.’
The stare and grin locked on again, and I lowered my eyes to the table. I felt an urge to fill the awkward silence with something, just to pass a little time until I felt it might be an appropriate moment to make my excuses and leave.
‘So … what do you do now Jason?’ I could manage a little small talk for a few minutes, and if he did most of the talking, I could finish my tea quicker. I had almost a full cup left; thankfully I’d just finished my Eccles cake when the man had approached.
‘Oh, you know, same as everyone these days, I work in IT, but I do a bit of property developing on the side like, you know? …’ He carried on talking; I think he was telling me about the property he was renovating just around the corner from the café, but I couldn’t concentrate on the details. All I could think of was maintaining my smile, and picking up my cup without letting my hand shake.
He stopped speaking, catching me unawares again. Had he asked me a question? Oh God, I didn’t hear it, I didn’t know what he’d asked.
‘Sorry, what was that?’ I smiled broadly, though I could feel my lips quiver, certainly revealing my unease.
‘I just said that if you’ve got a few minutes, I’d love you to come and have a look at the work I’ve done on the house so far.’
My heart leapt into my throat; why would he want me to go somewhere with him. That surely was an unusual request from someone who had just bumped into an old school teacher – if indeed he was one of my pupils. I was now absolutely certain that he wasn’t.
‘Oh, um, I don’t know about that …’ I’d only managed one or two sips of my tea, I still couldn’t leave for a few minutes. And besides, if I did leave, what was to stop the man from following.
‘It’s just around the corner, seriously. I’d love you to see it.’
‘Why?’ It sounded sharper than I’d intended.
‘Oh, well,’ now it was his turn to look confused, his smiled faltered, ‘it’s just that I know I was a bit of joke at school, no-one expected me to amount to anything much.’ He chuckled, ‘I think you’d be pleasantly surprised at how I’ve turned out.’
I could think of nothing to say now, there was no way out. I fixed my eyes on my glasses once more, as the panic rose. I was unable to move, frozen with fear, I couldn’t even lift my hand to pick up the teacup. What would happen to me if I let this stranger take me out of the café.
I was startled and whipped my hand off the table onto my lap, as I felt the man’s hand touch mine.
‘I’m sorry, Mrs Arnold, I didn’t mean to shock you there,’ he leaned forward to look into my eyes with his own terrible orbs. I lowered my head even further, and turned away from him a little, not wanting to be caught in that awful stare again.
‘Mrs Arnold, are you alright?’ He stood up, and moved around to my side of the table.
‘Please, don’t hurt me,’ I said. He couldn’t make me leave the café with him, so he would try to scare me out of my wits just here.
‘Mum, are you alright? What’s happened?’ A voice sounded just above my head, and soft warm hands cupped my chin. I looked up into the face of an angel, and she was full of love and concern. She smiled sadly, and looked away from me to the stranger.
‘Has she just gone like this?’
‘I’m sorry, I don’t know what happened …’
‘Oh no, please, it’s not your fault. It’s Jason isn’t it? I remember you from school. Mum’s not well, that’s all.’
‘Is there anything I can do?’
‘No, no, I’ll just get her home, she’ll be fine once she’s with her own things. But thanks so much.’
‘Well, I’ll leave you to it if you’re sure.’ The angel smiled and nodded, and the stranger walked away.
She took hold of both of my hands and helped me up out of my chair.
‘Come on then Mum, let’s get you home.’ I had never seen the angel before, but I knew it was safe to go with her.
‘I think he was trying to kidnap me,’ I told her.
‘No, it was just Jason Parker Mum. You used to teach him. You don’t remember eh? No. Well, that’s alright.’ And she led me out of the café.