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Checkmate

Summary

Alida, an idealistic young teacher, is caught in a nasty web of deception, when she meets Irene, a troubled 13 year old. With an ex determined to ruin every good thing in her life after her, an estranged brother who is deaf to her troubles and stuck in a school where gossip travels like wildfire, will she be able to save Irene before the girl ruins her life forever by committing murder?

Chapter 1

Irene Jacob spread blood red nail polish on her long fingernail, her hand comfortably resting on the dressing table. She smiled as she remembered her friend’s voice. “Horrid!” Susan had exclaimed “It looks like you have blood on your nails!”

Irene twitched her long fingers as her smile grew wider. Bloody…That was exactly why she liked it so much. No wonder Susan couldn’t stand it though! Susan was a good girl and an excellent friend but she was such a timid little mouse. No daring at all!

Irene leaned back against the chair and held up her hands in front of the mirror on the dressing table. A thirteen year old girl with a pale pointed face and big blue eyes stared back at her, short dark hair looking very untidy. How Irene wished she was as pretty as the twinkling eyed, merry Susan!

Dear Susan with her pretty curls and magnificent memory! Dear Susan with her adoring father and mother! How Irene envied her…

Everyone liked Susan. All the teachers praised her even the horrible Mrs. Sandy! But no one had much time for Irene. “A duffer!” Mrs. Sandy had exclaimed one day “Can’t even get a singe sum right!”

“Do you even understand the basic rules of grammar?” Even the easy going English teacher, Miss Dahlia, had no patience with her.

 

“MAMA!”
 

The little doll at Irene’s feet gave a cry. She looked down it in contempt. The horrid thing with its horrible sickly sweet expression! Her so dear father’s birthday present!

She didn’t like dolls and Irene was sure her father knew it very well. He had only presented her that awful thing to annoy her. He hated her though she didn’t know why. She wished he didn’t though. Maybe it was the ‘witch’, her darling stepmother. But it couldn’t be. He hated her even before the witch entered the picture.

 

“MAMA!”

 

Irene gave the annoying thing a kick. It crashed across the floor to the other end of the room, where a whole lot of toys lay in bits and pieces (most of them dolls). There was only one thing that she liked among her toys. Irene opened her drawer and pulled out a shining revolver, its barrel glinting in the morning sun. So original looking…with round little balls for bullets. It couldn’t kill a human, of course, but it was so unwise to shoot at live things with it, as her father had so graciously reminded her.

As she thought of the little devil, lying in the cradle in the next room, Irene wished for real revolver. One shot and everything would be over…

But no! The witch had to have a whole lot of pain first. And then like icing on the cake…

Irene shivered with excitement as she thought of her plan. It would work. It would work without a single flaw and no one was going to stop her.

 

 

 

 

 

2

 

Alida stood before a pompous looking man, seated rather grandly at an ornate desk. Her clear green eyes met the contempt in the black ones with a glare.

“Miss. Alida Jacob aren’t you?” he said “You are the only one who applied for the post of moral science teacher and counselor.”

He gave a little laugh.

A smile curled Alida’s lips as her glance fell on the name plate on the desk. Golden letters on olive green background proclaimed that the man was Mr. Harris, principal of St. Mary’s school.

“I was aware of that.” she said simply “When I had your call yesterday telling me that I’m appointed instead of an interview card, I knew.”

 

Mr. Harris shifted haughtily in his seat. He smiled a rather superior smile at Alida before speaking again.

“I see that you have masters in mathematics. So I give you an offer. If you teach maths in 11th and 12th, for which you are well qualified for, you will have a permanent job here.”

Alida bit her lip and resisted the urge to scoff. Maths! That was something she hated. Not because she hated the subject itself but because it had been imposed on her against her will. If she had gotten her wish she would never have had ‘postgraduate in mathematics’ attached to her name.

“I’m sorry sir.” she said “I am not interested.”

Mr. Harris frowned. Alida could guess that he was not used to hearing no. Indeed it was clear when he spoke again that Mr. Harris was annoyed and angry.

“You prefer a temporary post which is an experiment at this time?” his voice was cold

Any other person would have been intimidated. But Alida simply flashed a polite smile at him and said “Indeed I do, Sir.”

For a moment Mr. Harris surveyed Alida up and down, taking in her emerald green eyes, slim figure, dark brown wavy hair which fell to her waist and simple, neatly worn sari.

“You’re decided then? He asked “Is this your final word?”

“I most certainly have.” Alida replied

Mr. Harris rang the bell on his desk. A peon came running in at once.

“This is Miss. Alida.” He said “The new moral science teacher and counselor. Take her to the staffroom.”

Then he turned back to Alida “I will send the details of your timetable later.”

 

The peon, a fat jolly man, beckoned Alida to follow him. Alida strode after him gracefully, flashing another smile at the rather disgruntled looking Mr. Harris.

Soon she walked into a large, well lit room, with large windows just opposite the door. Four neat looking tables and chairs were lined over the right wall, while big wooden shelves lined the left. Alida placed her handbag on the table closest to the door and sat down. St. Mary’s was the biggest school she had worked in so far. She wished somebody would come in. It would be such a relief to know that there was somebody friendly among her coworkers. There wasn’t much hope though.

“Hello!” A bright voice made her look up.

Standing framed in the doorway was a tall distinguished looking man with mischievous brown eyes. Alida smiled. He looked friendly enough.

 “I’m Joy. I’m the drawing master.”

“Alida.” She said

“You’re the new moral science teacher aren’t you? Mr. King’s brand new experiment.”

“Mr. King?” Alida had to laugh

“Oh you’ll soon understand the meaning of that name.” he said, as he sank down on the chair right next to her’s

“I think I know exactly what it means.” said Alida “Though he doesn’t seem awfully keen about his experiment at the moment. He wanted me to teach maths instead.”

“The maths teacher for the 11th and 12th gave resignation all of a sudden.” said Joy, matter of factly “and he had been running around for a replacement.”

“That explains a lot” said Alida “He certainly looked disappointed when I refused.”

“If you don’t mind me asking why did you refuse? You would have gotten a permanent post here.”

“I’m not fond of maths.” said Alida “Never have been.”

She had obeyed her father and spent ages and ages in a stuffy classroom, lending her ears to things she had the least interest. She felt like giving up after the first semester but her pride kept her going. She slaved and slaved and finally managed to pass with flying colours.

“A penny for your thoughts?” Joy asked

And to Alida’s intense surprise, he grabbed an A4 sheet from his desk and started scribbling at it with a pencil. Alida watched him work with interest. After a while he thrust the paper into her hands. She looked at it and gasped. It was a lifelike portrait of her.

“My goodness!” she exclaimed “I never knew anyone who drew half as well.”

“And I have yet to meet another woman with views like yours.” Joy shot back

“What?” Alida asked blankly

Joy smiled as he took a magazine from the mass of books on his desk. He opened it and turned through the pages hastily. Then finally he seemed to have found what he wanted for he extended the book towards her.

“The Alida who wrote this article is you isn’t it? For I have to say that the woman in the photograph looks a lot like you.”

Alida smiled. She did occasionally write for magazines and this particular article titled ‘It’s our world too’ was one she was personally quite proud of. But no one had recognized her from her writing exploits before. She was just about to ask Joy how he recognized her so easily when the bell rang signaling the end of the first lesson.

“Oops!” said Joy as he shot up from his chair “I’m due in the fifth and there are such a lot of clowns and monkeys there that I daren’t be late.”

 

Alida leaned back against her chair, as Joy strode out of the room. She wished that she would have class soon.

“Miss Alida.” The peon who showed Alida to the staffroom earlier was back with a sheaf of papers. He came forward and placed one on Alida’s table.

“Your timetable.”

“Thank you.” said Alida automatically

“You have class in the 8th.” he said “I’ll show you…”

Alida got up and followed the man to a classroom at the end of a long hallway. She was at the door when a sharp voice reached her ears.

“Irene! To the backboard now! Solve the equation.”

The owner of the voice was a stern looking woman, with thick, swollen looking, brown lips. The dark complexion of the woman clashed horribly with her black designer sari. Altogether, Alida thought that the woman was a very unpleasant individual indeed. 

A girl at the very back row, with a pointed pale face and big blue eyes got up, looking rather scared. Her hands trembled as she reached for the chalk on the teacher’s desk.

“Hurry up!” the teacher snapped

“Yes Sandy Madam” said the girl most meekly and began to solve the problem.

Alida could see that the girl didn’t know the first thing about algebra and was messing up rather badly. The girl apparently knew this too for she was looking apprehensively at the teacher.

“Come here!” Mrs. Sandy shouted

Irene dropped the chalk in fright. She moved as slowly as she dared towards the teacher.

“Hand out you duffer!”

Mrs. Sandy’s hands were clasped around a thick wooden cane. Irene cast a pleading glance at the teacher and held out her hand.

“What do I have to make you understand you hopeless girl!”

There a swish as the cane crashed down followed by a terrible cry of pain. Irene clutched at her hand in pain as tears started in her pale blue eyes. Alida looked the teacher in dislike. Why the students must simply hate Mrs. Sandy!

“Susan it’s just you left. Solve the problem that dear Irene had been unable to do. And you dunce! Go back to your seat and for heavens sake don’t be such a baby.”

Irene strode back to her seat, tears streaming down her cheeks now. At the very same time a pretty looking girl, with elegant short curls got up. Susan walked briskly towards the teacher’s desk and grabbed the chalk. And then she began to do the problem.

The girl had clearly studied well and was soon at the last step. Mrs. Sandy stood like a hawk, alert for even a single mistake.

To Alida’s horror, Susan wrote down 12 instead of 22 in the last step. Mrs. Sandy stroked her cane, rather lovingly and raised the cane right began Susan, ready to strike.

“That would be enough.” said Alida coldly and walked in.

Susan turned to see who the newcomer was. Just at the same time Mrs. Sandy, who had no intention of letting anyone spoiling her fun, brought the cane down. It caught Susan full in face. The girl’s cry was so loud that Alida rushed to her at once.

“You can go to your place.” snapped Mrs. Sandy, completely ignoring Alida “If you want, you can visit the school clinic at break.”

“My eye…” Susan wailed, both her hands covering her face “My eye…”

“Here let me take a look.” said Alida, kindly

Susan removed her hands from her face. Alida saw that the girl’s right eye was very red.

“Go to the clinic now Susan. And come back when your eye is better”

“And just who are you to give orders here. It’s my lesson now.”

Mrs. Sandy surveyed Alida as though she was a nasty bit of dirt.

“It isn’t.” said Alida calmly “ It’s my lesson. I’m Alida, moral science teacher.”

Mrs. Sandy’s thick lips curled into one nasty smile.

“Ah! The sole applicant! So you’re the rookie.”

“I’m not a rookie.” Alida shot back “I have been teaching for three years.”

“Not settled down at a school yet have you?” Mrs. Sandy gave a beautiful snort and walked out.

Alida watched her go with distaste. She didn’t like people who dished out torture treatment to young children. And she wasn’t sure she liked this school either. She wondered if she would stay long. Probably not! Schools have never turned her out before. She had chosen to walk away when her classes were taken over by teachers of ‘serious subjects’. But everywhere she went the students have liked her immensely. Alida remembered this and smiled as she faced the class.

“Good morning everyone. My name is Alida.”
Many smiles flashed her away. Alida turned to Susan who was still hovering by the desk.

“You can go to the clinic Susan.”

Susan turned a deep red and looked like she would sink to the ground. Alida gave the girl a pat on the shoulder and said kindly

“Go Susan.”

Susan stammered something that might have been thanks. Alida turned back to face the class and saw that several of them were looking at her with approval. Good! She wanted the children to like her classes.

“How many of you can guess what I’m here to teach?”

“Moral Science!” there were cries all around.

Alida smiled and went on.

“This is our first class so…I think we must may it a sort of free run. Raise your hands if you agree with me?”

All hands went up at once.

“Good!” Alida laughed “So take out your notebooks and write or draw whatever you like. And if everybody is quick enough we will have time to tell a little story too.”

There were exclamations of delight at this. Alida watched happily as the students rummaged for pencils and notebooks and set to work. The enthusiasm was what she liked. This was the true reason she preferred to teach the subject.

Irene stared down at the blank page of her notebook. What should she do? She was no good at drawing, her handwriting was dreadful and her grammar was even worse. No doubt she would be labeled a dunce here too. But the teacher looked nice with her jolly eyes and kind voice.  She was kind to Susan too.

Irene racked her brains for something worthwhile to put down on paper and then it came to her. The hatred and frustration boiling inside…

Irene clutched her pencil with vengeance. It flew over the paper with a feeling Irene had never know before. After a while Irene sat back and admired her handiwork. It was good…too good.

“Are you done?” The green eyes of the young teacher were twinkling at her. Without knowing it Irene smiled back.

“Yes. I’m done”

“What is you name?”

“Irene.”

“Its a beautiful name.” the teacher smiled “Give me your notebook.”

Irene gave a gasp. No…She couldn’t…She simply couldn’t…But how could she say no to a teacher?

“Irene?” The teacher extended a slender hand “Your notebook.”

Irene gave her book away mechanically. How horrid! If the teacher understood what it meant…No! She wouldn’t understand…How could she?

Just then the bell rang. The teacher collected all notebooks and was out of the classroom

 

 

3

 

“How was your first class?”

Joy was already seated in his place as Alida walked into the staffroom. Alida remembered the happy exclamations and enthusiasm of the students and smiled.

“Great! Everything went well.”

“I’m sure it did!” Joy’s eyes twinkled mischievously “Mrs. Sandy was ranting and raging as she came to collect some books.”

“Really?” Alida sank down on her chair “She is in this staffroom then?”

“You, me, Mrs. Sandy and Dahlia. One big happy family don’t you think?” said Joy

“Nice…” Alida shot back “Just excellent!”

Joy laughed too. It was then she saw that he was still holding the magazine from earlier.

“Does Mr. King know he hired a feminist? I have to say he wouldn’t be pleased if he knew.”

“Why wouldn’t he pleased?” asked Alida, puzzled

“Mr. King has a poor opinion of women in general.” said Joy, matter of factly “He has an even poorer opinion of woman’s rights advocates.”

“I don’t see why he should.” said Alida “Does he think woman are the fragile defenseless, brainless creatures that he sees on TV? And that woman’s advocates are comic characters who plaster themselves with makeup and boss their bungler husbands around?”

“My word! You are certainly a match for Mr. King.” said Joy “By the way, I like your articles and your views.”

Alida leaned back on her chair thoughtfully, A feminist with extraordinary views! How often she had heard those words…Partly in mocking and partly in admiration.

“Where do you live?” Joy asked

“In the school hostel. I settled in today.” said Alida

“Your family? Is your house far away?”

Alida gave a start. Family…Had she a family? No! She hadn’t had a family for years. Alone…Always staying in school hostels or working women’s hostels…She never thought about it if she could help it! She wanted no remainders.

Joy seemed t sense her discomfort for he turned his attention to the bundle of drawing books on the desk. Alida too starting looking through her collected notebooks. She was impressed by beautiful drawings, struck by sweet little poems and stories. The children had done a marvelous job.

“Susan draws well.” Alida commented aloud, looking at the excellent drawing of a hillside.

“Yes.” said Joy “That child is a first class artist.”

Alida picked up the last book. Irene…Alida remembered the pale pointed face and blue eyes…Somehow that girl had made and impression.

Alida gave a gasp. She was looking at a near perfect pencil sketch of a terrifying demoness. The ferocious looking thing had an incredibly detailed face. Flames rose around the monster almost gulping her whole body. The more Alida looked at the picture the more she felt that the thing was crying out in pain.

“Whatever’s the matter?” asked Joy

“Nothing.” said Alida, still not taking her eyes off the drawing.

She wondered why it disturbed her so much. The picture was incredible. Normally she would have been impressed by the talent. But…Somehow she could feel hate and vengeance radiating from the pencil strokes.

“Take a look at this.” Alida extended the drawing book towards Joy. She closed her eyes and leaned against her chair. A voice deep inside her whispered that something was not right.

“Are you saying that Irene drew thins?” Joy’s surprise voice jolted her out of her thoughts “But…But she hardly draws at all.”

“What?”

“I’ll show you.”

Joy picked up a drawing book from his pile and gave it to her. Alida opened it and looked through the pages. Crude inefficient drawings… Untidy colourings…To her surprise the drawing book belonged to Irene!

Alida looked from the drawing book to the neat sketch in Irene’s notebook. A chill shot down her spine. For the first time in her life she could sense evil in the air.