We were in the middle of a lesson about Romeo and Juliet when the rasta cycled into the classroom.
It was a hot day, even by Jamaican standards, and our school’s semi-outdoor classrooms – simple breezeblock cubes under the acacia trees – were stifling. Mr Clerkin, who taught English and motor mechanics, was writing on the board and we were passing notes and whispering, waiting for the bell, when our surprising visitor arrived. He was in his thirties, dreadlocks bulging in his big woolly hat. He had a beautiful face; fine features with large almond eyes, but his shirt was worn through at the elbows, and his trousers ended in a raggedy mess at his knees. He looked seriously round at us and we stared back, silently chewing gum. Mr Clerkin, who had been talking to himself as he scratched at the board, suddenly turned round, his arm still in the air, as if he wanted to ask a question. The rasta sat back on his ancient, rusting bike. He had an old school satchel on his back.
There was a small silence as Mr Clerkin took in the bike, the man, the tyre marks on the dusty concrete floor. ‘Were you looking for someone?’ he said at last.
‘Do you teach English?’ said the rasta.
Mr Clerkin suddenly seemed to notice that his arm was still in the air and he put it down rather self-consciously and smiled. ‘Why?’ he asked in his flat Yorkshire accent. ‘Do you want to join the class?’
‘Nah man,’ said the rasta, taking a wad of curling paper out of his satchel. ‘Do you want to buy a poem?’
This is a true story; a rasta really did cycle into our classroom. The reason I’ve posted it is because I wanted to say what an inspiring teacher Mr Clerkin was, and that I never would have become a writer if he hadn’t taught me. I have no idea where he is now, or what he is doing. But, thank you Mr C.