Machiavellian mischief in a Madrid staff-room

Article published on Nov. 5, 2013
Article published on Nov. 5, 2013

An English teacher in Madrid struggles to control his inner demon. How long until the mask slips and his true nature is exposed?

The popular adage goes that the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist. As I sat there being offered a position that entrusted me with the education of adults and children a lingering feeling struck me that Lucifer didn't roam alone in the act of duping. For the greatest trick the Duncan ever pulled was convincing the world that he did exist. Yes, he did- but in the form of a respectable, reputable, kindly being. The benevolent realm of teaching was about to accept its newest recruit.

A Thorough Examination

It had begun at the start, and an interview process which would demand sincere smiles and proud proclamations. But as I was asked what I could offer the school, I came over all Machiavellian. My mind didn't fetch for those practiced, calculated answers but an altogether different list of attributes.

- A deep, resolute, desire to do the bare minimum for the absolute maximum.

- Irrelevant mumbled quips that nobody would hear- let alone understand.

- A shy and eager disposition that would surely leave all the other teachers at the school pondering why a student on work experience was lesson planning. And wearing a name badge that labelled him teacher.

It was perverse. At the exact moment I should be presenting myself as a figure of competence, I looked within and saw an altogether different version of myself.  It smelt like a strong case of self-sabotage. Eventually I blurted out something about reliability and, with the strong possibility that the interviewer had failed to understand what I had said, we moved on.

‘What kind of students do you prefer?’ A simple enough question yet one which formed an enticing piece of bait. I paused with a purposeful, wistful look to my upper left and 'umm'd'. Unbeknown to my interviewer, and against my strongest wishes, I was returning to a memory bank filled with primal urges, laden with narcissism. I bit my lip amidst thoughts of the attractive Spanish and Italian girls that had attended my classes during my qualification.  Thankfully, she quickly clarified the question.

'Intermediate or elementary?' I breathed a little easier.

'Intermediate. I just prefer the potential to provoke conversation and discussion.'  Ah a valid answer, I could hear my doppelganger muse, if the conversation had concerned where they might be going on Friday night, or discussing the merits of buying drugs on the streets of London.

With this conflicting duality, the interview progressed. And with it, grew a feeling of fraudulence. I felt as if onstage, performing for one. An English imposter wilting under the spotlight of the Madrid sun. I studied my interviewer. Had this facade fooled her? It was hardly a strong one: I was certified mutton and had barely managed to put on lamb's fake glasses and moustache. She seemed affable, interested. Maybe it had. Maybe I wasn't the only one playing this game of deception. I left the interview with my alter-ego forcing a smile upon my face. He was telling me that I had pulled the wool and there was no mistaking it.

I got the job. But if I thought that was the end of my devilish side's attempt to sabotage my hopes of respectability I was, of course, wrong.

An uneasy front

I come into school each day with an innocent smile upon my face, but beneath the surface lies a moral compass viciously fluctuating like a pendulum on ecstasy.   I thought about borrowing a textbook from the school to improve my Spanish. I asked a fellow member of staff and she helpfully showed me which book would be suitable for me, telling me that it would only cost me a reduced €20. My devil assumed control, thinking of the nights I spent alone in the school and the multiple books that lay on the shelves. He suggested that I would likely be receiving a €20 discount.

I amble around the office between lessons and spot a bag full of sweets open on the desk. And I'm hungry. I'm hungry alright. Here's trouble.

-'What difference will a couple make from the bag...they'll never even know!' he whispers in my conscious.

-'No you don't need them, refrain. You're 23 years old. It's time to stop this kind of thing' comes the counter.

As I walk back into the classroom, straight for my water bottle to wash down what I had eaten, my guilt is palpable. You don't even like those kind of sweets, I think, sadly, to myself.

Misdemeanour follows me around in Babylon like an inescapable shadow. A fellow teacher is often busy researching on the internet the latest methods and styles of teaching. I, on the other hand, can often be caught browsing the BBC sports-day timeline for the latest piece of non-information that makes absolutely no difference to my life. In the staff room there are the provisions for making coffee and tea. There is a sign on the wall warning of the dangers of failing to wash up your mug after using it. And directly beneath it sits mine. Dirty. It sits there proud and brash: a stained china symbol of corruption in this environment of harmony.  How long until my colleagues will realise that this mug isn't quite so clean either? And that soap and a warm sponge won't cleanse me. Not completely, anyway.

The teacher, after all, is that emblem of morality. But sitting at home, flicking through my new Spanish text book whilst making notes on paper that previously resided in the school printer, it dawns on me that if I cannot quell my inner demon, I will be exposed soon enough. Meanwhile, a moral struggle rages in my soul: Good v Evil. Yes it's a fight alright- just not a particularly close one.