Retrenchment..........is it possible to survive.
The panic was in the waiting. It came in waves especially at 2 am when Lila would wake up with her heart threatening to burst out of her chest. She would sit up and sip water from her bedside glass, first trying to see if a moth or a bug had fallen into it, using the dim light outside her room.
She, at 41 needed a night light!
At times she thought she was losing her mind.
The three friends continued to meet officially twice a month but far more often on a casual basis. Every second Tuesday they had a meal together in one of their homes. They had named themselves the 'The Wil, Lil and Vi Survivors' club' after the trio had survived an horrific accident more than a year before.
Lila managed their website from people interested in sharing their survival stories.
Tonight it was Lila's turn to host the dinner.
She was trying out a green curry Thai recipe that infused flavours of ginger with an edge of spice and a touch of heat. She knew that the intoxicating smell would greet them before they got to the front door. She smiled at the thought.
She had a sense of fun with food and had made a Betel leaf prawn starter. Knowing her guests would not enjoy the taste of betel leaves she had substituted small nasturtium leaves, completely edible and a bit peppery.
Wil and Vi always arrived together as they had 'come out' as a couple a month or two before. This event had strangely strengthened the bond between the three of them.
'Yoo hoo,' yodeled Vi in mock imitation of Lila who always sang out a greeting before the front door was opened. Lila claimed that she wanted the inhabitants of the house to know she was a friendly soul and not some bogeyman! She endured the teasing with good grace and continued to announce her arrival with a sing song 'yoo hoo'.
'What's this enticing smell,' asked Wil eagerly knowing Lila had been on a Thai cooking course.
'Hmmm for me to know and you to find out,' she joked.
' Story with the starters for a change,' announced Lila.
Wil poured the deep red wine and sniffed it appreciatively. Wil and Vi gasped with delight at the plate of prawns with a delicate topping on each.
'What's the leaf,' said Vi suspiciously and then laughed, 'oh you clever girl, nasturtium leaves! I used to pick a bunch of the yellow and orange flowers for my teacher when i was 9. I adored Miss Ashton.'
Lila sat on the edge of her chair, far from relaxed. 'Tonight I'm unveiling MY survival story!' she said a little too loudly.
'What? a second survival story?' asked Wil surprised.
'Yes, and it's been a long time coming,' said Lila seriously.
At the time I thought I would truly die, or at least have a breakdown!'
She told them how she used to have panic attacks in the middle of the night. She told them how once she took a sip of water to try to quiet her pulse beating wildly and drank a bug that had drowned in the uncovered glass.
'At least that night I had something real to panic about, I had to do the gag trick,' she indicated putting her finger down her throat, 'to get it out! Funny after that little episode I calmed down a little. I saw my situation for what it was.'
'And that was?' asked Wil quietly realising how difficult this was for Lila to repeat.
'I was sacked, fired........retrenched they called it. Main point I no longer had a job to go at the beginning of the following term.'
'Ah no,' said Vi softly, 'how awful. What happened?'
'The school I was teaching in had to retrench 3 teachers. The department had a cut in funds from central government and it meant that we had too many teachers for the number of pupils in our school. MY problem was that I never saw it coming. I was completely blind sided.'
She got up and paced the little carpet holding tightly onto her glass of wine as she relived the horror. Wil and Vi took each others' hands.
'I was, if I say so myself, a popular teacher. I adored teaching and teaching English , well it had so many possibilities for fun. I often put my kids on stage to act out their poems, songs they had made up and bits of plays. Even the shyest learner got involved and we had huge fun. I even taught parts of speech,' Wil and Vi pulled long faces at the memory of those dull things, 'with song and dance. My spelling games were legend.'
She turned to face them.'We all knew that 3 teachers had to go and for weeks we tiptoed around, not discussing it and avoiding our colleagues eyes in the corridors. We were 32 teachers in all.
The atmosphere was toxic and the school kids began to feel it and worry too.'
'I was notified by a legal looking letter handed to me by the head mistress. She was a likeable old bat who even enjoyed my little concerts with the children. She whispered "so sorry, come and see me after school," and walked rapidly away, in tears I thought.'
Lila took a sip of wine to strengthen her.
'A fellow member of staff told me in her brutal confrontational manner that "surely I must have seen it coming - you have a split post, you teach English and Bible study. The department is going to phase out the 'unnecessary bible' and you with it. Just like that, and she flicked her fingers. I fell into a nearby armchair in the staff room with the shock of what she said and one of my friends said "hang on a minute that's pretty cruel Dorice."
"Not at all," claimed the sharp witted Dorice, "that was what the board HAD to look at, It was the only way to be as 'fair' as they could be.
It is not a measure of your value as a teacher. You are superb in the classroom and all the kids adore you," she added coming up to me and putting a hand on my shoulder.
"Look at the other two, discarded like crumpled lunch wrappings...... also split posts - teaching two subjects. Mr Dominy will go as they will phase out music and so will Mrs Twaddle for the same reason.'
Dorice in her perspicacious way gave me a little comfort. I told her that it was probably a good thing as it would force me into writing that book on' English teaching techniques' that I'd been asked to do by a well known publisher.
But my spirit was broken with the weeping of my school kids. A couple of them clung to me and demanded that I refuse to go!
Heck it was AWFUL. Just AWFUL. That last day..................."
LIla sniffed loudly and had a deep sip of wine.
'I did write the book. It was the loneliest thing I've ever done.
I was so depressed that Bernard, my partner, told me he was taking a job in New Zealand and didn't invite me to go. I understood. In his place I wouldn't have taken me either.
I couldn't bear to live with myself, actually!
I made some good money though...........I had a healthy bank balance. BUT that day on the coach before the accident I was planning to end it all. I had the pills and the vodka in my bag - that burned up in when the coach caught fire.'
She turned around to them, put her glass on the coffee table, took their clasped hands and said, 'it was you two who turned my life around. Seeing us crawling around broken and bleeding from that wreck with Vi shouting orders to Wil and me how we were going to kick that emergency window out.............whew, I got a fresh perspective....a fresh
After the palaver of the hospital and I realised that we 3 were going to stick together and recover from that ghastly experience, my heart physically changed. I felt it. From being sluggish and slow it quickened. I don't know if it is medically possible, but I felt it.'
The three of them all had tears in their eyes as they stared from one to the other in awe.
'Thank God for you two,' finished Lila sincerely.
Now, let's have that Thai green curry!
Perfection on a plate I hope,' she joked as she got up.
'Let's have a toast first Lila.' said Wil drawing Vi up and Lila into a small circle. With their free arms around one another they toasted "to the Wil, Lil and Vi survivors' club,' and they chinked their glasses together and laughed with the fresh joy that simply came upon them.