‘It’s like you’re asking for trouble,’ says Lily.
‘Moi?’ says Ren. ‘I’m such a shy and retiring type. Why are you hanging back?’
‘I’ll think I’ll let you go in first.’
‘And you’ll come two minutes later and pretend to be taken aback. It’s all right. I’ve always said that you find out who your true friends are when you put on a false beard. False beard, false friend detector.’
As Ren prepares to walk into the class a feeling of apprehension come over him. Has he gone too far? He’s wearing a mini-skirt, suspender stockings, boob tube, native American headdress, false ginger beard and a goose necklace. Too late to back out now, though. He’s already been seen in the corridor by some of his classmates. He walks in breezily. As he sits down there is laughter, and some angry murmuring. Balderstone is glaring at him.
Miles, who’s in on it, grins. Even Adrian Vespula laughs. Douglas is blinking a lot. The other Panopticons look angry.
‘I’m just a working girl,’ Ren sings softly, in a pretend absent-minded fashion, just loud enough for others to hear.
Lily comes in and tries not to smile. She sits well away from Ren.
Balderstone starts up, reading from his notes.
‘Today, er, we’re going to talk about the importance of, um, power-sharing within the traditional lecture construct, with reference to Gramsci. We’re going talk about…’
He pauses, as though he is wishing that this is not today’s topic.
‘Talk about tearing down barriers between lecturers and students, and tapping into the store of wisdom that students possess.’
The Lorenzos sense that Balderstone is trying to think of alternate words, but he doesn’t have the wit to do anything else than stick to his written script.
‘This might be uncomfortable for some of you,’ he reads, in a reluctant, mechanical tone, the tone of a man who knows that what he is saying is about to be turned around and fired back at him, ‘who have come up through the University system expecting that lecturers talk and students receive.’
‘But aren’t you going to ask Dr Christopher what he’s playing at, dressed like that?’ demands Lenora.
‘Last week you said we what we wear to class isn’t a subject for discussion,’ says Ren.
‘If it concerns someone’s private sexual inclinations. But if you walk in wearing a Hitler T-shirt, that’s a different matter.’
‘Hitler, Hitler. Where would you lot be without Hitler? Anyway, I’m hardly wearing a Hitler T-shirt. I’m following Dr Balderstone’s orders. I’m wearing these clothes not only to draw attention to the right of cross-dressers to wear what they want, wherever they want, but also in honour of those poor unfortunates who walk the streets, forced to make a degrading living from prostitution. Or is it those feisty feminists who empower themselves by choosing prostitution as a positive career choice? I can’t remember which week it is. The headdress I wear in solidarity with Native American tribes in honour of their neglected wisdom concerning the health benefits of eating a diet mainly consisting of meat, guts and fat. Did you know that they were really keen on beavers’ tails, which were especially fatty? Nutritional acumen that has long been ignored.’
‘Do we have to listen to any more of this?’ Lenora asks Balderstone.
‘What was the good doctor just explaining to you now? Power-sharing. Tapping into the wisdom of the students. Dr Balderstone isn’t going to shout me down. He’s not trapped in the twentieth century. You need to listen more closely to his words. The lecturer isn’t a martinet any more. And I have taken on board his sage words from last week. The ginger beard I wear to express my sympathy with my burnt sienna brethren, such as Dr Balderstone himself, who suffer silently under the yoke of intolerance. As Creighton has so passionately urged, we should all should be wearing outfits like this to our lectures to raise the consciousness of our students.’
‘What’s the goose for?’ asks Adrian, unable to help himself.
‘That is the Sankofa, a Ghanian symbol. It means that mistakes can be rectified, and one should look to the past for solutions. Literally, “return and get it”. That’s why the goose looks backwards. Jnana that is under-appreciated these days. And I thought a goose looking at its own arse would make a fine symbol for this class.’
‘You wouldn’t get away with wearing all that to one of my classes,’ says Lenora.
‘Really? You’re really claiming that you can tell students what not to wear after what Dr Balderstone said to you last week? You’re sounding a bit like an old-fashioned disciplinarian. Do you set a curfew for them as well?’
‘But you’re not wearing any of that to make a sincere and valid point, you’re wearing it to be a smart-arse.’
‘So students aren’t allowed to be smart-arses any more? Might hit enrolments. You’d better speak to the Admissions Department.’
‘That’s enough,’ says Balderstone. ‘Dr Helminth, I would expect that you do not tell students what they can wear, unless they come in with a Hitler T-shirt?’
‘What about a Che T-shirt?’ says Miles.
‘He wasn’t a mass-murderer like Hitler,’ says Millicent.
‘Oh, but Mr Guevara was indeed a mass-murderer, and an enthusiastic one at that,’ says Ren.
‘You’re a liar,’ says Millicent.
‘Ask Malcom. I bet he knows,’ says Ren. Malcom refuses to look at Ren, and stays shtum.
‘Stop it now and listen to me,’ yells Balderstone, banging his fist on the table.
‘Sounding a bit authoritarian, Creighton,’ says Ren. ‘Haven’t you heard about the new ways? Lecturers aren’t the bosses any more.’
‘Dr Christopher, you have come to this class wearing an outfit that demonstrates your bad faith.’
‘You’re quite right. The beard doesn’t go with the top, I know. My feminine intuition tried to tell me that when I looked in the mirror, but I wasn’t in touch enough with my feminine side to get the message. I appreciate your candour.’
‘Shut up. Your sarcastic attitude indicates that you are continuing to refuse to take on-board the lessons of these classes, and that will count against you at the end of the course.’
‘Is the goose included in your condemnation? He’ll take that hard, sir, he will.’
‘Take that ridiculous beard off.’
‘I’ve longed for you to say that. It can’t come off quick enough. Begone, Itchy and Scratchy. That’s what I call him, by the way.’