"You have a new student."
I looked up from the tests I had been grading. Petyr, my contact teacher was stood over me. It was difficult to read his expression, as it always was. He pushed his glasses up his nose and glanced down at the documents in his hand. Hungary had a love affair with documents, and forms for me to fill out.
"Ah, I see," I said as I put my pen down. 4B were a fairly unremarkable class, their English was pretty standard for their age. Roberta and Orsi were an exception, they were bright and chatty. "Boy or girl?"
"She is a girl. Her name is Dalma." Petyr glanced down at the papers again. "I am told her family just moved here."
"Hmm..." Another girl was a good thing. The class would be a little more balanced with her there. "Have you spoken to her parents? What about her level?"
Petyr shrugged. "I don't know. I only heard about it this morning."
I didn't have 4B until Monday. "All right. If you can, find out some details before I take the class."
Petyr smiled and nodded as the bell rang out melodically to signal the next period.
Nothing new had come by Monday. I only remembered that Dalma would be in my class when I walked into the room and saw her. She was slight, with long brown hair pulled back into a braid that extended a foot down her back. She was sat apart from the rest of the children, gazing out of the window at the light rainfall, and the forest that bordered the school. Her eyes seemed fixed on the treeline.
Roberta and Orsi greeted my entry with a loud 'hello!' and I smiled at them in return. The class began, and I started as I always did, nice and easy to warm them up.
"How are you Roberta?"
"I'm fine thank you, and you?"
"I'm fine, thank you. Balint, how are you?"
"I fine thanks."
"I'm. Good though. Sandor, how are you?"
I smiled. "Okay, good." I looked up at Dalma. She was in her own world, still looking at the rain. I raised an eyebrow.
She half turned away from the window, facing towards me. I peered at her. She was looking at the wall to my right, and her expression was blank. Her eyes were a fierce, electric blue. A few of the other kids turned around and looked at her. The tension in the room raised a little.
"How are you?"
She was still. Her expression remained the same. I don't even think she blinked. I cleared my throat and repeated the question, a little slower. "Dalma, how are you?"
I kept a smile on my face. The other kids were getting restless. Orsi whispered to Dalma in Hungarian, with no reaction. She just continued staring at the wall. Roberta looked at me, agitated. "Dalma...no talking."
I sighed. I'd lost time, and I needed to get the class back on track. For the rest of the lesson I kept glancing over at Dalma. She didn't move at all. Maybe she was taking some of it in, I don't know. I tried to engage her a few more times, going through structures I had written on the board. Again, I was met with silence. At the end of the lesson she slowly got up, almost robotic, and walked out of the room without a word or a glance. Most of the other kids gave her a wide berth.
In the staffroom I took Petyr aside for a moment. "Petyr, is there anyone here that teaches children with special needs?"
He thought for a moment. "We did, but she left last summer. Why?"
I explained about Dalma. "I think she's autistic. Honestly I don't know what I can do for her, I'm not qualified to teach someone with her condition."
Petyr sighed. "I can talk to the headmaster, but there may not be anything we can do. Do your best in the meantime. Maybe we can get a replacement for the teacher we had before."
So I persevered as best I could, with no results. The class was suffering because of it, the boys were getting louder and were barely in their seats. Often they would shout at Dalma whenever she didn't answer a question, and I lost time getting them back under control. My attempts at communicating with her only resulted in silence and unease, as well as the frustration of the rest of the class.
The more time I spent there, the more I questioned my assumption about Dalma's condition. I had researched autism in my spare time, to try and build some kind of bridge. She displayed some of the signs: no eye contact, no speech, but her disconnect from the world around her seemed to break at times. Sometimes when the boys shouted at her she would look at them, a look of pure fire, that would choke them into silence. I didn't catch it often, but when I did... Honestly it frightened me. The rest of the teachers had seen the same, she had no interest in what was happening, except for what was outside, the woodland bordering the school.
I was dejected every time I left the class, every time I saw them on my timetable. I was talking to her less and less, focusing on the rest of the class as best I could, getting them back to the level they had been. Gradually they were starting to get better, until just over a month later.
I was tired, sitting at my desk and trying to write out a lesson plan. I had 4B later on in the day, and I was not looking forward to it. Petyr walked up and tapped me on the shoulder, and I looked up at him quickly. I had been half asleep.
"Your have another new student, I'm afraid."
I gaped at him. "Not in 4B again."
"I'm afraid so."
I groaned. Dalma was giving me enough trouble. "You have some information about this one though, right?"
Petyr nodded and sighed. I didn't like the sound of that sigh. "She is called Mira. She is...or rather she was in 5B."
"She's been put back a year? Why?"
"She is too far behind the rest of her class, and there have been other problems. She is very disruptive, especially with other students. I think she will be a challenge."
I rubbed my head. "Is there any way to put her in another class? 4B has enough problems, I've barely got them back on track. There's been no progress with Dalma, with this girl in there too it'll be a disaster."
"I will ask if you wish."
"I have a class with them later on, maybe it'll be fine. If not, then I'll ask myself."
When the bell went that afternoon I had my things gathered together, ready to go. As I got up from my desk someone tapped me on the shoulder, and I found my self nose to nose with the headmaster. Petyr was beside him, and after the headmaster had spoken he cleared his throat, translating.
"The headmaster is concerned about Dalma, in 4B. The school has been unable to contact her parents. We fear they may have left the town."
I raised an eyebrow. "Petyr, I have that class right now. Can this wait?"
"I'm afraid not."
"How can you be sure they've left?"
"After we called them we asked around for an address. No one answered when someone knocked at the door. We tried several times. It turns out that she was registered to the school by a neighbour."
That was odd, but I had no time to process the information. I sighed. "What do you want from me exactly? I really have to go."
"After your class take her to the office, we have a specialist coming in to speak with her."
I heard the class before I saw them, and groaned. Running late meant that it would take an extra few minutes to settle the class down. As my hand touched the door handle I remembered Mira, the new student, and as I opened the door I saw why Petyr said she would be a challenge.
Mira was at least three inches taller than the rest of 4B, and she was leering down at Orsi, who was looking distressed. As I stepped into the room she shouted a loud "Hello" at me before stalking to the back of the room. Orsi was staring at the table, and Roberta was comforting her. I fixed Mira with a glare, studying her as she grinned obstinately back. Her hair was blonde and cropped into a bob cut. She was dressed in a manner that suggested that mummy and daddy were rich enough to spoil her endlessly. Her skin was tanned from holidays, and likely from a tanning bed. I could see why she was so disruptive, she was not used to being told "no".
After a few minutes the class was settled and I launched into the lesson. Orsi had brightened up a little and was doing well, and the boys were a little better than they had been for weeks. Mira got up a few times, but I got her back in her seat quickly. As for Dalma, she was doing exactly what she always did, staring out of the window. The weather had brightened, summer was approaching, and her window was wide open. The windows were huge, and the health and safety side of me made me uneasy. The drop to the ground had to be around twenty feet. The students rarely went near them though, thankfully, and I would always close the windows or leave them ajar if it looked like there would be a problem.
After a few more minutes I tried to engage with Dalma, and I was met with silence. Mira looked over at her and snapped something in Hungarian. Dalma didn't react. I called out a warning to Mira, who shrugged and rolled her eyes, and I warned her again, a little sharper. The second my back was turned though, there was a shrill howl from the back of the room.
Mira had Dalma's braid wrapped around her hand and was yanking it back, screaming Hungarian in her face. Dalma was the one howling. The sound of it froze me to the spot. It was barely human, and cut through the air like a knife. Mira's other hand was grabbing Dalma's face, forcing her to look her in the eye. As I started towards them Mira's fist cocked back and struck Dalma across the nose.
"MIRA!" I roared as I approached. The rest of the class were shouting too. She held her hands up like a footballer who had just broken another players leg. I beckoned her over to me, and she stayed where she was, sputtering Hungarian at me like she was being punished for doing nothing wrong. Behind her Dalma stood up, and Mira looked around at her.
The movement was so quick. Dalma had a chair in her hands, sweeping it around like it was a bat. It connected with Mira's jaw with a bloody crack, and she fell against the window sill. There were screams behind me as I ran at them. I was six feet away when Dalma took hold of Mira's legs and flipped her through the open window. Now I was screaming, reaching for Dalma, but my fingers only brushed her shoulder as she dived out of the window after the bully.
I heard the wet thud of a body hitting the concrete floor and looked out frantically. Mira lay sprawled out, unmoving. Dalma was bent over her. She had landed cleanly. I shouted her name and her head whipped around to look at me. She had blood on her lips, and a look of cold, wild fury. She took a hold of Mira's neck and ran, dragging the bully along behind her. The children behind me were crying. I didn't know what to do, I felt completely powerless. What were you thinking? You're supposed to protect them. I heard a low moan, and realised it was coming from me. Dalma was ripping at a hole in the wire fence between the playground and the woods, and as I watched she dragged Mira through it and disappeared into the trees.
I collapsed against the
table Dalma had been sitting at, numb. I heard the door burst open
behind me, felt hands on my shoulder and heard words of confusion and
hysteria, some of comfort. None of it mattered. A girl was dead, and
it was my fault.