17. The Runner
Updated: Apr 15, 2020
Agree the rules, publish them everywhere, make policing highly visible, give regular, honest feedback and praise the leaders of Eydon Vale’s recovery whoever they were. That was our action plan in brief. Among those leaders was Noha Malek, the Year 8 pupil recently arrived from Somalia, nicknamed “The Runner”. Another was Dr Adam Awad, a volunteer Art Assistant at Eydon Vale and a refugee from Syria. In better days, he had written a series of scholarly articles on the history of mosaics. He had spotted Noha’s talent as a watercolourist and offered her one-to-one lunchtime tutorials in English and Art.
When the Acting Head visited the Art Department, Adam showed her one of her pieces. “It’s painted from memory. Don’t you love the feathery palm leaves? Amazing when you think she's never been to school since she was eight. I think Noha should go to College when she leaves school. But she will never make it unless her English improves. What do you think?”
Rhiannon had made a rule that the school corridors be clear of children during the midday break. Forthright but charming, Adam, who had formerly been the Deputy Principal of an international school, was unabashed. He argued that the gap between the most and least able at Eydon Vale was unacceptable. A catch-up class would allow him to bring Noha’s reading and writing up to an acceptable standard. Miss Starr promptly offered to print a special pass with Noha’s photograph on it.
Adam’s Francophone emphasis on the mechanics of language suited Noha. She quickly grasped the notion of subjects and predicates and the role of verbs in sentence construction. She began to employ full stops more accurately. Soon she was consciously shaping her prose. The Art Department had four old laptops and Adam taught Noha how to click onto synonyms. She started embellishing her stories with outlandish adverbs and adjectives.
One lunchtime, there were sounds of a fight outside the door. When Adam opened it, he could see a Year 10 lad sprawled on the floor. He had tripped and fallen hard against the door frame. In her story, Noha described his arm as hanging ‘limply’. He looked ‘deathly pale’. Adam did not even have to shout. One hard look ‘terminated’ the fight. He made all the intruders line up against the wall, file into the art room and sit at the back ‘looking foolish’. “Could you run down to the Deputy Head’s office,” Adam had asked Noha, “and tell him that Andy Grey has been seriously hurt?”
According to the novella Noha was writing for Adam, I was ‘stuffing the foul remnant of an egg
sandwich” into my mouth. Apparently, my eyes looked into Noha’s, ‘dead cold and piercingly cerulean’. She had had to muster all her courage, but she looked straight back at me. In a garbled memory of Blake, she compared the anger in them to ‘a furnace of the night.’
Like Adam and Rhiannon, I was amazed and delighted by Noha's progress. That morning the Head of PE had sent me a flier about an Easter Training School for “future Olympians”. She confirmed that Noha’s running times were at a national standard and we decided to put her name forward. If she was given a place, it would be good for her and for Eydon Vale.