…an accusation, charge or imputation of blame as a result of formal proceedings, leading to some form of censure, prosecution or condemnation
“So Mr MacSweeny… you think you’re the right man for the job?” was the first question asked; it was also the first question to which Oscar had to lie. He thought briefly of constructing an overly complex response in which he could disguise the truth – which was that he was not the right man for the job, that he was, if the truth had to be told, the wrong man for the job, that he would, if he had to be honest, not even nearly reach the minimum expectations that the panel would ascribe to, and that they would, each member of the panel, regret the day that they accepted him for the job, regardless of the desperation they might have felt to fill the post in the middle of the academic year.
“A perfect fit.” Oscar smiled the smile of the man who new his game was up but hadn’t finished trying – it was a kind of faint smile which flitted across his face from time to time, which didn’t really show in his eyes and which didn’t reveal his teeth as it didn’t sufficiently stretch his thin lips.
But the panel, a series of four grey and dour faces, gave nothing away. They didn’t even respond in kind to Oscar’s smiles of civility, the kind of smile you accede to when you meet your window cleaner in the fresh vegetable isle of the supermarket, or when you walk past a colleague for the tenth time along one or another corridor and are too familiar with each other to make some comment about “having to stop meeting like this.”
So Oscar directed his smile instead at the even more severe face of the headmasters through the ages, whose portraits were aligned above the heads of the panel.
“Two years at Didsbury Girls?” the headmaster asked.
It was only at this point that it dawned on Oscar that he was confronted by a panel of judges which had been carefully selected from the severe and the merciless of the local district, a panel of judges which would pass sentence on him and which wouldn’t be affected by the niceties of social interaction – this was not a moment for any kind of levity or facetiousness.
“I learnt so much at Didsbury Girls,” Oscar offered; he realised that he would have trouble elucidating upon this statement and so pulled himself up short.
As Oscar dwelt upon the fact that he had in fact very little to say for himself and that he should really confine himself to brief answers and polite smiles, the panel of the severe and the merciless were readying themselves for an onslaught.
The headmaster standing up and taking from his inside jacket pocket a letter printed on thick expensive paper, was to be the signal to the rest of the panel: the woman whose eyebrows were hidden in the wrinkles of her furrowed brow, the priest who would have been sleeping through the process if it didn’t promise to be a form of cruel entertainment, and the middle aged man with the weight of the world on his shoulders who was hoping for some form of distraction – they all sat up in their seats and readied themselves for the feature presentation – the trial of Oscar MacSweeny, reprobate, failure and chancer.
“I have here,” announced the headmaster, his eyebrows arching, “a letter from your former headmistress… a Mrs R P Merryweather, who went to great pains to warn us of the type of man you really are.”
Oscar was more struck by a sense of anticipation and curiosity than any sense of disappointment, desperation, anxiety or any other such feeling which would have struck a any other mere mortal upon the production of such a grisly and unsightly means of inflicting justice.
When Oscar offered no audible response, not even the faintest of whimpers, the panel let out an audible sigh of disappointment, and the headmaster, his eyebrows still arched, deigned to continue with the words “if I might read an extract… perhaps the third paragraph of the second page.”
Oscar couldn’t help but acknowledge the hungry gazes of the assembled panel with a quick smile and a nod.
“I knew Mr MacSweeny would be a problem,” read the headmaster, in his grandest monotone voice, “when, on the second day of his first term, he was to be seen walking into school after the start of assembly and spitting his chewing gum onto the manicured front lawn.”
Oscar sat back in his chair now, feeling at last able to relax. Deceiving people, misrepresenting himself, or what can simply be termed “lying” – made Oscar feel somewhat uneasy. Not that he thought a moment about the moral implications of lying, of how the foundations of civil society would crumble if everybody lied; it was just that he would rather not feel the need to lie. Oscar hoped that he could present himself to the world as he really was and that the world would open its arms and embrace him (metaphorically speaking of course, as Oscar wasn’t a toucher, feeler or hugger of others) – though if an outrageous lie could make his life even subtly better, he wouldn’t have hesitated for a moment.
There was no modulation in the headmaster’s voice, even when he got to the subsection, which Oscar himself had to smile at, concerning Oscar’s greatest shame – being revealed to the whole staff of Didsbury Girls as the guilty party in the case of the missing shortbread, having been caught red handed pilfering biscuits between lessons and not waiting for Rec. thereby showing the restraint which was to be expected of any decent and upstanding human being.
“You are in fact, not the right man for the job,” the headmaster concluded.
Oscar thought for a moment and felt that he could hardly, at this point, not nod his acceptance of the charges laid out before him and accept the conclusion of the panel.