Allen pulled his scarf up and over his nose. It was autumn, but as cold as if it were winter. He shuffled his position against the tree that supported his back, while trying to remember why he was sitting out in the cold with a dusty old sketchbook on his knees, looking at a view of grey, peeling wall.
"I want you to leave this classroom with your sketchbooks and find a place within the school that inspires you. Somewhere that is special to you, anything to get those creative fires burning. Then I want you to draw whatever comes to your mind. We will meet back here in an hour."
The class (including Allen) rolled their eyes at their hopeless teacher and her desperate attempts to make art class bearable. Allen wished she would get a clue that school was a place where creativity or imagination or whatever she was going on about did not thrive.
Students fumbled with their books and headed towards the door, pleased at this chance to skip class or even skive off school together. Not that this was unusual. Half the time kids didn't bother showing up at all for Ms White's class. Everyone was wise to the fact that Ms White was a feeble woman who couldn't handle her pupils and lived in some dreamland where teenagers were willing to participate in her weak lessons exploring their individuality and 'unleashing their minds' as she often put it.
Allen stood up from his seat by the window (where his attention was usually held by the view outside) and studied his art teacher. Long, wispy grey hair that was so fine it tangled. Or that could be because of the weather. Autumn winds were lethal. He found it strange that Ms White couldn't be older than mid-twenties, yet she had a full head of silver. Bleak, pale skin surrounded a pair of sad brown eyes, which looked almost red in a certain light.
A giant, worn-through grey woollen sweater swallowed her body leaving no definable shape to her figure. Accompanying that was a long, black skirt that went past her knees. Shabby black stockings with noticeable holes covered her skinny legs, disappearing into the ancient brown lace-ups that completed the strange outfit.
Ms. White met his gaze and Allen was quick to avert his eyes. He felt almost guilty that this woman was shunned amongst the school. It's wasn't like she did anything wrong, she just didn't
.fit. At least, that answer was good enough to quieten Allen's conscience as he hurried out of the room.
He didn't dare hang in the hallways in case he bumped into any prowling teachers. His excuse that it was Ms. White's fault might not go down well with them, even if they mostly blanked her too. That left Allen wondering if the woman had any friends at all.
Exiting the corridor, he wondered whether he should just ditch, like most of his classmates. The chilling air gave him his answer. It would be torture to walk home in the cold, so he decided to stay. Turning, he saw a tree nearby, behind which he would be hidden from most of the school windows.
Making a beeline for the tree, Allen slid down its trunk and sprawled on the ground, kicking up a neat pile of autumn leaves as he went. He had forgotten to bring his music player and had only one measly stick of chewing gum to his name. Allen put it in his mouth, ignoring the coating of pocket-fluff that then settled on his tongue and looked around for something or someone to entertain himself with. No such luck. No-one really went around this area and the courtyard was empty. Allen felt envious of his peers; even if they were locked up in some dumb old classroom at least they were mildly warm.
Allen felt a sneeze coming on and felt disgusting that he didn't have anything to blow his snotty nose with. Sniffing as hard as he could, he glanced at the only thing in his line of vision; a big, brick wall. Allen heard Ms. White's voice in his head, telling him to find a place that inspired him. To do what exactly? Drive him over the edge and set the school on fire? He smirked at his wild fantasy, but his mood dropped soon enough when he remembered that he was sitting outside in the cold with a slab of brick to keep him company.
Then Allen tried to think of the context in a more serious sense. Inspiration. What inspiration? He couldn't think of the last time he had been inspired to do something. Provoked, maybe, but not inspired. And if he did get some burst of imagination it definitely wouldn't be at school. School was dull, slow and demoralising. The lessons all blended together and even the teachers had given up on showing much spirit.
Except for Ms White.
Maybe that was why people rejected her and her ideas. Allen pondered on this notion.
Ms. White always looked so sad, but somehow her words still sounded hopeful. She always tried to urge people to do their best and open their eyes to endless possibilities. Allen had ignored her most of the time and he certainly wasn't alone in that. Still, Ms White didn't give up on them. She thought that everyone was special in their own way. He recalled her saying once that people were unique , and that everyone had a chance to become somebody instead of just someone.
Unique? Special? Allen hadn't heard those words in a long time, but for some reason, they caused him to glow a little on the inside. Could he be special and unique too?
A hand went to his matted blonde hair, which fell past his jawline and hid his blue eyes, and he felt a crackly, amber leaf that was caught in it. He tugged at his hair to free it and the leaf fell onto his open sketchbook. The striking orange colour of the leaf bled into the white page and Allen's lips slowly parted in a small grin.
He was confused as to why he was smiling but he didn't bother questioning himself. For now he was happy, even if he had no idea why.
Placing the book on the ground, leaf intact within its pages, Allen stood back to look once again at the wall in front of him. He approached it and put his hand on the crusty grey paintwork and began to idly scratch at a loose bit, finding beneath it a shred of faded pink. Confused as to why there was a random smear of pastel colouring, Allen combed harder at the wall, and peelings of paint fell off to show mixes of pinks and blues and greens. His knuckles were coated with the remnants of the coarse overcoat.
Keeping his eyes on the wall, Allen took a couple of steps backwards, until his back met the tree. Squinting, he looked closer and detected strange shadows of some image, just visible under grey paint. He could only make out faint shapes and was puzzled as to what he was looking at.
Whatever it was, Allen needed to know more. He picked up his sketchbook and turned back to the school building, thinking madly, leaving a trail through the forest of fallen autumn leaves. He didn't even notice the cold wind on his face.