Violet flopped down on the leather swivel chair and whirled around studying the office. The counseling office was spacious, yet a little stark. The only furniture in the office was the table and chairs around it. An empty fridge stood at one corner of the office, beside it was a bookshelf that was stacked with books she doubted were ever opened. The hum of the AC above her was the only sound in the room. On the table, was a flower vase with plastic flowers. No attempt was made to add a personal feeling to the office, but the more Violet looked around the office, the more she wanted to decorate it to suit her taste. Change the curtains to deeper colors; stock the fridge with water and snacks for students when they came for counseling, place more interesting books on the shelf… She shook her head and opened the book she’d brought to keep her company for the one and a half hour she was supposed to sit in the office.
“You’re not supposed to do much, just sit there. The students don’t come to get counseling. Once in a while, you could get a student or two. But that is rare.” Mrs. Irene had explained to her as she escorted her to the office when the bell for the last period had been rung.
The counseling office was opened to the students during the last period of school and would remain open until an hour after school. Her time-table was barely affected by the change, only she had to return home a little later than usual.
An hour had passed, during which she had switched off the AC two times and switched it back on again. The bell signaling the end of school sounded a few minutes ago and she was itching to leave the office. She decided that she would rather remain in the staffroom with signs of life around her than to remain holed up in the cold office. She abandoned the book she had been reading and was now looking through her phone. Was this how she was supposed to spend almost two hours of her time?
She was thinking about this when a knock sounded on her door. It sounded reluctant. She heard shuffles behind the door.
“Come in,” she said a little too excitedly. At least someone to keep her company even if it was only for a few minutes.
Some seconds passed before the door opened slowly. A girl poked her head in through the small space. “Ma?”
“Oh! come in.” Violet was about to stand up with a warm smile on her face. Was this one of the rare occasions when students came in for counseling?
Very reluctantly, the girl came into the office and closed the door behind her. She remained by the door for some seconds before she took a deep breath and walked towards the table.
Violet maintained her warm smile. She straightened up on her seat and silenced her phone and put it aside. “Have a seat, dear.” She gestured at the chair opposite her.
The girl gave her a shaky smile and sat down. She looked around the office biting her lip. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Violet.”
Violet nodded. “Good afternoon. What’s your name?”
“My name is Grace. I’m in Js2.”
“You’re here for counseling?” For the first time, Violet realized that she didn’t have any idea how to go about counseling students. Back in the College of Education, she offered a course on how to deal with students with psychological problems, but it had only been an elective and didn’t deal deeply with the subject.
The girl bobbed her head up and down, and then shook it.
Violet looked at her. “Do you have any problems with school? Your teachers? Friends?”
The girl shook her head and licked her lips. “Ma, my friends wanted to ask if we could come for counseling?” she asked in a rush.
Violet shot back in surprise. “Uhm, isn’t that what this office is for?” she asked slowly.
“I know ma. But the other teachers don’t really listen to the students. Whenever we come, they tell us to go to the next teacher. The only person that listens is Mrs. Irene and when she does, she would use some cases as examples in her classes.”
“Really?” Violet looked at the girl.
She nodded her head sharply. “My friends are outside. We are among the ones that wrote your name because of how you teach. Maybe, you will allow us to talk to you. The other students don’t say it, but I’m sure they will appreciate the opportunity.”
What the school needs is a trained counselor, Violet thought. “They can come in if they want.” In her mind, Violet was imagining the extra baggage that would come with the work. How many students were waiting for the opportunity?
“The way students line up in front of this office every day it’s your turn, you will think that it is because you are sharing money.” Chinwe opened the fridge and brought out a bottle of water. She opened it and gulped it down.
“My dear. I’m getting tired as well. When you think you’re almost done, another student will just knock on the door.” Violet stirred her cup of coffee. She raised it to her lips and blew at it.
“What do they even talk about? I noticed that most of them are girls. I thought the other teachers said they didn’t like talking to teachers.” Chinwe looked through the window.
Violet eyed the gray curtains. She didn’t like the dull color. “A lot.” She shook her head slowly. “You don’t want to know. Most of the time, I just have to listen and they do most of the talking. It’s good for them.”
Chinwe clicked her tongue in agreement. “I agree with you. It’s probably because it is you. Most of them like you a lot, don’t you think? Compared to other teachers, even me. I try to be friendly with them but they just remain polite, all “thank you ma” “God bless you ma”, but with you, it is something else.”
Violet shrugged. “I don’t know too. I just try to be what they need. You know, I just allow them to talk. It doesn’t matter if it is the boy in their class they have a crush on or the Korean series they watched during the weekend, just let them talk. When they talk, you understand them more. They open up to you when you give them space. Space, that is important to them. Give them a little space, allow them to have their thoughts, be willing to listen to them…that’s it for me.”
“Mmn?” Chinwe clapped lightly. “You are really good at this o. Are you sure they will not just make you the guidance counselor? The principal should consider it.”
“Guidance what?” Violet waved her hand in the air. “No, I’m not interested. It’s a good thing to sit and talk with the kids, but really? Become a guidance counselor? It’s not what I want to do.”
“I know.” A knock sounded on the door. “Hmm, another one has come. Let me allow you to do your work.” She stood up and went to the door. “Go inside,” she told the student at the door and went out.
Violet took a deep breath and immediately put on her ‘counselor’ smile and faced the young girl that had entered the office with a shy smile.