David Thomas looked at his watch. 2:00 pm, he couldn’t keep them outside any longer He got up walked to the door and opened it.
“Take your seats, QUIETLY.” He told the class as they filed through the door. He’d already had enough of this but at fifty five he had to hang on that bit longer before he retired. Education had changed, and not for the better in his opinion. When he’d been at school the teachers were like gods. The children respected them, and those that didn’t, knew enough to be afraid. It was not the same any more. Ever since the war things had been changing and now in 1962 the children felt able to assert themselves. They seemed naturally rebellious. It was no longer good enough to say “because I said so” you needed to justify everything.
He watched the boy come in and walk to his place. At fourteen years old, he was five feet ten, already four inches taller than David. His hair was all over the place, his jacket, though clean, was just thrown on. His shoes scuffed. This boy took no interest in his appearance. 'It’s a pity’ thought David 'that his work was just as untidy.’ The head of maths described him as "Promising". The Science teacher described him as "Potential university material." The lad had some talent, but he'd never realise his true potential unless he improved his presentation. He’d tried to change the lad, but it turned into a battle of wills with the boy soaking up everything, and still refusing to change. Nevertheless, David knew he would triumph. He was the teacher, the one in charge.
The boy took his seat. 'Double English,' he thought, 'another hour and a half to get through.' It wasn’t that he didn’t like English; he quite enjoyed some of it. No, it was this teacher, Mr Thomas, who made the lesson something to be endured. This lesson just like every other would be filled with jibes and sharp comments about his writing and his presentation. He couldn’t understand why, surely it is the content that is important. In art lessons things had to look good but surely in English what you wrote that was more important than what it looked like.
He’d tried, just like his mum told him, to improve.
“If he sees that you are making an effort he’ll back off,” she’d said.
She didn’t know Mr Thomas. He’d pulled out an exercise book of the type children used when first moving from print to joined up writing.
“Since you seem to be incapable of forming even the simplest of letters correctly, you will do all future work in this book.” He bellowed. He showed the whole class the book and most of them sniggered. “When you’ve learned to write neatly and correctly you can use the same books as everyone else.”
The boy tried to prepare himself while wondering what form the torture would take this time. He answered his name when the teacher called the register, and waited for the inevitable.
“Have you marked our essays sir?” Asked a girl at the front of the class.
“Indeed I have. Am I to take it that you’d like to see the results?”
“Yes please sir.”
David Thomas got up from his desk. He picked up the pile of books and started walking up and down the aisles, calling out the name of the pupil whose book was on top of the pile. As he identified each pupil he would flick to the end of the work and read his comment.
“Good work Jennifer. –Johnson I despair of you.—Hillary you need to work on that grammar.”
And so he went on, each pupil got their work back and a little comment from the teacher. When he reached the bottom of the pile he went back and sat at his desk.
“On the whole maybe a little better than I expected,” he said. Looking up, he saw the boy with his hand raised.
“Yes boy what do you want?”
“I haven’t got my work back sir.”
“You haven’t got your work back.” He sighed. “Name?” he asked though he knew full well the boy’s name.
“Kevin Hodges sir.”
“Hodges? Hodges” he said as he looked through the few remaining books on the desk. “Ah Yes”.
He picked up the book and gave it to a girl in the front row.
“Pass that back to Hodges”
The girl turned and row by row the boy’s book came back to him. Opening the book he turned to his last entry. He searched for the grade or any comments but found nothing.
“It's not marked, sir.”
“Not marked? What do you mean not marked? Stand up when you are talking to me boy.”
The boy stood and David Thomas got out of his chair and moved towards him. Another boy was playing with a wooden ruler trying to make a twanging noise over the edge of the desk. Mr Thomas immediately snatched it from him as he marched up the aisle. He reached out his hand, and the boy gave him the book. He took a quick glance at it.
“Well of course I haven’t marked it. In order to mark it I would need to have read it.”
He held the book open and showed the class.
“Why would I punish my eyes by making them look at this mess?" he asked rhetorically."It looks like a spider has crawled out of the inkwell and walked all over the page.”
This remark produced a few giggles, especially from the girls, but it only heightened the boy’s embarrassment.
He wasn't sure whether the comments were aimed at him or the class in general. He knew it didn't require an answer but he felt he had to defend himself.
“But you can read it. My mum says it’s easy to read”
“My mum says it’s easy to read.” The teacher said in a baby voice. “I can read it boy, Of course I can read it. The question is why should I read it? Just look at it boy, is there anything that makes me want to read it?” He didn’t give the boy chance to answer.
“This is the top stream in the school you are supposed to be destined for high places. What are you going to do boy, if you ever get a job that requires you to write reports? Hmm answer me boy what are you going to do?”
The answer came in a slow forceful tone.
“Learn to type.”
David Thomas, already angry, lost control. He dropped the book on the desk and lashed out at the boy’s face with his hand, the same hand that held the wooden ruler.
The slap stung his face, and the ruler cut into his ear. He rubbed his hand over the side of his face and noticed a small speck of blood that had come from his ear. Before he’d grown so tall he had to deal with bullies. He knew not to shed a single tear.
David Thomas suddenly aware of what he had done, backed off, and then tried to reassert his authority.
“I will not tolerate such insolence. Do you hear me?”
The boy stared at him with eyes full of hatred as he packed up his books and pencil case. He pushed back the chair and moved out into the aisle.
Conscious of the damage this boy could do to him David Thomas backed away.
The boy turned, not towards his teacher but towards the door.
“WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING?” yelled the teacher “I’VE NOT FINISHED WITH YOU”
The boy continued to walk. He opened the door and with his teacher still shouting, was gone.
Outside in the corridor the peace was shattered by the sound of his hard shoes striking the tiled floor. His heart pounded and he could feel his temples throbbing, He didn’t notice a girl from his class run past him in the corridor. His mind was focussed only on the exit. He reached it, and walked out straight across the sports field headed for the school gate. He’d expected someone to try to stop him but no one did.
His anger drove him on almost blindly. He barely noticed the large cream coloured Ambulance that swung round the corner and headed towards the school with its bell ringing to clear the way.
He wasn't sure how far he'd walked, but as his anger subsided his pace slowed. Cutting through the park he was drawn to the empty swings. Sitting down he started to swing back and forth as thoughts ran through his head.
'Mum would be proud of me,' he thought." Walk away," she'd told him."Don't let your anger get the better of you. You don't want to end up like your father."
Kevin didn't remember much about his father
He thought about the events of the afternoon and realised that his mum wouldn't be proud at all, because he couldn't tell her. They couldn't afford for her to take a morning off work so she could tear strips off the headmaster. That would surely be the result if he told her what happened. If he didn't tell her, he only had to worry about what the school would do. 'Detention,' he thought. 'Maybe they would cane him. He would probably have to apologise to Mr Thomas, No problem, he could do that. If it was a choice between six strokes of the cane, and detention, he'd take the beating.' Detention meant having to explain why he was late home.
He looked at his watch; he'd be home two hours early today. Two hours to read his James Bond novel. Yes tomorrow there would be repercussions, but today he had an extra two hours of freedom.
For David Thomas there would be no repercussions, indeed there would be no tomorrows. His pupils had seen his face getting redder during the altercation with Kevin. As the boy left the class, he'd intended to follow him out into the corridor but his legs no longer wanted to support him. He started to crumple and his chest felt like he'd been kicked by a horse. Some of the class gathered round him and one girl went for help.
The last thing he was aware of was being lifted onto a stretcher by the ambulance driver. The man looked down at him and in that moment his face seemed to morph into that of Kevin Hodges. Kevin Smiled.