Lunchtime arrives. The children file into the canteen. The head dinner lady and her crew are lined up behind the day’s offerings and are soon busy scooping and ladling pasta and vegetables, sponge and custard into the institutional plastic plate-trays. As ever the food disappears quickly, too quickly, and on a table in the far corner of the room the assembled boys begin to whisper and nudge one of their number. Ollie rises from his chair. He is still hungry, he’s always hungry, and so more than willing to be the one to return the serving hatch that separates the kitchen and the dining area.
Having finished serving for the day the kitchen staff are all keen to get home. Busy tidying up what they can whilst waiting for the institutional crockery and cutlery they do not see the boy approach. He has to say it twice before anyone hears.
‘Please Miss, can I have some more, I want some more Miss, please.’
‘I’m sorry sweetheart there is no more. Back to your table now there’s a good boy.’
With all eyes on him Ollie’s walk back to his seat is a long one. His neck is red with shame. His stomach rumbles still.
Later that afternoon two of this year’s assigned university students walk to the nearest shop. Buying apples and bananas and some budget-brand biscuits they pay with money collected in the staff room before the teachers returned to their classes following the lunch-break. Despite the need to eke out their own meagre income they too contributed. The knowledge that the children will at least be able to concentrate on the end of day story rather than be distracted by their aching, empty tummies is reward enough.
There is a TV attached to the wall in the far corner of the shop. The proprietor turns up the sound as the trainee teachers leave.
There are cheers as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their new baby leave the hospital. Something to celebrate indeed, for this child, currently asleep in his mother’s arms, will never experience the physical deprivation and associated emotional distress so familiar to Ollie and his friends.