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Only Once

The look on his face told her he thought a Drama specialist wasn’t up to the challenge of teaching Maths at Ace Academy.

Pretending she hadn’t noticed she said, “Lydia Bee.”

“Tom Webb.”

Squeezing his eyes shut for a second then forcing them open again he asked her if she’d like a Mini Mars Bar. An open bag on his cluttered desk.

Lydia shook her head. Followed him up two flights of steps. The smell of disinfectant stronger as they passed walls scarred by savage gouges and painted over obscenities.

“Don’t let them take your lanyard,” Tom Webb said when they reached the classroom.

It bore the ravages of war.

Though currently 10X5 sat silent and still.

The Head Teacher scowled from the front. Didn’t re-direct his glare from the hostile faces even when Tom Webb cleared his throat and announced, “Ms Bee’s here.”

She felt the weight of thirty pairs of eyes.

Daring them to speak or move the Head Teacher pushed out his chin.

His challenge declined he strode from the classroom.

Immediately, movement erupted in the ranks. Students giggled. One stage-whispered, “Supply!”

Tom Webb scowled. “Did somebody comment?”

Through the classroom windows Lydia glimpsed a football field bordered by winter-naked trees.

“Their work ’s on the desk,” Tom Webb said. Looked in need of a Mini Mars Bar when he added, “I’ll be back at the end of the lesson.”

He was no more than three paces away when 10X5 started in on her. Their clamour to inflict suffering manifest as a feral stench that, strong as it was, the disinfectant failed to mask.

It was a stench she was familiar with.

Steeled against it, Lydia peered down at the work set as a paper dart sailed from the back of the room and someone called, “Are you a bumble, Ms Bee?”

It prompted laughter followed by a chorus of buzzing.

Experience told 10X5 she’d shout at or try to reason with them.

Lydia knew if she did either, their cruelty would gather momentum. Why instead she shook herself like a dog emerging from a lake. Then cupped her face with her hands.

As she knew it would, the laughter and buzzing stopped.

Now she had their attention she sobbed uncontrollably.

Long seconds passed.

A lad near the front said, “Are you alright?”

Lydia held the subsequent silence as if it were a silky thread.

Before lowering her hands to let them see her tears.

“My sister was…murdered,” she said.

Tom Webb opened the classroom door. Saw 10X5 were hunched over their exercise books.

On the way back to Reception he said, “Lydia? This is a challenging school. And 10X5? I don’t think I’ve ever… What I’m trying to say is... Would you like to do more supply work here?”

Lydia said, “I’m flattered, really I am, but my methods work…”

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