If anything positive could have been said about the first half-term, then he thought that it ought to have been that the school had not burnt down.
There had been the incident on the first day, a curious affair before the kids had arrived at registration. He had been somewhat delayed with his PPT (Personal Pep Talk) given to him by his leading manager, head teacher and TTP (Total Toss Pot), Mark Bayliss who had singled his ageing history teacher out for a little positive correction. He wished to draw attention to the need for PMA (Positive Mental Attitudes) and had tried to suggest that this year the ageing teacher should take a back seat and let other younger, more dynamic individuals take up the strain. Bayliss liked to think of himself as an expert in these matters.
“Think about your retirement. You don’t want all the stress of leading a big department to accompany you into that do you? You are considering taking early retirement, aren’t you?” he asked hopefully. “I’ve known very dedicated professionals like yourself who have dropped dead six months after they have retired. Now we wouldn’t want that to happen to you, would we?”
Bayliss could have gone on for much longer if he hadn’t received an urgent call from his caretaker telling him that there had been a small infestation of rats in the cellars during the summer months and there was still some poison down to catch the more persistent of the pests. As with all bad news, Bayliss preferred keep it out of public view so indicated for the History teacher to leave. He would deal with him in good time.
After the brief interlude for ‘internal rain’ and the subsequent time spent settling the school, the rusting clockwork routines began to turn over like a spluttering old engine. It was back to normal, but he always thought that ‘normal’ was not a word that could ever be used to describe St Agnes’s. The abnormal, the unacceptable and the downright disgraceful were what the school now seemed to do best at.
Of the abnormal, the arrival of the Andrews brothers stood out in a very positive way. Michael, who was in his History classes, came with glowing reports. At last, he would have the type of student who would actually show interest in the subject. According to the references from his previous school, he was a boy who read ahead and around the subject. At last, Mr Hunter thought, somebody who had something special about him.
On the other hand, a certain Liam Flowers had been reintroduced to full-time education and had managed to attend lessons for the first day followed by occasional lessons thereafter. His pattern of attendance provoked sighs of resignation amongst the teaching staff and an admiration bordering on worship from many of the students. There was an exterior calm that he could not fully accept was a result of improved teacher/student relations. It was as if it had been self-imposed, a ceasefire, or a bluff. He had heard through the grapevine that the first day’s rain delay had something to do with Podrall’s gang picking a fight with the older Andrews boy and this supported his instinct that all was not as well as it may have appeared.
Equally as interesting was that the Flowers’ boy who had come to them from a unit. Unit, Mr Hunter understood to be what he would have called Borstal, ‘the pad for bad lads’. This, the History teacher did not hold against the boy. Many unfortunate lads had ended up making the wrong decisions or falling in with a bad crowd, but something told him that this may not have been the case with Liam. Liam was different. He was, and the teacher pondered this, specialand not in a way that appeared to be promising.
The first time Mr Hunter had ever laid eyes upon him was when he entered his first history lesson of the day. On that morning, the lesson following the delayed registration, he entered the classroom to the sound of near silence. More than three decades in the job had told him that this was not a good thing. Indeed, like in the westerns he loved so much, silence meant only one thing and that was not good for keeping ones wellbeing. So when he strode into the room, half thinking that he might be scalped, he was amazed to find a perfectly ordered set of desks (desks that had not been upturned or damaged in any way) with a full class of students, all boys, sitting behind them. This is when they tie you to the totem pole, he thought. That was when he spotted him.
The lad was doing a miraculous parody of what a St Agnes student ought to look and behave like. His tie mischievously pulled up towards an unbuttoned collar belonging to a shirt that that appeared to be fully tucked into the waistband of his grey, regulation, trousers. No baseball hat perched provocatively upon his head and no sign of a football top beneath his school shirt. His ‘Yes Sir’ in response to his name being called out on the register did arouse a few titters from the class, but beyond that there was nothing malicious about the way he acted. Nevertheless, there was something deeply wrong.
The teacher had gotten accustomed to the dramatic growth spurts of his adolescent students during the summer breaks. Many boys came back sporting newly acquired facial hair whilst the girls just filled out in those places young women were apt to fill out in. Some other girls had taken the opportunity to experiment with the opposite sex and began to show the first stages of pregnancies. Many would not finish their first attempts at an education. Graham Hunter had seen all of this before and, although it saddened him, he accepted it as the way things were for better or for worse. Nothing could surprise him any longer, or so he thought.
If the teacher had seen Liam before the holidays, he would have been surprised. In fact, he would have taken an awful lot of convincing that the boy sitting in his classroom now was the same one who had, only months earlier, been released into the care of one James Harrison (RIP).
Flowers had grown.
His neck was thicker, his arms had become like those of a man and his frame was sturdier. Beyond the merely physical, the teacher would have been astounded by the mental, the miraculously magnificent mental leap that the boy had made during his spell with his carer. Liam Flowers had always been accompanied by an extremely low reading age. His had never been at a standard one would expect from a seven-year-old, never mind a boy of sixteen. This new incarnation of the boy who had struggled to learn, even just the rudimentary skills required for a successful life, had progressed in ways that would have demanded a scientific study if anyone had seen the miracle of change that had happened.
What Graham Hunter saw for the majority of the lesson was a boy who was more than talented. What he thought he saw was the first sparks of genius. It was only when he found his own gaze cornered by the boy that he realised something was wrong. Liam Flowers looked straight back at him and winked in a manner that suggested he was the master this game.
Perhaps he was wrong. Perhaps he had misjudged the blatant gauntlet that was being thrown down.
Perhaps pigs would begin to get pilots’ licences.
It was with some relief that he read out the name of Michael Andrews on his register.
Then, some normality was temporarily returned to the world.