Being told to stay at home for three days was the least of their worries.
Michael and Chris had not been excluded, they had been advised. The advice was that it would be wise to keep away for a while whilst things had the chance to cool down. The days had passed quickly.
Returning to Shagness was not the problem they thought it was going to be. If they had been expecting a rematch – them against the rest of the school, say – it didn’t happen. Instead, they were welcomed by something that fell only a little short of indifference, an indifference that was mixed with not a little respect. The situation was made all the better by the non-appearance of their main antagonists; Podrall’s gang were not in school. Chris and Michael would soon come to realise that attendance was not quite as obligatory as it should have been.
After entering the school yard, finding it hostile-free, they said goodbye and went to their separate registrations. Outside, a flock of birds descended upon the detritus left behind by the school’s inmates.
“Good morning, Mr Andrews, I hope you enjoyed your little holiday from school?”
It was Mr Hunter and Michael turned to answer him.
“Yes, thank you, sir. I think it’s taken the heat out of it a bit.”
“Don’t rely on that, Mr Andrews, those lads are like a pack of wolves, they never give up. I’m afraid that they have your scent in their nostrils and they will not stop until they have tasted blood. You had better be careful.”
“It was just a fight, sir, nothing too serious.”
“In the old days I would have agreed with you, but things have changed.”
There was a shadow that fell across his expression like the promise of incoming cloud. Michael had seen this before in his mother when she went through the bad days.
“I’m sure we can take care of ourselves, but thanks again.”
“Before you go, Michael, just out of interest, what’s your favourite subject?”
“I would have said English a few months back, but now I think that History has the call. I love learning about things that have happened, that have changed the world and I particularly love your lessons.”
“Bright boy on both counts. Do you know anything about the Zulu uprising against the British?”
“You mean like the film, Zulu?”
“Just that. Remember that a small number of soldiers, mainly Welshmen, were able to fight off the massed ranks of the Zulu impi for a few days without being wiped out. Now that’s what I called bravery in the face of overwhelming odds. However, a true historian would also point to the fact that the same impi had wiped out a much larger force earlier the previous day slaughtering almost everyone down to the last man.”
“So what are you saying, sir?”
“Don’t take your eye off proceedings, don’t relax. There is always another battle waiting to happen.”
As Mr Hunter walked away, Michael considered this.
For some reason, he listened to the advice given by this teacher, a man who had greeted them on their arrival at Shagness and who had saved them from immediate trouble. Not for a long time had he trusted anybody outside of his family, but here he believed that he could. The school might be a place fit for little more than a roll-call and thuggishness, but Mr Hunter had created a small oasis of learning and safety in which more civilised seeds could be sown.
Nevertheless, he would keep his eyes open and his wits about him for the second wave which he knew was bound to come.