We started to line up for our food. One meter apart was the rule, and no touching anyone else. For the younger boys this was as impossible as understanding poetry or those things called themes in Shakespeare. It was the same for me when I was younger. I would smash pens, turn over desks and swear at the teacher and the learning assistant before storming out and sitting on the swings until someone from care came out with one of those smiles that meant that they were listening.
“Is everything okay?”
“Does me sitting on a swing, in the rain, when I should be in class getting fucking eradicated suggest that things are OK?”
“Yes, fucking eradicated.”
“What do you mean by that, Clive?”
I don’t know whose idea it was to give me that stupid old name but one day I’ll find out.
“ERADICATED! It’s doing stupid lessons. We come to Sandham to be ‘eradicated’.
I couldn’t put the capital letters into what I said. I couldn’t even put the shortened quotation marks but I think that Charlotte understood.
“Educated? You mean educated? You come to Sandham to be educated not eradicated. We’re not Nazis.”
“So why do you make us all line up and march around the place and keep our ‘social distance’ all of the time? You’re treating us like prisoners, like Jews.”
I watched Charlotte’s face as the word smashed into it. Her eyes stopped smiling and seemed to fall back into her head, defensively. I had gone too far.
In History we had been learning about the Holocaust and what was done to a whole section of society. Liberals, socialists, artists, writers, homosexuals, gypsies, mentally and physically ill adults and children, and people of different religions, especially Jews. I had watched Charlotte’s face during these lessons, studied the way that she flinched and noticed how her smile had remained only to hide was bubbling up beneath it. The other boys used to tease me about her. They said that I fancied her and that is why I watched her all the time. Kieran suggested what I was probably thinking about and made a movement with his hips that left nobody in any doubt and left the other lads exploding with laughter.
For the best part of a week, I was on the hit-list of favourite jokes. Whenever she was in our class, which was mostly due to Kieran’s quick temper, I was mercilessly ribbed. Charlotte did her best to control the blushes that reddened her face. I stopped looking at her and then the comments stopped.