History was about to become just that: History.
This was his favourite subject and to make it better, it was with Mr Hunter, his favourite teacher.
The class was little over half full. Many of the students had been absent these last few days and so had been a number of teachers. Michael had been surprised to see that the government had become involved and had put the recent increase in school and work absenteeism down to the seasonal lack of sunlight.
Lack of sunlight!
It was explained that in countries where the sun decides to take a six month holiday, people become depressed. Depression led to self-medication and lots of individuals turned to alcohol or other such things to alleviate this. Others just stayed indoors. The government advice was that people should up their vitamin intake, especially vitamin D. Many of the students at St Agnes had opted for a non-school diet instead. Michael looked around the room and saw that a large proportion of the students sitting with him were those he would not expect to miss such a golden get out of jail card as this. Some of them he had never, ever seen on that side of the school fence. The only one who was missing was Liam Flowers and Michael felt strangely better for that.
Mr Hunter was sitting on the edge of his desk explaining how the Nazis managed to seize power in Germany. Michael thought that he looked tired, the way his mother had started to look again.
“On the 30thof January 1933, Hitler gained what he was after. He was given the Chancellorship of Germany.”
The teacher surveyed his audience, a motley crew if he was to be honest, but they were quiet. Some, he suspected, were off in their own private thoughts (or whatever amounted to thinking). His one crumb of comfort was that the Andrews boy was present. He watched his keen eyes from his position at the front of the class and wished that more of them could be like him.
Since his coming to the school, even amidst all that was happening, Mr Hunter felt that the boy brought some ray of hope. At last he had someone in his sessions who understood the processes of debate and reasoning. The others, even the ones who had promised to be academically able, had slowly closed down. It was as if they had given up. Being noticeably ‘brainy’ was not good for one’s chances of survival at St Agnes.
“We know that Germany was in a terrible state after their humiliating defeat in the First World War. This was made worse by the Great Depression of the 1930s, a depression that the country never really recovered from, but what other factors could have been involved in turning a leading European country into a state that did not merely condone violence, but also used it to increase its popularity?”
He looked out at his audience once more and waited for a show of hands that he knew would never come. Even the Andrews boy was a reticent participator today. Not being too eager to let his learners off the hook so quickly, the teacher waited.
Michael wanted to suggest something. He knew that he did not have the answer, but also knew that that was not what history was all about. People simply weighed up the evidence and measured one argument, one interpretation, against another. It was like playing Cleudo. Nevertheless, this morning he kept his hand down.
The lesson had been running for twenty minutes when the door opened and in walked Liam Flowers. He smiled at his classmates and raised an eyebrow to Michael as if he knew something that he did not. Only those who had not attended before smiled back.
“Good afternoon class. Good morning Mr Hunter,” he flourished, turning to the man perched on his desk.
“And good afternoon to you Mr Flowers. Did you have trouble finding us?”
Flowers understood the sarcasm along with the rest of the class.
“No sir. I never have trouble finding anything I really want to find.”
He stared deeply into the eyes of the teacher showing a belligerence that suggested his own superiority. Michael watched the exchange from the back of the room and understood that something more than that was taking place.
“If you would care to take a seat, you might find yourself interested in what we are discussing. I know that you are an enthusiastic student of history.”
Flowers had to hand it to the old man, he didn’t rise to the bait.
“And what,” the boy asked moving to the available place next to the Andrews boy, “would that be?”
“Michael Andrews, could you possibly inform your partner as to what we were discussing?”
This was a regular trick that the teacher used to make sure that everybody was listening. What hurt Michael was that Mr Hunter knew, had to know, that he had been the only one listening. It was bad enough having to sit next to Flowers, but having to openly engage in conversation was something else. Nevertheless, the spotlight had been placed upon him and now, not to make it obvious that he wished to shun it, he began to speak. The whole group turned around in their seats to witness what was going to happen.
“Mr Hunter,” his throat felt suddenly dry and he instinctively swallowed. He coughed slightly and hoped this did not translate into obvious trepidation.
“We,” he began once more, “were talking about Hitler’s rise to power. Mr Hunter wanted us to think about the factors that may have contributed to that.”
“Hitler again? Is he still banging on about him? Mr Hunter we’ve all had enough of Hitler. Why do we have to put up with you working through your own issues? It’s becoming just a little boring.”
“The rise of the German far right is an essential part of your study,” the history teacher replied calmly. “If you wish to do well in this course, you…”
“We get another teacher?”
“I was about to say that you attend both in body and in mind.”
“Not many faces here today are there?” Flowers was not to be outflanked. “I wonder if your audience might not be getting sick of the bleeding-heart liberal who is supposed to be teaching them about history, real history. What’s he been telling you about Hitler and the Jews?” He turned to Michael. “You listen to him don’t you? What’s he been saying?”
“He didn’t have the chance to say much before you came in. We were just looking at the things that could have got Hitler into power.”
“Well that’s not difficult is it?” Flowers had the stage again. “Hitler came to power to save his country. No, he came to power to save the world from socialists and Jews. I dare say that our fine teacher over there might even fall into one of those categories. Do you sir? Are you a Jew or a socialist?”
“I am your teacher and a human being who does not seek to persecute others for his own benefit. What are you Mr Flowers?”
“Oh, that’s easy. I am Liam Flowers. If you are able to hang around for a little while, you’ll understand just who I am.”
There was silence. Flowers watched the faces of the assembled to determine if anyone else had the balls to stand up to him. Nobody attempted to meet his gaze.
“And you,” he said looking at Michael once again, “do you believe that I am who I am?”
Flowers thought for a moment.
“Very interesting. You deny me my existence?”
“It’s the quotation. I think you know that you used it.”
“What’s that then?”
“I think I know what…” interjected Mr Hunter.
“We’re not interested in what you think old man. Your time has run. What do you think Andrews?”
“I think you have a problem. I think that you have a God complex.”
“God is the least of my problems.”