‘Of course, it’s an old debate. Environment obviously makes a difference to any child, but I believe evil is in the genes. There is a beast in every man. “Nature red in tooth and claw”. Primitive man had to fight for survival; some of our kids can’t kick the habit. No use appealing to their better nature — they don’t have one!’
‘Nonsense!’ I snapped; my flagrant disregard of courtesy towards my superior surprising even me. No-one, but no-one, argues with the headmaster Justin Rudge, especially a probationary teacher.
Mrs Jones, sitting in the only comfortable chair in the staff room, looked up from marking books to register wide-eyed astonishment. Woodbasher Biggs, sniggering with amusement, flicked cigarette ash over his stained jeans. Jean Lowden, about to switch on the electric fire, paused — her bum comically raised — to stare in shocked disbelief. Brad Little, sipping his coffee, suddenly choked and ignominiously dribbled liquid over his smart designer shirt.
The hiatus was broken by a tap on the door.
‘Damn!’ the headmaster barked. ‘That will be Johnson. I have to go now.’ He looked me in the eye. ‘We will continue this conversation some other time. Be warned, young lady, you have that renegade class 4Z tomorrow morning for biology. Start off soft and you’ll soon regret it.’
The teachers stared at me with pity written on their faces. No one wanted 4Z for any lesson. I smiled confidently. ‘As long as you keep them interested, they’re all right. Well, they never give me any trouble.’
Of course, it was all bravado. My greatest fear was to have a class beyond control. So far, so good. But then I usually had 4Z for art. Tomorrow I was filling in for Justine Rudge. I had been instructed to teach 4Z the facts of life!
‘They’re out of control. I must not panic — keep calm — keep calm,’ I told myself.
I tried to sound authoritative:
‘Samantha, sit down this minute!’
Samantha ignored me and continued dancing on the table. The girls started singing a strippers tune: ‘Lah-lah lah, lah. De-de dah, dah, dah…’
‘Silence!’ I yelled.
Wild-eyed boys began clapping and shouting in rhythmic chorus: ‘Take them off! Take them off!’
Effecting coolness, I walked from my desk to the table.
‘Get down at once!’ I bellowed above the noise.
In response, Samantha flung off her jumper and started unbuttoning her blouse. The boys whooped and chanted even louder; ‘Take them off! Take them off!’
Heart thumping in my chest; sweat beading my brow, I looked around the room for a sensible child. I grabbed hold of Jeffrey Green.
‘Jeffrey, fetch Mr Smith at once.’ Smith was the deputy head.
Jeffrey bit his lip and looked at the boys nervously. Half a dozen of them were glaring at him. ‘I’d rather not, Miss Langton.’
The little terrorists mimicked him; ‘I’d rather not, Miss Pangy-Langy!’
Emma Brown grabbed Jeffrey’s arm.
‘Frightened of missing something, Jeff? Come on, Fresh Jeff, get on the table with Sam.’
The whoops, clapping and singing grew louder. Jeffrey, against his will, was hoisted on to the table. Samantha, now down to her bra, began undressing the poor boy. Jeffrey struggled but the boys held him down as Samantha removed his trousers. Whistles and shouts filled the air. Jeffrey’s pants and Samantha’s bra flew across the room.
I tried to pull the kids away from their table platform.
‘Stop! Stop!’ I yelled.
Jeffrey’s screams could be heard above the shouting and whooping — what were they doing to him?
‘Sit down at once,’ I shrieked, pain gripping my chest.
I dragged away one of the girls but another took her place. I kept pulling and dragging but I could not get to Jeffrey. They had sniffed the scent of fear and were out for a killing. Nature red in tooth and claw, they were dancing and dodging, yelling and whooping. Above it all, Jeffrey’s screams and moans told me that devilish things were being done to him. I was impotent and useless. I tried to reach the door to get help but clawing hands held me back.
The pain in my chest grew unbearable. I couldn’t breath. Panic seized me. ‘Got to get out, got to get out, got to…’
As usual, I woke up trembling and sweating — wet through, pain in my head, heart racing — my mind trying to make sense of my dream and work out a successful conclusion. But why worry? It could never happen; I’m always in control of my class — always.
‘Ah, awake at last. Good. You have a young visitor, Miss Langton.’
I opened my eyes. A nurse was standing by my bed. A nurse? Where was I? A hospital? Why on earth was I…
A familiar voice sounded the other side of my bed.
‘Hello, Miss Langton, I’ve come to see you.’
I turned my head. A hand, fingers tipped blood-red, was placing a spray of wild flowers on my chest: forget-me-nots, foxgloves and a profusion of deadly nightshade.
Samantha, her violet eyes big and innocent, her white teeth smudged with red lipstick, smiled tenderly.
‘I picked them specially for you, Miss Langton. Flowers speak more than words, don’t you think?’
‘What pretty flowers,’ the nurse said. ‘I’ll get a vase. My goodness, what a sweet-natured child.’
Samantha watched her go and then bent over the bed to whisper in my ear:
‘We told Mr Rudge you had allowed us to demonstrate the facts of life. He wasn’t very pleased.’
‘You did what!’
My head started swimming again. I was caught in a whirlpool and it was dragging me under…under…under…
Something cold was being placed to my lips. I opened my eyes. Emma Brown was holding a glass of water for me to drink. A man’s voice was speaking:
‘Good job Emma came for me, you’ve had a right turn.’
It was Woodbasher Biggs standing over me, his silly grin belying his sympathetic stance.
‘Don’t know what you were teaching them but they seemed to enjoy it. Facts of life was it?’ His grin grew bigger. ‘I could hear them from the woodwork room — don’t worry, we had a lot of banging going on too!’