#27 A moment of sadism

The students sat in a grey classroom. Ignore the fact that it is actually painted light green. It is almost square, filled with utilitarian grey rectangular desks, and the students are doing exam practice. The effect produced is of a grey room. The students have being doing exam practice for the last three months. Solid. Outside the classroom, there is a corridor that surrounds a sunlit quad, and in that quad, a mother duck has nine ducklings. While the class warmed up to a Monday morning’s study, the caretaker came into view through the glazed door and opened another door onto the quad. He had slices of bread in his hands, which he broke into small chunks and threw to the duck and her ducklings. There was a frisson. Somebody pointed out the ducklings were outside. The sweet, trilling whistles of the ducklings seeped into our room, seeming to beckon us to them. It was a natural thing to do, to go and see them. Even the lads, normally so inscrutable and resistant to emotion, were itching to look. I stood up and opened the door. “Come on, let’s have a quick look.” The teenagers did not need the normal cajoling, and hustled out of the room. A light wind frisked through the corridor, the sound of the ducklings was distinct and clear. We clamoured against the windows of the quad and gazed out at the gentle scene. A mother with her young- nine trembling clusters of brown and lemon curd-coloured feathers. A powder blue sky hung with armadas of billowing clouds. Sunlight on every surface. For about ten seconds, we were free. We had been absolved from the monotony of exam prep, our minds tethered to the prescriptive tasks, the cramming before the final judder of the educational conveyor belt. In two weeks, the class will be spat out and left to fend for themselves but, for now, a moment of respite and shared wonder. ”Get back into class, there’s exams to be prepared for!” A voice of authority. The deputy head. It was uncanny that she had managed to glide unnoticed toward us, like a graceless nuclear submarine. Strangely, our moment of wonder had provided the perfect smoke-screen behind which she had got within range, then loosed her salvo.

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