Читать онлайн «The Classroom: A gripping and terrifying thriller which asks who you can trust in 2018»
No grown-ups get out – just Harriet. Bundled onto the sidewalk.
Miriam moves away from the window.
It’s no way to treat a child. Not how she would treat her own, if the day ever came that she was the one doing drop-off and pick-up.
Miriam’s preparing for the day’s lessons. One of the kids in the class has a new foster sister – from Syria. Maya. Doesn’t talk much, by all accounts. Hardly surprising, if you think what the little thing must have been through, and now separated by so many miles from her parents. Anyway, they’re building up to the little girl hopefully visiting the class, when she’s ready. Miriam wants to give the girl a chance to meet what would be her peers, in a welcoming environment. Maybe help her flourish in her new country. Show the kids that she, Ms Robertson, can provide a place of sanctuary.
She has to make sure first that the kids will provide a proper welcome, make sure they understand the context – in a way that is kiddy-appropriate. Today, they’re looking at journeys – over the sea, in crowded boats. Nothing scary. Nothing real. They’re far too young to lose their own innocence as well. Just enough for them maybe to understand, a little bit, when the little girl arrives.
So now, Miriam is preparing the vessels. Crêpe paper sails, cardboard hulls. Everything has to start somewhere, right? Cut, cut, snip, snip, make them pretty. Bright and cheerful for happy thoughts.
Why was the white car dropping Harriet off? Why wasn’t she with Kirsten?
Snip, snip, keep going. Miriam reminds herself she’s not a social services detective. She just provides safe harbour for refugees.
Her phone buzzes with a message. Can you give us a hand downstairs? Mrs McGee, the deputy head. Fine. Sorry, boats. Maybe the kids will hoist your sails instead.
She heads downstairs.
There’s a swarm of children gathered around one child. Miriam hears sounds of crying.
‘What’s going on?’ she mouths to Mrs McGee.
But then the circle clears, and she sees who’s at the centre. Harriet. And another little girl. Izzie.
Izzie is clutching her hand and leaning against Mrs McGee in tears. Harriet is trying to move out of the circle, but the other kids aren’t letting her.
‘What’s going on?’ Miriam asks again, this time loudly.
‘She broke Izzie’s finger!’ one of the girls around Izzie shouts out. There’s an accusing point towards the she. It’s Harriet.
Miriam moves to the girls and bends to their level.
‘Harriet, what’s going on?’ she asks.
‘I’ve got this,’ says Mrs McGee. ‘Can you just focus on registering the other children? The TA will be back in a minute. She went to get a bandage.’
‘Harriet, did you hurt this little girl?’ Miriam asks.
‘Seriously, Ms Robertson, I have this – go and see to the other children.’
Miriam doesn’t have much of a choice, so she does what she’s told. As she walks away, she hears Mrs McGee saying to Harriet: ‘You’re a very naughty little girl, and we’ll have to tell your mummy and daddy about this.’
Miriam’s eyes fill with tears. Look at the wider issue! It’s so rarely the kid in the centre of it that’s the problem. Who was around her? Who was egging her on? Was it a dare, a bet?
Come on – you know you want to! One little sip, you’ll be fine. Everyone else is.
Miriam shakes her head. This isn’t about her. It’s about Harriet. The same day she arrives in a different car, she’s apparently violently molesting her peers. Has Mrs McGee not read any of the case studies on how to spot unhappy children? Worse: at-risk children. Or problem parents?
A little clammy hand forces itself into Miriam’s. Miriam looks down into the heavily bespectacled face of one of the kids in her class. Little Winnie the Pooh plaster on the glasses frames. Sweet, vulnerable, but not who she wants to be looking after.
‘What can I do for you, Wendy?’ she asks. Reluctantly, Miriam gives her the appearance of her full attention. She’s still trying to listen out for the Izzie–Harriet scene but it’s hard with all the noise going on.
‘I’m a little teapot!’ Wendy announces.
‘Are you? That’s nice,’ Miriam tells her, craning her head to see over to Mrs McGee and her Victorian ideas of Naughtiness.
‘No!’ says the child so sternly that Miriam has to look at her. ‘Sing I’m a little teapot!’
Then all the others begin clamouring for it too.
So there we are. By popular request, Miriam is soon tipping up and pouring out (here’s my handle, here’s my spout). All the others are joining in too. She feels like Mary Poppins, and she sees Mrs McGee shoot her a look of gratitude.
Miriam catches sight of Harriet fiddling with her fingers and staring at the floor. Everyone’s been so interested in Izzie’s tears – have they been interested in hers?
But the bell goes for morning lessons, so that’s not allowed to be Miriam’s concern. The children in her class are suitably responsive to the boat theme. They are incredulous when she suggests how many people might fit in the boats. One gives a little whimper when she says that yes, mummies and children, or sometimes just children, will be in them. So Miriam backtracks. Makes it just about the boats again – bobbing over the waves, whee! Isn’t it fun!
Some of the boats get eyes drawn on. Some get mascots. It’s all very civilised. Poor invisible Maya. Her boat probably had neither eyes nor mascots. Just the unrelenting beat of the sea.
While they are in mid glue and stick mode, the door opens, and Izzie walks in. Her hand is flamboyantly taped up, and she is holding it aloft.
Boats forgotten, everyone crowds round Izzie.
‘Are you OK? Does it hurt? Can we see?’
Miriam does her teacher bit, tells them to sit down and do their work. It has limited effect, so she goes over and joins in.
‘What exactly happened, Izzie?’ she asks her.
‘I was doing beads with Karen, and Harriet came over and said could she play, but it was a private game, so I said no, and she still wanted to play, so I said no again, and then she tried to grab one of the beads from me really hard and hurt my finger deliberately on purpose. It’s very serious.’
‘Would it not have been nice to let Harriet play with you? I’m sure there must have been enough beads to go round?’ Miriam asks Izzie.
Izzie stares at Miriam as if Miriam has missed the point. Miriam sees her lower lip pucker. Oh dear. She’s about to start reliving her moments of glory with Mrs McGee all over again.
‘Don’t worry,’ Miriam tells her. ‘Those bandages will do a great job, I’m sure. You’ll be playing beads again in no time!’
‘Not with Harriet,’ she says.
‘Let’s see – I’m sure you can be friends again,’ Miriam says.
‘We were never friends in the first place.’
Why did you let those girls talk you into it? They aren’t even your real friends!
A memory of her mother flies in, unwelcome. This is not the moment.
Get into the moment. Boats.
Soon enough, the classroom gets its buzz back. Miriam mutters her excuses to the TA and slips out of the classroom.
She needs to know what has become of the other little girl in her care.
* * *
Miriam finds Harriet siting in the corridor outside the head’s office. Another Victorian approach. Harriet’s just waiting there, staring at her hands. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe she’s meant to be reflecting on what she’s done.
‘Hey, Harriet,’ Miriam says gently. She wants Harriet to see her as a confidante, a friend. They can build things up from there.
Harriet looks up, but doesn’t say anything.
‘You doing OK?’ Miriam asks her.
Miriam sits down next to her. ‘I know you didn’t mean to hurt Izzie,’ she tells her.
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