‘Excuse me, please.’
‘Yes, Miss, sorry Miss.’
‘I almost fell over you, Peter. What are you doing, scrabbling about in the corridor? You should be in the playground with the other boys. It’s a lovely day. Why aren’t you out there playing football?’
‘I dropped it, Miss. I was looking for it.’
The teacher looked closely at Peter’s face. It looked even thinner than usual.
‘Peter, have you eaten today?’
‘No, Miss. Mum said I have to wait until tonight. She’s going to bring something home.’
‘Peter, I want you to come with me to the staff room.’
Peter followed her meekly.
Mr Stebbings, the maths teacher, was the only occupant, poring over some old exam papers.
He eyed the boy suspiciously, as if he might steal his wallet.
‘Miss Tremayne, may I remind you that this is a staff room, not a repository for scruffy little ne’er-do-wells like Master Landon here.’
‘Mr Stebbings, this boy has had no breakfast. I’m going to give him something to eat.’
‘He hasn’t had a wash, either,’ said Mr Stebbings, ‘scruffy little tyke.’
Miss Tremayne raised her eyes to heaven. What sort of education could kids expect from an old-fashioned buffoon like Stebbings?
‘Peter doesn’t enjoy the facilities you had as a child, Mr Stebbings.’
‘He has access to soap and water, hasn’t he?’
Miss Tremayne decided to give up the argument.
She rummaged about in her bag and withdrew a tupper box containing some cheese and chutney sandwiches. Peter’s eyes lit up in anticipation.
‘Here you are, Peter. I’ll pour you out a glass of milk.’
‘Make sure you wash the cup afterwards,’ said Mr Stebbings.
‘Sit down over there, Peter,’ said Miss Tremayne, ignoring the maths teacher and pointing to a deal table, groaning under the weight of exercise books.
She watched the boy wolf down two sandwiches as if he hadn’t eaten for a week.
‘What will you have for dinner tonight, Peter?’ asked Miss Tremayne.
‘Dunno. Soup, I suppose. We always have soup on Tuesdays.’
Miss Tremayne shook her head in sorrow. So many kids like Peter, half-starved, part of an impoverished, dysfunctional family. She’d gone into teaching with such a sense of optimism, only to find her spirit crushed by the plight of many of her young charges. They were bright and eager to learn, but no matter what she taught them, they’d get nowhere in life - the odds against them were insurmountable.
Peter digested the last crumb and licked his lips.
‘That was smashing, Miss. Thanks a lot.’
‘Close the door after you,’ said Mr Stebbings, ‘there’s a draught.’
Miss Tremayne and Peter walked together into the corridor.
‘What were you looking for, Peter?’
‘A five pence piece, Miss. There it is, over there.’
He fell to the floor to collect it.
Miss Tremayne shook her head sadly and wondered why, in prosperous Britain, five pence was a king’s ransom. There was no answer.
She stepped over the boy and headed for the classroom.
© Author to be revealed at the end of the challenge
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