‘Excuse me, please.’ The boy didn’t move. Louder, she repeated, ‘Excuse me, please.’ No response. Sheila bent at the waist, feeling her bones creak. She was getting too old for this. Closer to the boy’s face, she tried once more, ‘I need you to move so I can get past.’ Nothing. She looked around - where were the support staff when you needed them? Reaching down, she gently turned back the neckband of the boy’s sweatshirt. Harry Thomas. Ah, Harry. Memories began to stir.
St Joseph’s was a large primary school, with an intake of almost a hundred. Sheila had been the headteacher for some twenty years and was nearing retirement. She used to be able to remember every child’s name within the first week of a new school year, but nowadays her brain fog meant it could be Christmas before she had them down pat. She wouldn’t have recognised Harry if he’d come up and bitten her on the nose, but she vaguely remembered her deputy telling her about a boy who was struggling to settle and she was pretty certain his name was Harry Thomas.
Harry lay perfectly still. He wiggled and flicked his fingers in front of his eyes, using the effect to block out everything else. He was vaguely aware of a presence but was determined not to acknowledge it. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do. Overwhelmed by the bright lights and noise, he had sneaked out when another child went to the toilet and laid down in the corridor. Every day things changed. Sometimes they did numbers, other days they did letters. Today all the children took their clothes off and put on different ones. He didn’t understand. The sound of the chair legs on the floor felt like fireworks in his head. He wanted to go home to play with his cars and eat dry toast. He started to the touch of a hand near his neck.
Sheila dragged a chair from the hall, ignoring the crack of her knees as she sat. ‘Harry,’ she waited for a response. Slowly his hands stilled. She was pretty sure she was looking at a child with autism and knew that Harry didn’t need to look at her to show he was listening. ‘It’s time for the classroom.’ She waited for some signal that he had understood. He slowly turned his head and Sheila was shocked to see the terror in his eyes. ‘You poor thing,’ she said, more to herself than the child, ‘Why has nobody helped you? They must see you’re struggling. And why haven’t they noticed you’re out here?’ She was livid. She knew her staff were under pressure but, for her, the children’s needs always came first. She needed some paper and a pencil so she could draw a simple timetable for Harry. Without visual support, she knew he wouldn’t move. She had no option. She stepped over the boy and headed for the classroom.
© Author to be revealed at the end of the challenge
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