Authors: Bruno Bouchet
For Nelson and Malaika
Monday mornings were bad at the best of times, but Monday mornings when you had Maths with Mr Croxall were the worst of all. Mr Croxall loved things to be neat — especially his students.
Every Monday morning during first period Maths, he made his Year 7 class stand at the back of the room. The desks had to be in a perfect semicircle. Mr Croxall would tap the keys on his laptop and the name of one student would appear on the screen. That student would have done the best work the week before, got the best marks, done the most homework and would have the tidiest appearance. That student would sit on the far right of the semicircle. Then the name of the next best student would appear and they would take their seat. One by one the name of every other student would appear until the worst student of the week had to take the seat on the far left.
Mr Croxall was determined that there would be order and tidiness in one tiny pocket of Mannington High. The rest of the school week might be chaos, but for ten minutes on Monday morning, Year 7 would be in order.
Jonty Townsend dreaded Monday mornings. It didn’t matter how hard he tried, how much Maths homework he did, or how many times he redid the knot in his school tie, his name was always one of the last eight to appear on the screen.
When he arrived at school he was cheered by the sight of his best mate, Boris Brockman. Although it was early in the day, Boris’s uniform already looked like it had been worn for a week, dragged through a compost heap and been attacked by dogs. His hair hung down over his eyebrows and covered his ears. He had
smile on his face.
Jonty grinned. Whenever Boris smiled like that, he was planning something. Boris was the coolest kid in their year. From their first day at Mannington High, it was obvious that Boris and Jonty liked playing soccer and making trouble. It was what they did best. They ruled the first year soccer team and their entire class looked to them for laughs in the classroom.
‘Incoming!’ Boris suddenly shouted and Jonty spun round quickly. One of the Year 9 boys had fired off a soccer ball like a bullet, hoping to knock him over. Like a flash Jonty jumped in the air,
swung his right leg round and caught the ball.
the ball catapulted off into the air, going even faster than before. For a moment he thought it might shoot right over the school building, but the ball arced down and crashed through the physics lab window on the second floor.
The sound of breaking glass hushed the yard: all the shouting and screaming stopped. Phone calls were interrupted and balls were held. There was silence for a split second, followed by wild cheering. Everyone loved it when things got smashed at Mannington High.
Jonty grinned and took a bow.
‘Awesome,’ said Boris, wishing he had taken the shot.
‘You two are for it now!’ The Year 9 boy who’d kicked the ball was furious. His face glowed purple with anger.
‘Hey, look — it’s Henry the Octopus! Where’s the Wiggles, Henry?’ Boris shouted out and the boy’s face went even more like Henry the Octopus’s.
‘Just wait.’ He glowered at them.
‘Let’s get to class.’ Boris pulled at his friend’s arm. As well as getting away from Henry the Octopus, he wanted to make sure they were there in plenty of time.
‘What you got happening? I can tell there’s something!’ Jonty’s Monday was going better than
he’d expected. It wasn’t often you got cheered on by the whole school — especially not in Year 7.
But Boris was determined to go one better. ‘It’s time Croxall was taken down a peg or two. He’s too strict.’
‘Tell me about it,’ Jonty said, dreading more than anything that he might end up in the loser’s seat.
‘It’s about time he got added to The List,’ Boris announced.
Jonty’s eyes widened. ‘No one can put Croxall on The List. He’s as tough as a crocodile.’
‘Well, it’s time for a few crocodile tears.’
The List was famous at Mannington High. It was a roll call of teachers who had been made to cry in class. Any kid who put a teacher on The List had instant stardom. The tougher the teacher, the bigger the respect among the students. The only one who didn’t count was Ms Brown, the English teacher — she cried at poems, dead flies and pretty flowers. Any student making Mr Croxall cry would be massive, but a Year 7 student doing it would be unbelievably awesome.
‘The thing Croxall hates most is mess and I’m going to make sure it gets really messy,’ Boris said with a grin.
When they arrived at the classroom, everyone else was standing up the back, looking miserable as they
waited for the desk allocation. Boris and Jonty’s friend Mike Higgins was waiting there for them.
‘Did you bring it?’ Boris asked him quickly. Mike nodded.
Boris stood by the door. The desks were already in a semicircle. He bent down and put his hand out as if he were measuring something, then he stepped forward several paces. ‘Right,’ he announced. ‘Tip it here.’
Mike nicked over and dumped the contents of his backpack on the floor.
‘Gross!’ One of the girls squealed and everyone put their hands to their noses. It stank! Fish heads, rotten vegetables, meat scraps. All the garbage from home over the weekend.
‘It’ll probably turn up in the school canteen at lunchtime!’ Jonty joked with his hand over his mouth.
‘Goin 2 B sick,’ Anastasia Micklethwaite texted to a friend.
‘What are you doing?’ someone asked. ‘Croxall’s going to go
Boris ignored the question. He reached into his backpack and pulled out a bottle of cooking oil.
‘Get behind the desks!’ he ordered Jonty and Mike and they joined the others at the back of the room.
Then he poured the oil onto the floor, creating a long slick between the door and all the food scraps, and jumped over the desks, shot to the window and chucked the empty bottle through it. He whipped round just in time for the door to open.
The handle turned and Mr Croxall flew in. His grey hair was cut short and neat. His tie was knotted perfectly and his white shirt was immaculate, but not for long. As he strode forward, the stench of the food scraps slapped his nose, but before he could say a word, his foot slipped on the oil slick. His legs shot up in air.
he landed on his back in the oil and skidded right across the floor, spinning round as he went.
The entire class leant forward as he spun right into the garbage, scattering fish heads and meat bones around him.
Everyone gasped. Mr Croxall, the strictest teacher of them all, was spinning on the ground, with carrot peelings stuck to his shirt.
Eventually he stopped spinning.
‘OMG.’ Anastasia knew she was not supposed to text in class, but this was too amazing. Then she pointed her mobile at him and took a photo as discreetly as she could.
Boris pressed his lips together smugly as he watched Croxall’s face. He hoped it had been enough.
Jonty was worried about the loud
he heard as Mr Croxall hit the ground. That had to have hurt.
Mr Croxall sat up. He removed his shoes and pushed himself to the edge of the oil. Once he was sure that he could put his feet on clean floor, he put them down and picked himself up. Then for a second he stood with his back to the class.
Was he crying? Boris crossed his fingers. Anastasia was ready for another shot.
He turned slowly and looked from one student to the next. His face was dry; his mouth set hard. Jonty
wondered whether he was fighting back tears. Whenever he tried not to cry himself, he would clench his jaw really tight.
Mr Croxall took a deep breath. ‘I see your homework is up to its usual standard, Brockman. It stinks.’
Everyone burst out laughing.
‘Silence!’ Mr Croxall thundered after a moment. He knew the students needed to laugh and he was wise enough to make sure they were laughing at something he said and not at what had happened to him.
Boris looked at their teacher standing there, covered in mess, with perfect poise as if nothing was wrong. Frustrated at the teacher’s calmness, he bit his lip. He would make Croxall cry. Even if it took him until Year 12, he would do it.
Cool as a cucumber, Mr Croxall walked to the laptop, inserted his USB stick and prepared for the desk allocation. ‘Townsend, the chalk!’ he announced, holding a piece out to him. Jonty’s heart sank. Croxall always insisted on chalk circles being drawn around the front legs of each desk. Throughout the week, everyone had to make sure the legs stayed inside the circles. It was a horrible job at any time, but today Jonty had to crawl through all the garbage.
When he had finished, his clothes stank. Boris
held his nose and stifled a laugh. Jonty shook his head. He wasn’t sure who to blame. Boris had told Mike to bring the garbage, but Croxall had made him crawl through it.
‘Right! Desk allocation,’ Mr Croxall announced, as if nothing was wrong. He was going to leave the garbage for the children to endure. He knew it probably stank more to their young noses than to his own worn-out old nostrils. He tapped the keyboard, the projector flickered into life and the screen appeared on the wall.
‘The first name is no surprise,’ he said.
appeared on the screen.
Nathaniel picked up his bag and moved gingerly around the desks to the one on the far right. His blond hair was curly, but combed smooth. The few freckles on his face were quite pale and formed a neat pattern as if they’d been placed there deliberately. Nathaniel was short, the smallest student in the entire school.
‘Bennett, good work on your arithmetic!’
Nathaniel was shocked at what had happened. When he heard the
as Mr Croxall fell down, he was afraid their teacher might not be able to get up again and, as he stood there awkwardly in front of the class, Nathaniel thought that his back was obviously hurting him.
He sat down in the chair Mr Croxall had allocated him, taking care not to nudge the legs of his desk outside the chalk marks. His own legs were so short, it was a stretch to rest his feet on the floor. He looked down at his desk. He knew the rest of the class resented the fact that he was always top. He loved being smart and learning new things, but hated that everyone sneered at him for it — especially Boris Brockman and his mates. He cheered himself up with the thought that they had Science that afternoon. He had been asked to prepare an experiment for the class and he was going to show them all just how amazing science could be.
‘Brockman,’ said Mr Croxall, ‘let’s break with tradition for once. I think we can take it on trust where you will be sitting this week.’ He nodded at the seat on the far left.
Boris stared at Mr Croxall, then he smirked, shrugged and went to take his place.
The regular seat allocation resumed. The names seemed to appear on the screen more slowly than ever. Jonty endured the agony of waiting to find out how thick he had been the week before. Normally he would have enjoyed sitting next to Boris, but he didn’t want to be in the thicko spot next to him. At least Boris knew he was there because he had been bad — not stupid.
Name after name scrolled up, but not Jonty’s.
‘Please,’ he whispered to himself. ‘Me next, please!’
He wasn’t next. The name
Prune de Luca
appeared. No one moved.
‘De Luca,’ said Mr Croxall.
Everyone looked around. Still no one moved.
‘Don’t think she’s here, sir.’ Anastasia flicked her hair over her shoulder.
‘We’ll leave a place for her.’
All eyes returned to the screen and Jonty’s name appeared.
‘Phew!’ he muttered under his breath.
‘Townsend.’ Mr Croxall sounded tired. ‘All of nine places from the bottom. Your best effort yet. Enjoy this seat: it could be the pinnacle of your academic career.’
Jonty sat down. He didn’t know what ‘pinnacle’ meant, but he was sure it wasn’t nice. He had really tried with his Maths homework last week, but the effort hadn’t got him very far. Next week, he wouldn’t bother.
The Monday that had started out so differently had turned worse than ever. He stank of garbage, Croxall had humiliated him, and now, when she finally turned up, he would be sitting next to Prune de Luca, the loopiest girl on the planet.
Eventually all the places were filled, except for the empty seat next to him.
‘Right, let’s start on some probability calculations.’ Mr Croxall tapped the desk and the class groaned. ‘Get your textbooks out.’
He stood there at his laptop. Every time he moved, his back sent spasms of pain up to his head. He glanced up from his laptop, noticed a lone girl still standing at the back of the room. He couldn’t believe he had missed her. The pain from his back must have been even more distracting that he’d thought.
She seemed to be reading something in her hand. Her long brown hair flopped down and hid her face completely. Had she been standing there all through that childish stunt and the desk allocation, totally absorbed in whatever she was holding? Mr Croxall was amazed that a person could be so totally vague that she noticed nothing — not even her name being called. And he couldn’t believe that not one of the other students had noticed her. It was as if she was invisible.
‘PRUNE DE LUCA!’ he bellowed. The entire class jumped and turned round. Anastasia stifled a giggle.
Slowly, Prune looked up. ‘Did you feel that too?’ she asked and held out the crystal in her hand. ‘It was so powerful it totally took over my mind.’
‘Take your seat next to Townsend immediately!’
Prune crashed back to earth with a bump. Her shoulders dropped. One moment she had been lost
in the lovely energy of her crystal; the next she was being forced to sit with one of Boris Brockman’s mates. It usually meant getting teased, wrinkly prunes being drawn on her notebook and constant sniggering.
She sighed and looked at the clock. A new group exploring auras was meeting after school. Prune hoped it would be a chance to meet someone who shared her interests.