Thursday, December 5, 2013
Margaret Holloway wrapped her scarf around her face before she walked out into the school parking lot. It was not long after four o’clock, but a winter pall had shifted over London. It was dusk already, wary streetlamps casting premature light onto the icy pavements. Snowflakes had begun to swirl and Margaret blinked as one landed on her eyelashes. The first snow of the year always brought a silence, dampening down all sound. She felt gratefully alone, walking out into the new darkness, hers the only footprints on the path. She had been too hot inside and the cold air was welcome.
Her car was on the far side of the parking lot and she wasn’t wearing proper shoes for the weather, although she had on her long brown eiderdown coat. She had heard on the radio that it
was to be the worst winter in the past fifty years.
It was only a few weeks until her thirty-sixth birthday, which always fell during the school holidays, but she had so much to do before the end of term. She was carrying a large handbag, heavy with documents to read for a meeting tomorrow. She was one of two deputy head teachers at Byron Academy, and the only woman on the senior management team, although one of the four assistant heads below Margaret was female. The day had left her tense and electrified. Her mind was fresh popcorn in hot oil, noisy with all the things she still had to do.
She walked faster than she might have done in such wintry conditions, because she was angry.
“Don’t do this,” she had just pleaded with the head teacher, Malcolm Harris.
“It’s a serious breach,” Malcolm had said, leaning right back in his chair and putting two hands beside his head, as if surrendering, and showing a clear circle of sweat at each armpit. “I know how you feel about him. I know he’s one of your ‘projects’ but—”
“It’s not that . . . it’s just that permanent exclusion could ruin him. Stephen’s come so far.”
“I think you’ll find he’s known as Trap.”
“And I don’t think of him as a project,” Margaret had continued, ignoring Malcolm’s remark. She was well aware of Stephen Hardy’s gang affiliations—knew him better than most of the teachers. She had joined the school fresh out of college, as an English teacher, but had soon moved into the Learning
Support Unit. The unit often worked with children with behavioral problems who had to be removed from mainstream classes, and she had been shocked by the number of children who couldn’t even read or write. She had taught Stephen since his first year, when she discovered that, at the age of thirteen,
he still couldn’t write his own address. She had tutored him for two years until he was back in normal classes and had been so proud of him when he got his GCSEs.
“He was carrying a knife in school. It’s a simple case as far as I can see. He’s nearly seventeen years old and—” “It feels like you’re condemning him. This is coming at the worst time—he’s started his A Levels and he’s making such good progress. This’ll shatter his confidence.”
“We can’t have knives in school.”
“He wasn’t brandishing the knife. It was discovered by accident at the gym. You know he carries it for protection, nothing more.”
Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.