The headmaster

The headmaster, a hulk of a man, raised one hoary eyebrow, sufficient to spot the miscreant in the room. He noted from his seating plan that it was Jack Finch, whispering across the table to Amy Jung. There was an asterisk against his name, denoting that he had a history: no parents and little self-control.

“Finch!”

“Yes sir,” Finch replied, a note of alarm in his voice. The class, diligently concentrating, looked up. Would this be the first opportunity to see this new headmaster in action?

The black-gowned figure rose from his seat behind the desk on the dais, stepped down and began to walk purposefully towards Finch. His long greying hair curtained his face, so Finch could not quite see any expression. He stooped over the young teenager, his tall, bulky frame now blotting out Finch’s view of the rest of the room. He could not expect any rescue from any other pupil, all of whom had now stopped working.

He crouched down beside the boy. “No ‘sirs’ here, thank you,” he whispered. Finch noticed that the greying eyebrows had cousins sprouting from large open nostrils. Old men are gross, especially in close up, he thought.

“Yes Mr Blacklock.”

“Better. This is an examination room,” he continued in a voice so quiet, yet so deliberate that the whole room, straining to hear every word, was stilled. “I expect…silence.” The sibilants broadcast a warning to the curious.

“Yes, Mr Blacklock.”

Blacklock, impressively balanced on his haunches, used both hands to draw the curtains. Finch could now see a slight smile ripple across his face, as if a sympathetic thought had dropped like a tiny pebble, a memory of his own teenage years.

“You…and Jung.” He glanced across the table at the partner in Finch’s crime. “Come and see me at break.” Blacklock eased himself back to his full height. The slight smile broadened to a wide grin.

Finch, puzzled, was about to assent, but Blacklock put a finger to his lips. He turned and noiselessly swept up and down between the ranks of tables. As he did so, heads bent, pens spilled ink and peace was restored.

Later that morning, Finch and Jung were leaning against opposite walls of the corridor outside Blacklock’s door. Finch, thirteen, sported neon red socks and a tie knotted like string. The fourteen year old Jung’s skirt was too short and her blouse unbuttoned too far. Yet their expressions belied their defiance. In fact, Jung’s face was pale with worry, and Finch was biting a nail with such intensity that he inadvertently tore a shred from end of his finger, making it bleed.

The door opened. Blacklock emerged. He towered over the pair, who stiffened with apprehension.

“Well…” He paused. He stared at each in turn. “Come in.” He gestured at them to sit at the low table, and he too took one of the easy chairs. “I want your opinion on who should be class captain for the year.”

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