distracted

…one who is excessively distraught owing to their greater propensity to becoming bewildered and loosing any sense of proportion     

The thirty faces turned towards Henry all had the glow of innocence. Each was drawn with a broad smile and wide eyes. Each was painted with a look of expectation. Each was framed by the carefully sculpted fall of straight or flowing or slightly curling hair. And each, Henry had little doubt, masked malicious intentions.

It wasn’t that Henry was paranoid. Henry was simply aware of the fact, a fact learnt through years of experience, that each pair of wide eyes, each pair of perked up ears, was waiting for an opportunity, a moment, a chance, the least chance, a chink in his armour… to pounce.

“Macbeth,” Henry began, pointing his chalk at the ceiling in order to add weight to his words, “…is a character who is dominated by fear.”

The first hand went up. “I thought you said he was a brave soldier?”

But this objection didn’t throw Henry, not in the least. “Well, he was.”

“But he’s not a brave soldier any more?” this question fired out without a hand rising up.

“Put our hands up if we have a question,” Henry requested in his overdone preternaturally calm voice. To be calm was to be in control. Henry was in control. He focused his attention momentarily on the branches of the monkey-puzzle tree that could be seen through the window – it was his anchor. Henry was held firm in the world by the distant branches of the monkey-puzzle tree.

When he focused on his immediate surroundings once again three, four, five hands had shot up and several questions were rattled off simultaneously.

“I can’t answer all your questions at once.” The good sense of this comment, its blatant good sense, comforted Henry as far as a smile, a smile he beamed at the whole class, a smile which announced that he was not in the least put out by these constant and pointless questions, that he wasn’t knocked off balance, wasn’t even slightly tilting one way or the other, that he was willing to answer each question in turn, one after the other, to the complete satisfaction of each of the questioners, however long it happened to take.

But Henry’s refusal to be irritated, or to give the least sign of being irritated, wasn’t sufficient in itself to put them off the scent – like dogs, they could smell his fear, no matter how well he disguised it with fresh gusts of smiling indifference.

“How can you be afraid and be brave at the same time?”

“Maybe you can’t.”

“You said Macbeth was.”

“Maybe he was… It’s a matter of interpretation.” Henry was now ready to turn the tables on the class.

“What do you think?” Each word was given space, carefully shaped – the voice of a composed and unruffled ruler of children.

He would soon have them on the run.

“Who’s Banquo?”

This threw Henry, as did all questions or comments which were even slightly off the point.

“You know who Banquo is.”

“Why did Macbeth kill him?”

“Does anyone know…” Henry was hoping to clear the sea of hands in front of him by asking a clear and straightforward question. “Put your hands up if you know…” He was looking forward to the hands falling out of the sky. “Why did Macbeth kill Banquo?”

Only one hand remained in the air, but it was the hand attached to the arm attached to the shoulder attached to the pale face, the site of the mock innocent smile of Rebecca. Henry could now see how he had been trapped, how the whole class had steered him towards this one moment when he would have little choice but to load the gun they were going to shoot him down with. Henry couldn’t focus now on the distant branches of the monkey-puzzle tree, the sun was glaring on the window.

So in the thick of it, floating free in the turbulent waters of his own juices, without a thought to strategy, without even a nod to common sense and measured action, with no sense of perspective (he would have stood back but his back was against the whiteboard), Henry fired all his cannons, he let her have it. “Reh…beck…ka?” he knew this staccato pronunciation of her name irritated her, at least he hoped it did, but she gave no sign of being even the least bit bothered.

Pausing, ensuring that all attention was on her, Rebecca began, in a voice heavy with innocence and concern, “I thought you said that Macbeth got someone else to kill Banquo?”

Henry had little choice but to admit defeat, little choice but to glow with irritation and little choice but to raise his voice and declare his position untenable, the world devoid of hope and dealing with this class beyond his capabilities.

“Open your books on page seventeen.” By pointedly not answering Rebecca’s question, Henry hoped to put as much distance between his defeat at the hands of Rebecca. He would invest all his energy in his newly acquired position of issuer of orders, dictator of page numbers and commander of all before him.

But there are always more hands, hands shooting up, hands swaying before him, hands, hands, hands…

“I’ve forgotten my book.” Accompanied with the faintest of smiles, this barb was one too far.

What followed… “I’ve forgotten my book too.”, followed by “So have I.”, several offerings of “Me too”, and a half a dozen garbled descriptions of out of the way places where books had been left… were not even necessary to push Henry beyond the limit of his fragile patience.

All he could do was stand there and turn red. The distant branches of the monkey-puzzle tree had become nothing but a vague shape in the distance, a blur, no longer an anchor, certainly not a rock – more a forgotten dream or a forgotten memory.

“Mr Bridgewater…” a voice rang out over the hubbub, “Can I get my book from my locker?” was what finally pushed Henry into a rabid attack on the girls who tormented him.

“What the hell is wrong with you lot?” The volume of Henry’s question, as well as the high pitch of desperation, managed to ensure that each girl stopped talking and directed their pairs of eyes on him. “What the hell…” But Henry didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know how he could even begin to enumerate the crimes that this class had committed, not just today, but every day for the last six months, since the new school year started.

“Is something the matter Mr Bridgewater?” one lone voice cried out.

“What’s wrong Mr Bridgewater?” A chorus started up.

“Stop it!” was all that Henry could manage. “Just stop it! Close you bloody mouths!”

All mouths shut, all hands now rose into the air.

“And put down your hands, for God’s sake.”

“But I thought…”

“Just shut up!”

All of a sudden becoming aware of himself standing there at the front of a classroom, in front of thirty fourteen-year-old children, sixty gaping black holes for eyes, thirty barely perceptible smiles, Henry realised that he had once again lost the battle. As far as winning the war was concerned, Henry had to be philosophical. As far as being philosophical was concerned, Henry had little hope.

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