Davie trudged along the road to school, it was cold - bitterly cold - and raining, not hard but steady like, he was in no rush to get there. For Davie school was a living nightmare, it was something that had to be endured and somehow survived. He walked along with his head down and his hands wedged deeply into his pockets. Kicking at shale along the way, he wondered why life was so unfair, and what - if anything - he could do about it.
All too soon he was there, and another school day had begun. Thirty-two slightly damp bodyies crammed into one small classroom. Aided by the heat from the radiators, the mingled aroma of carbolic soap, sweat and the overall dampness permeated from the occupiers of the plastic orange chairs, each child adding his or her own 'something' to the melee.
Old Blake was in his usual filthy temper. He wasn't really that old, probably no more than around thirty, but to the assembled eleven year olds, he was an ancient and terrible ogre.
It wasn't just Davie; he was unpleasant to all the children. Davie often wondered why he stayed in a job that he obviously hated so much, with children that he couldn't stand.
Davie was his pet, his particular pet hate that is. He made the little boy's life a misery. Any opportunity to single the child out, and humiliate him in front of his classmates was jumped on with glee. It was the only time that old Blakey really seemed happy. Blake had told him - in quiet times when there were no listening ears - how much he despised him.
"You know boy," he always called him boy and dragged the O out until it barely fit between the B and the Y, "I don't like you boy. In fact I can't stand you. You make me sick. Do you hear me, sick."
Davie heard him all too well, for it was something he heard, or had picked up on in some form or another many times. He understood perfectly how much Blake disliked him.
He had done nothing to the man to provoke such irrational feelings in him. In fact at first, he had tried very hard to get along with him, wanting to please him, to like and be liked. Huh fat chance.
Blake turned from the blackboard, a small smudge of white chalk on the end of his nose making him look ridiculous, yet not one child sniggered or grinned. There were no knowing looks passed from child to child. They remained immobile.
"Right class. I want a two thousand-word essay, by the end of lesson, on the effects and hardship caused by the Great Depression. Now then, you all know what you're doing, so I want no feeble, whining, excuses. Now get your lazy, useless heads down and get on with it. Does everybody understand? What about you Davie Tate, do you think even you can manage to follow those most simple of instructions? " His voice rose to a bellow on the last five words and he was gratified to see several of the little brat's wince.
Here we go, thought Davie, he's off.
A minute later the rustling noise of industrious elbow's and scratching nibs could be heard above the children's rhythmic breathing. An occasional cough intruded, or a chair being pulled closer to the table for comfort screeched into the concentrated academia, but nobody paid any heed.
Only one child hadn't lowered his head to the excersise book in front of him. He sat uncomfortably, dreading the moment of explosion that was about to cause every grubby face in the classroom to look up.
Oh shit, he thought, because he was at that age where he would. The last thing he wanted to do was draw attention to himself, to be singled out once more for some of Blakeies cruel abuse. He remembered quite clearly putting his pencil case on the kitchen table before he left the house. Why then, why the hell, hadn't he transferred it to his satchel? He'd be caned for this. Blake loved any opportunity to cane him, it didn't take much, anything, any little goddamned thing that he could use as an excuse to get his best friend the cane out he would.
Oh well Davie, come on put your hand up and tell him.
Davie tried to raise his hand to get the teacher's attention, but although his mind gave all the appropriate instruction, his arm stubbornly refused to move. So he just sat, eyes fixed on the front desk - waiting, hoping that Blake might have a sudden heart attack and die before he noticed that Davie wasn't writing. Praying that he might spontaneously combust right there in his chair. Davie figured that temper might be able to cause that if it was bad enough, and Blakie's temper was formidable.
Everybody else had been working for possibly about a minute, though it seemed like a life time longer, before Blake slowly raised his eyes from the marking he had begun going through. Of course he knew, he had known all along, that the child had not begun his work, he was purposefully drawing out the moment of confrontation to make his prey suffer. Davie was watching him, waiting, and he saw the unmistakable glint of twisted joy come into the man's eyes as he acknowledged that Davie had a problem.
"Why Master Tate. I see that you have not taken to working with your classmates. May I assume that such menial work is beneath you? Of course you already know everything there is to know about the Great Depression don't you? Perhaps you would like me to have some tea and cucumber sandwiches sent up for you to nibble on." His voice was oily, sickly oozing with the barbed sarcasm, but now he was ready for the second line of attack, he screamed at the child. "Why are you sitting there like a moron child? Did your mother produce a retard? It leads you to wonder doesn't it, what your mother lay with to produce the likes of you."
Davie felt the tears stinging the back of his eyes as they always did when Blake started talking about his mother. He knew how to hurt; he knew what upset him most. Davie's father had died five years earlier in a huge mining disaster, and his mother had struggled to bring Davie up alone until she had re-married. Davie hated it when Blake said nasty things about his ma'.
"What's the matter boy?"
He forced the tears back and tried hard to make his voice sound as confident as possible. For all of his mere eleven years, he had worked out some time ago, that weakness was the spur that drove Blake on. Despite his brave effort, his voice box turned traitor and ran in trembling defeat, what finally emerged when the child spoke was something akin to a wavering squeak.
"I haven't got a pen sir!"
"Oh I see, you haven't got a pen? Did you hear that everybody? David Tate saw fit to not bring a pen to school with him. Now I ask you, is that an intelligent way to behave, when you know you have history first lesson? Well is it?" He yelled.
"No Sir," parroted all the children in unison.
Davie was punished for not having a pen. And after that he was punished because his shoelace had come undone, and after that he was punished for talking in the lunch queue, even though he knew better than to say a word. It was an average morning, no better or worse than any other.
The final bell rang and it was time to go home. But not for Davie; he had been given a detention for sneezing. Blake said it had been a deliberate attempt at class disruption. He had two hundred lines to write before he could go home.
I must not distract my classmates from their work because I do not want the blame for their failed education laid at my door as this would cause my poor mother distress.
Blake was renowned throughout the school for long and inventive construction of lines. He would not have been happy if his two hundred lines had not in fact stretched to four.
Jackson the science teacher walked past the classroom and bid the headmaster goodnight. If he noticed that Blake had kept the same child in for the third time that week he made no mention of the fact. He had also been victim to Blake's tongue and when you were on a twelve-month contract you didn't question the headmaster's methods.
Blake left soon after the other teachers. The cleaners were swarming all over his school like locusts. Their idle chatter and obvious lack of intelligence irritated him. Before leaving he instructed Davie that if he left his desk before the lines were complete, he wouldn't sit down for a week.
Davie took a deep breath and opened the latch on the kitchen door. His mother was standing beside the stove cooking their evening meal. His step-father sat by the open fire, a woodbine hanging from the corner of his mouth.
"Well boy you took your time. School finished hours ago. Where the hell have you been?"
He glanced at his mother, she was hacking at a pigs head. Davie hated pigs head broth, but maybe if he didn't eat it all there'd be a little bit of the tongue left. His ma' had a fresh bruise spreading across her cheek. Davie hated to see his ma' hurt, and he hated it all the more because he did nothing about it.
"Well I asked you a question boy?"
He tried not to look insolent, truly he did, but the big bastard knew exactly where he'd been. As Blake's hand shot out and caught Davie at the back of the head, Davie comforted himself by wondering what it would be like to hack at a pigs head with a big butcher's knife.