I sat on the teacher’s dais, alone and unprotected. As floods of small schoolboys flowed into the room in unrelenting waves, I began to realise the full extent of my vulnerability. Standing at the highest point in the room, I was an obvious target. Any of the malevolent children below me could easily hit me with a heavy object or swarm on me like a crowd of ants, overwhelming me with sheer force of numbers and sending me tumbling to the ground. During the war, I had been far more used to giving commands in the safety of sheltered tunnels and barracks’ mess halls rather than like this, so alarmingly exposed.
“Silence!” I bellowed, rising from my chair and rapping smartly on the desk with my fist, “Take your seats!” There was a furious last minute flurry of sound as the boys jostled with one another for possession of desks and scraped their chairs inwards. In only a few short seconds, silence reigned. I stood on the platform glaring down into the faces of each individual like a corporal observing his troops. In this room I was a corporal once again. My word was law.
“You are to write an essay on the topic stated here.” I gestured jerkily towards a worn blackboard standing beside me. “Your essay is to be no less than five hundred words. Talking is not permitted.”
A gentle wave of rustling washed over the assembly as pens were procured and nibs dipped into ink. I resumed my seat, sitting ramrod straight on the edge of the chair, my eyes roving over the bended heads. I had to maintain order. Any individual who questioned my authority was a threat. As calm settled over the room and pens started to scratch against paper, rather than relaxing, I began to feel more uncomfortable. I thought back to my time in the trenches; to the raucous bellows of men and the relentless patter of bullets. Sound was a constant, inescapable part of life in those days and the absence of it was a sinister anomaly.
Then I saw him. Lifting his head momentarily, he