Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Number One Under Heaven (35)

There were few, if any, smiles as the bus finally hissed to a stop outside the school. Bar none, the children were downcast: some snivelled into their sleeves, missing their little friend, while others had developed the misplaced anxiety that the ringleted girl’s disappearance was somehow their fault. Rushing into the arms of their parents, they sobbed in relief that for them, at least, the ordeal was now over.

Disembarking only after the last of the children had been counted off, the three teachers each wore a heavy mask of guilt. First Abigail Newton faced the sea of angry stares that had assembled at the bottom of the steps. Glancing around helplessly in search of a friendly face, she burst into tears when finding cold detachment instead, the day’s awful events finally getting the better of her. Then Sally Henderson, her face streaked with tears, tottered gingerly down the steps to melt through the crowd and head silently for home, where she would be undertaking a stern evaluation of her actions in Guilin, and her relationship with Brad Taylor.

The last to disembark, Gavin Hewitt stepped down falteringly, to a chorus of jeers. Since news of Sophie Blake’s disappearance had spread throughout the community, the womenfolk had been joined by their men in universal condemnation of Hewitt’s seeming abandonment of the girl. And in China, of all places. It was his appearance the mob had awaited, and now they were ensuring he felt the full weight of their scorn. But there was worse to come for the hapless Deputy Principal – a man who, after all, had already suffered the ordeal of having to leave behind not only the pretty seven-year-old but also Brad Taylor, a relatively inexperienced teacher, all at the instructions of the Chinese Police. Stepping down on to the ground, Hewitt sensed what was coming. Wanted it, in fact. Felt the need to be punished for what he considered his own unforgivable dereliction of duty. And he was indeed about to be on the receiving end. For despite Doctor Elliot’s advice to the contrary, Kate had insisted on attending the homecoming, still clinging to the vain hope that she would be greeting her little girl there.

Suddenly emerging from the throng she rounded instantly on Hewitt, screaming hysterically into his face. “Where’s my baby, you… you fucking bastard?” she shrieked, pummelling her fists into his chest. “Where’s my little Sophie…?” Her voice had become a squeak, unintentionally mimicking her daughter’s. “Och, love. I am so very, very sorry for your distress,” Hewitt tried to calm her, his accent almost turning the words into song. “But young Sophie will be found, I’m sure of–” “Shut up! Shut up, you lying bastard!” Kate continued to scream, cutting him off. A couple of the other Mums now stepped forward, one of whom attempted to mollify her by placing a hand on her shoulder. But Kate was having none of it. Pulling away from the woman, she continued to spit her diatribe: “You left her there in that fucking shit-hole of a place! How could you? Bastard! Bastard!” “Love, I truly wanted to stay there, to wait until she was found. But we were ordered from the place. We were told to leave. And we had to get the other kids back–” Kate slapped Hewitt’s face. Hard. Tears had already formed in the Deputy Principal’s eyes – and not because of the stinging pain, but rather his utter sympathy for this mother’s predicament. He wanted to bury his face in his hands but instinctively knew that he must not, that he must instead remain tight-lipped, accepting whatever his tormentor threw at him. I deserve it, he confessed inwardly.

But Kate’s earlier hysteria had returned, rendering Hewitt momentarily invisible. Turning her attention to the school bus, she stood on tiptoe while attempting to peer through its windows. “Sophie! Sophie!” she called out, delirious, as she now began to run around the vehicle, banging loudly on its side panels. “Where are you, baby…? Where are you…? Sweetie…? Shall we go and buy some ice cream…?” On hearing this, some of the other mothers wept with her, sharing her unbearable sadness, relating at once to what they knew she must be going through. Then tightly gripping the hands of their own children, they began slowly filing away, to bath and feed their precious ones before tucking them into bed, early, while giving thanks that the missing child was not theirs.

posted by Kirk at 1:00 am  

1 Comment »

  1. It works… brought tears to my eyes…

    Comment by BB girl — June 10, 2008 @ 6:29 am

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