Непредвиденная вакансия - Часть первая - Среда III
Andrew, Fats and twenty-seven others spent the last period on Wednesday afternoon in what Fats called ‘spazmatics’. This was the second-from-bottom maths set, taken by the department’s most incompetent teacher: a blotchy-faced young woman fresh from teacher training, who was incapable of keeping good order, and who often seemed to be on the verge of tears. Fats, who had set himself on a course of determined underachievement over the previous year, had been demoted to spazmatics from the top set. Andrew, who had struggled with numbers all his life, lived in fear that he would be relegated to the very bottom set, along with Krystal Weedon and her cousin, Dane Tully.
Andrew and Fats sat at the back of the room together. Occasionally, when he had tired of entertaining the class or whipping it into further disruption, Fats would show Andrew how to do a sum. The level of noise was deafening. Miss Harvey shouted over the top of them all, begging for quiet. Worksheets were defaced by obscenities; people got up constantly to visit each other’s desks, scraping their chair legs across the floor; small missiles flew across the room whenever Miss Harvey looked away. Sometimes Fats made excuses to walk up and down the room, imitating Cubby’s bouncy up-and-down stiff-armed walk. Fats’ humour was at its broadest here; in English, where he and Andrew were both in the top set, he did not bother to use Cubby for material.
Sukhvinder Jawanda was sitting directly in front of Andrew. Long ago, in primary school, Andrew, Fats and the other boys had pulled Sukhvinder’s long, blue-black plait; it was the easiest thing to catch hold of when playing tag, and it had once presented an irresistible temptation when dangling, like now, down her back, hidden from the teacher. But Andrew no longer had any desire to tug it, nor to touch any part of Sukhvinder; she was one of the few girls over whom his eyes glided without the slightest interest. Since Fats had pointed it out, he had noticed the soft dark down on her upper lip. Sukhvinder’s older sister, Jaswant, had a lithe curvy figure, a tiny waist and a face that, prior to the advent of Gaia, had seemed beautiful to Andrew, with its high cheekbones, smooth golden skin and almond-shaped liquid-brown eyes. Naturally, Jaswant had always been completely beyond his reach: two years older and the cleverest girl in the sixth form, with an aura of being aware, to the last hard-on, of her own attractions.
Sukhvinder was the only person in the room who was making absolutely no noise. With her back hunched and her head bent low over her work, she appeared to be cocooned in concentration. She had pulled the left sleeve of her jumper down so that it completely covered her hand, enclosing the cuff to make a woolly fist. Her total stillness was almost ostentatious.
‘The great hermaphrodite sits quiet and still,’ murmured Fats, his eyes fixed on the back of Sukhvinder’s head. ‘Moustachioed, yet large-mammaried, scientists remain baffled by the contradictions of the hairy man-woman.’
Andrew sniggered, yet he was not entirely at his ease. He would have enjoyed himself more if he knew that Sukhvinder could not hear what Fats was saying. The last time that he had been over at Fats’ house, Fats had shown him the messages he was sending regularly to Sukhvinder’s Facebook page. He had been scouring the internet for information and pictures about hirsutism, and was sending a quotation or an image a day.
It was sort of funny, but it made Andrew uncomfortable. Strictly speaking, Sukhvinder was not asking for it: she seemed a very easy target. Andrew liked it best when Fats directed his savage tongue towards figures of authority, the pretentious or the self-satisfied.
‘Separated from its bearded, bra-wearing herd,’ said Fats, ‘it sits, lost in thought, wondering whether it would suit a goatee.’
Andrew laughed, then felt guilty, but Fats lost interest, and turned his attention to transforming every zero on his worksheet into a puckered anus. Andrew reverted to trying to guess where the decimal point should go, and contemplating the prospect of the school bus home, and Gaia. It was always much more difficult to find a seat where he might keep her in his eye-line on the school-to-home trip, because she was frequently boxed in before he got there, or too far away. Their shared amusement in Monday morning’s assembly had led nowhere. She had not made eye contact with him on the bus either morning since, nor in any other way demonstrated that she knew he existed. In the four weeks of his infatuation, Andrew had never actually spoken to Gaia. He attempted to formulate opening lines while the din of spazmatics crashed around him. ‘That was funny, Monday, in assembly …’
‘Sukhvinder, are you all right?’
Miss Harvey, who had bent down over Sukhvinder’s work to mark it, was gawping into the girl’s face. Andrew watched Sukhvinder nod and draw in her hands, obscuring her face, still hunched up over her work.
‘Wallah!’ stage-whispered Kevin Cooper, from two rows in front. ‘Wallah! Peanut!’
He was trying to draw their attention to what they already knew: that Sukhvinder, judging by the gentle quivering of her shoulders, was crying, and that Miss Harvey was making hopeless, harried attempts to find out what was wrong. The class, detecting a further lapse in their teacher’s vigilance, raged louder than ever.
‘Peanut! Wallah!’
Andrew could never decide whether Kevin Cooper irritated intentionally or accidentally, but he had an infallible knack for grating on people. The nickname ‘Peanut’ was a very old one, which had clung to Andrew in primary school; he had always hated it. Fats had forced the name out of fashion by never using it; Fats had always been the final arbiter in such matters. Cooper was even getting Fats’ name wrong: ‘Wallah’ had enjoyed only a brief popularity, last year.
‘Peanut! Wallah!’
‘Fuck off, Cooper, you glans-headed moron,’ said Fats under his breath. Cooper was hanging over the back of his seat, staring at Sukhvinder, who had curled over, her face almost touching the desk, while Miss Harvey crouched beside her, her hands fluttering comically, forbidden to touch her, and unable to elicit any explanation for her distress. A few more people had noticed this unusual disturbance and were staring; but at the front of the room, several boys continued to rampage, oblivious to everything but their own amusement. One of them seized the wood-backed board rubber from Miss Harvey’s vacated desk. He threw it.
The rubber soared right across the room and crashed into the clock on the back wall, which plummeted to the ground and shattered: shards of plastic and metal innards flew everywhere, and several girls, including Miss Harvey, shrieked in shock.
The door of the classroom flew open and bounced, with a bang, off the wall. The class fell quiet. Cubby was standing there, flushed and furious.
‘What is going on in this room? What is all this noise?’
Miss Harvey shot up like a jack-in-a-box beside Sukhvinder’s desk, looking guilty and frightened.
‘Miss Harvey! Your class is making an almighty racket. What’s going on?’
Miss Harvey seemed struck dumb. Kevin Cooper hung over the back of his chair, grinning, looking from Miss Harvey to Cubby to Fats and back again.
Fats spoke.
‘Well, to be perfectly frank, Father, we’ve been running rings around this poor woman.’
Laughter exploded. Miss Harvey’s neck was disfigured by a rising maroon rash. Fats balanced himself nonchalantly on the rear legs of his chair, his face perfectly straight, looking at Cubby with challenging detachment.
‘That’s enough,’ said Cubby. ‘If I hear any more noise like that from this class, I’ll put the whole lot of you in detention. Do you understand? All of you.’
He shut the door on their laughter.
‘You heard the deputy headmaster!’ cried Miss Harvey, scurrying to the front of the room. ‘Be quiet! I want quiet! You – Andrew – and you, Stuart – you can clear up that mess! Pick up all those bits of clock!’
They set up a routine cry of injustice at this, supported shrilly by a couple of the girls. The actual perpetrators of the destruction, of whom everybody knew Miss Harvey was afraid, sat smirking at their desks. As there were only five minutes remaining until the end of the school day, Andrew and Fats set about stringing out the clearing up until they would be able to abandon it unfinished. While Fats garnered further laughs by bouncing hither and thither, stiff-armed, doing the Cubby walk, Sukhvinder wiped her eyes surreptitiously with her wool-covered hand and sank back into obscurity.
When the bell rang, Miss Harvey made no attempt to control or contain the thunderous clamour or rush for the door. Andrew and Fats kicked various bits of clock under the cupboards at the back of the room, and swung their school bags over their shoulders again.
‘Wallah! Wallah!’ called Kevin Cooper, hurrying to catch up with Andrew and Fats as they headed down the corridor. ‘Do you call Cubby “Father” at home? Seriously? Do you?’
He thought he had something on Fats; he thought he had got him.
‘You’re a dickhead, Cooper,’ said Fats wearily, and Andrew laughed.
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