“The brightest and best of you,” says Mrs Holloway, clapping her hands with palms flat and fingers pointing upwards, so that each clap is a prayer of thanks.
And so begins the Annual Parade.
The rest of us, who don’t fit into the category, watch the usual suspects leave their seats and walk towards the stage. Mrs Holloway’s clapping is an unspoken command that we should clap too, and the names of those who fail to comply are stored neatly away in her grey head. They will later be punished in subtle ways. Their grades will be slightly lower than usual. Their skirt lengths and shade of sock will never be quite right (even though they clearly are). Their lunch portions will be a few mouthfuls smaller…
But I need to interrupt myself, because here comes Anthony Goldman, the best at cricket. And Catriona McLeod, the best at maths. And Esther Prendergast, the best at just about everything else. Then Jing, Leo, Matthew and Savita. Alphabetical order, but by first name – a rare bid by our starched school to keep up with these new, informal times we live in.
Esther stalks the aisle as if she’s on a catwalk, her chin held high, her gaze fixed on Mrs Holloway. Anthony looks like he’d rather not be there, hunched over with his cheeks smarting red as if they’ve been slapped. Catriona, on the other hand, wears a welcome smile that makes her face the warmest thing in the hall. She searches the rest of us to spot her best friends and share the moment. That is at least one category I fit into, and so I wave and grin back. You can’t help but smile at Cat. You would never begrudge her any accolades.
Me? No, I have never stood in that line up. As this is the last year of educational torment, I never will. Do I want to? Yes, part of me wishes to walk that stage at least once, to hear the clapping and know it is for me. But do I do the work that would get me up there? No, if I’m honest, I can’t say I ever do.
And now the brightest and best of us are standing in a line as the clapping continues, which it will for as long as Mrs. Holloway still claps.
I survey my elected superiors who tower above us. Yes, there is Anthony Goldman, the best at cricket, but I have seen him shove a younger player angrily to the ground when the boy missed a catch. And Esther Prendergast, good at everything, but most especially at fabricating vicious rumours to destroy any pretenders to her throne. And poor Jing hiding the swell of a baby bump under her charcoal pinafore, Leo intent on destroying his intellect with drugs, Matthew the offensive racist, and Savita, who bears the brunt of Matthew’s bullying and translates her pain into a multitude of scarlet cuts on her arms and legs.
Nobody is perfect, that much is clear. Not even the best of us. Not even the brightest.
(Well, except for Catriona, who just might be.)
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Photo Credit: Andrea Piacquadio (Pexels)