Tales of Lost Jumpers
The Chosen One
“Does Patrick Thompson think he is god or something?” This wasn’t going well. Tom would have to change his tactics if he was going to make a strike at all, let alone persuade Ms. Prove to give Patrick Thompson the benefit of the doubt. As if in answer to his musing Ms. Prove’s chair gave out a deep uncomfortable grinding noise as she shifted position, waiting for Thomas’s answer.
“No, I don’t think he’s as far along as …”
“So what did he tell you?” Boy, she’s good, thought Tom. A metallic groan mixed with a faintly disturbing scratching sound came from the chair.
“He said… he thought,” Tom allowed a slight pause as the tantalising verbal curve ball went across the desk, “That he was the chosen one.” Yes! Strike one!
“O.k. Now talk me through lunchtime.”
“O.k.” Not quite a full sentence, but Tom was encouraged. “Well, it seems that he tried to convince some other chi…”
“What did he say he could do?”
“Um nothing, as far as I can tell. I think they just wanted Pat to…”
“Prove it. Yes.”
“Yes.” Damn. Come on Tom, one more strike. Ms. Prove leaned forward, putting her elbows carefully on the desk. From somewhere beneath her came the sound of two springs being slowly, and painfully it seemed, stretched. “Is he crazy Tom?” Here was the moment he had been dreading. Now he must defend the train of thought that had been battling its way across his mind all afternoon. He spoke slowly.
“No, no I don’t think so.” Strike two!
“Good. No, neither do I. He seems to be a genuinely nice boy. Harmless. Just became a little…” Tom successfully resisted the urge to fill the pause with an interruption of his own. He would allow her to finish and gain the moral victory. “…fanciful in his aspirations I think. So, what should do with him now?” Another picture book image of Jesus, stood before a Pontius Pilate, who bore a strong resemblance to Ms. Prove, passed through Tom’s mind. Taking the game to new levels Ms. Prove seemed to interrupt herself. “So, I’ll ‘phone his parents and see if I can have a chat with them after school. Reassure them all is well, we’ve dealt with the situation etc, etc. I’ll speak to the boys together and maybe we can find some strategies that will help Patrick not get into that sort of situation again. Perhaps you would just have a little word with him one to one too?”
“O.K., I’ll do that, have a chat wi…”
“Good. Right!” She stood, accompanied by a decidedly sinister hissing sound from the large black chair and walked around the desk to the door. Tom, aware that his chances of three strikes was fast running out, joined Ms. Prove in looking through the small oblong pane of wired glass set into the door. Patrick was sat between Thomas T and Joshua G from Class 3. ‘Tom and Gerry’ were both giggling and smiling warmly at Patrick, who appeared to be miming the picking up of something very gloopy and unstable from the table in front of them, using long trailing finger movements. Ms Prove looked aside at Tom but he couldn’t read her expression. For his own part, the scene of the two terrors of Year 3 apparently held enthralled by the theatrical show served, in part, to confirm the weight of his convictions about any inherent interpersonal gifts Patrick Thompson may have been given. Ms Prove opened the door with a flourish.
“O.k. boys, in you come.”
Patrick was returned to class 2, clutching a piece of glittery folded paper, just in time to be sent out again to gather his belongings for home. There was another half hour before the end of the school day but Mr King was ‘piloting’ another attempt at reducing the amount of fuss and bother caused by this apparently simple activity. No matter how many ways Thomas endeavoured to prevent possible distractions and encourage his classes to be quick and purposeful, there was something about fetching one’s belongings in order to go home that apparently presented itself as an impossibly high expectation for the children.
Currently, Tom was sending the class out in small groups of three and four children, well ahead of the end of the day so that, in theory, there should be time to deal with any issues arising from this ambitious plan. Arguments, falling over, returning with nothing at all, becoming mysteriously lost, standing chatting, sliding on the floor, hiding in the toilets, swinging from coat hooks, (swinging others from the coat hooks), being sick, staring at the outside through the large double doors – these were just some of the dangers that all too easily befell the unsuspecting seven Year old at St. Anne’s County Primary school when asked to collect their things. But amongst the trials of the cloakroom there was one cry sure to bring trepidation to every teacher’s heart. “I can’t find my jumper.”
As Mrs Moore was despatched to help Millie Reynolds, who, despite being in only the second group to brave the cloakroom that afternoon, had already mislaid her cardigan, Tom mused on the mathematics of the situation. Who would be able to construct an equation worthy of describing the movement of jumpers around a cloakroom? It might appear simple at first, he thought. Each child arrives on the first day of term with one jumper. And, for that Halcyon moment all is clear, all is straightforward. Then, it begins.
At any point during the following six or so weeks, any child, or even any two or three children within that class, could be heard describing their jumpers as lost. Yet despite the best efforts of the trained and seasoned professional staff at hand, on any given day for the rest of the term, at least one child each day would be sent home without a jumper.
Balancing this, on the other side of the equation, was the number of jumpers left behind in the cloakroom or classroom on any given day. The part that would tax even Einstein’s’ brain, Tom thought, was the fact that the two facts showed little correlation. Very few of the jumpers left behind seemed to match the names of those who had lost theirs. And vice-versa. It was, a younger Tom had decided, within his first year of teaching, a mystery. Now in his fourth year, it had become simply an unexplainable phenomenon.
The missing jumper mystery had reached a pinnacle for Tom last year when Alfie Jones had managed to lose no less than three separate jumpers on three consecutive days. Certainly, Tom recalled, one by one, they had been found and Alfie had been sent home with a smile; but on each occasion his smile was at the expense of another child’s tears. Each new discovery of a jumper marked ‘Jones’ on another child’s peg or chair had proved the existence, or rather, non-existence, of someone else’s. It had been a tough week.
As he sat down with the remainder of the class to read their end of day story Thomas King smiled at Millie Reynolds as she sat, lip a-quivering, while Mrs Moore continued to scour the pegs and boxes outside.
“It’s alright Mille, Mum and Dad will understand. You didn’t lose it on purpose, did you?” Tom feigned a look of suspicion mixed with mischief. “Or…did you eat it? Did you eat your jumper, Millie Reynolds?” Millie’s lip ceased it’s quivering for a moment as it was pulled into a reluctant smile. Tom hoped that her parents would indeed understand. Not all parents shared his forced attempts to appear sanguine over the issue.
Sometimes Tom felt that the only thing that would bring certain parents into contact with the school wasthe loss of a jumper. He had put many notes in their child’s reading diaries, perhaps, with concerns about their progress, yet the only thing to bring them to his door would be the report of “I’ve lost my jumper.” His personal record had been Mr Jones – outside Tom’s door at 3:06 precisely – on hearing that Alfie had lost his third and final jumper. (Perhaps that was understandable, reflected Tom. It was the third jumper.) Still, he hoped Joy would be able to find Millie’s cardigan before they had to leave. He picked up his tattered copy of ‘The Iron Man’ and began to read.
Later, as they made their way out to the playground, Tom made sure that he was walking near to Patrick Thompson. As they rounded the corner and began the walk across the front of the building down to the playground Tom caught sight of Ms Prove standing with two parents. Mr and Mrs Thompson, Tom surmised.
“You O.K Pat? Been a bit of a funny day for you.” Patrick looked thoughtful and nodded slowly.
“Ms Prove said she thought I’d learnt a lesson today.”
“Oh, right. And have you?”
“Um…I’m not really sure which lesson she meant, really. Do you think it was maths?”
“Well, I think, I hope you learn something in all your lessons Patrick.”
“Oh yes. Probably.”
“Yup.” There was a pause, as Class 2 waited for one half of Year 6 to cross the entrance to the playground ahead of them.
“I think we’re all the chosen one, aren’t we?” A slight flush of anxiety passed through Tom’s stomach. He looked again to the playground, trying to gauge the demeanour of Patrick’s parents as they chatted with the Head teacher. Feeling slightly devious Tom bent a little lower towards Patrick’s face and half whispered,
“Um, how do you mean?”
“Well, we were all chosen by our parents, so I guess that means that we’re all special in a way.”
“Um…yes.” Tom didn’t know whether he was more impressed or more relieved by young Patrick Thompson’s mixture of wisdom and humility. “Yes Pat,” he repeated, “yes it does.” The line was moving forward again and Tom excused himself from Patrick and moved to the front of the line so that he could check each child had seen the person responsible for collecting them. Most exchanged a smile or a nod to Thomas before their children ran over to them, with an enthusiasm that always warmed his heart. Soon Patrick was stood beside him again.
“O.K. Pat?” He nodded.
“There’s Mummy and Daddy!”
“O.K, off you go.” As Thomas released the remaining children to their families he held Patrick Thompson and his family in the corner of his vision. At first the three adults, Ms P, and Mr and Mrs Thompson stood centred around Patrick, exchanging conversation. For a moment Tom’s attention was re-directed to Millie Reynold’s top lip again as she came to the end of the line. He mouthed the words “Lost her jumper” and pointed to her head with what he hoped was a “Take pity on her” smile. Millie’s mother greeted her with a hug so Tom turned slowly to go back to the classroom, being sure to take in the quartet by the fence. The adults appeared to be smiling openly at each other now. That was a good sign.
Patrick was smiling too and held his arms up to his father who leaned down, hugged him and then, to Tom’s surprise, he nodded in Tom’s direction. Patrick turned from his father’s embrace and ran over to Tom.
“Thank you, Mr King. You’re special too.” They faced each other for a moment and Tom looked across and smiled at the Thompsons.
“Thank you Pat,” Said Tom, mildly. “Off you go now. See you tomorrow.”
As he turned to walk back to the School building Ms Prove said goodbye to the Thompsons and quietly caught up with Tom.
“So, that all seems to have ended well.”
“Yes, the Thompsons seem to be…”
“Did he tell you the same thing?”
“Um, you mean about us all being cho…”
“Yes. That. Bless him. I think he’ll go far.”
“Yes, he’s a lovely chap. I have a lot of …”
“Oh, but… Mr King.” Ms Prove passed in front of him and made a move towards the main doors. “”Don’t let it happen again. Keep an eye on him, won’t you?” She turned and walked briskly away.
“Yes, yes I will. I have a lot of time for Pat.” Tom finished. Ms Prove was already out of earshot but Tom quietly counted it as a strike anyway. Also walking quickly, struggling with her mac, Joy Moore came around the corner from the Year Two entrance.
“Sorry Tom, got to run, picking up from the vets”
“Oh, okay, yes, you did say. See you tomorrow.”
“Yup, bye!” Then, just after they had passed each other, Mrs Moore paused and called after Tom. “Patrick found Millie’s jumper by the way…and his card’s on your chair.”
“O.k. thanks. Bye!”
It was a good half an hour before Tom was able to attain his chair. While re-positioning tables, picking up paper, replacing plastic coins and a myriad of other small tidying tasks, he allowed himself to muse on the outcome of the day’s events. Most particularly upon Ms Prove’s parting comment. He was not entirely sure that her remark could be confined to Patrick’s excursion on the climbing frame. Was it possible that the ‘it’ to which she referred was a laying of responsibility for Patrick’s epiphany at his feet?
He considered visiting her office and asking her direct but found he had no energy left for further games of Three Strikes. And perhaps she was right. Maybe he should have taken into account how sensitive Patrick was. Still, nobody could have expected him to come out up with his new identity as he had. He was certainly the only child in the class, as far as he knew, who had responded in that way. Perhaps it showed again a certain predisposition on the part of Patrick Thompson.
Here again Tom hesitated to follow his own conclusions. What if Patrick was special in some way? Before he could decide whether or not to follow his own argument, the very words of Patrick Thompson returned to him. “Perhaps we’re all the chosen one, aren’t we?” The memory left Tom with a feeling in his chest that he couldn’t put a name to and sent a thought gently gliding through his mind that, for now, he knew was not ready to coalesce and be fully understood.
“I need a cup of coffee.” He said aloud and went over to his desk. There indeed was Millie’s jumper, lain across his chair’s utilitarian seat and Patrick’s red sparkly card stood against the chair’s back, where Tom’s own black cardigan was spread. He picked up the folded sheet of a4 paper and tried to make out the design on the front. Nothing obvious presented itself. He opened the card.
Inside it Patrick had written, unaided, a message. Tom studied it for a long moment, using all his phonetical de-coding skills at full stretch. Nope. Not sure. The word ‘helping’ might be there, and his name certainly was, as was Patrick, but all the other shapes remained a mystery. At least this showed that he had found a way that he could keep his word to Ms Prove. He would certainly keep an eye on this young man – especially his unaided writing.
Later on that evening Thomas King decided it was well time that he head for home. Mr Co-Cup the caretaker could be heard making his final rounds and Heather and the other Key Stage One teachers had already said their goodbyes. Although it was early in the spring term, Tom recognised the subtle wave of that deep tiredness which he knew would only just be staved off with a good book and an early night.
He yawned as he lifted his jumper from the back of the chair. It brought with it a tiny swirl of red sparks which slowly fluttered to the floor, the loose glitter from Patrick’s card, which he had already put in his marking bag. Tom was about to brush the remaining shimmering red particles from his jumper before putting it on, but instead he paused, held the slightly tatty cardigan up before him and smiled.
“Thanks Pat.” He said to himself. Putting on his glittering garment Tom gathered his things and made his way out to the car park.
As he walked, from behind him a thin trail of glitter blew into the air. Slight against the gentle breeze, almost imperceptible some would say, but present and magical nonetheless.