It was like one of those films where they suddenly stop the action. Byron Brown slouched by Miss Bradley’s desk, frozen, with his mouth hanging open. Miss Bradley looked much the same — but a lot thinner and prettier, and she had remembered to close her mouth. Jenny Coburn, standing on the other side of Miss Bradley’s desk, was still rubbing her arm, but apart from that she wasn’t moving.
In case you don’t know, Byron is the Year 7 ‘problem’. I was lucky — I had only met him for the first time two months ago, when we all started at Woods High. No-one liked him. He was big — I don’t mean fat, just big all over. He was never short of money. Neither were most of the rest of us, until we got to school and had to walk past Byron and his gang. His usual answer to questions from a teacher was to deny everything.
Miss Bradley whispered the question again.
‘Byron, did you just hit Jenny?’
‘Yes, miss.’ Bryon said it through clenched teeth, as if the words were being dragged out of him.
‘She wouldn’t give me her phone.’
Miss Bradley sat down, carefully feeling for the chair behind her. She managed to focus on Andy Jamieson, sitting next to me at the back.
‘Andy, please go and fetch whoever is teaching next door.’
I slid down in my seat when the door opened again. This was the geography department, so what was Dad doing teaching next door? He should have been safely in the maths block. Unless you’ve tried it, you have no idea how embarrassing it can be having a teacher for a parent, especially in the same school. It took me a whole month to train Dad to ignore me when we passed on the corridor. He was getting better — at the moment he only had eyes for Miss Bradley.
‘Mr Fowler — I just wanted a witness to something, if you have a couple of minutes?’
Dad frowned, but walked up to the front anyway. Miss Bradley went through the whole script again.
‘Interesting…’ he said, tapping his mouth with one finger. He knew all about Byron, mainly from me.
‘Who broke the goalposts in the sports field last weekend?’ he asked.
‘Me and Danny Williams.’
‘I think I had better take Byron to see the Head,’ Dad said. ‘Janet, would you mind keeping an eye on my class for a while?’
‘A pleasure,’ Miss Bradley said. Byron followed Dad out without even a mutter. With any luck, he would be suspended for at least a week.
The news wasn’t quite so good later that day, though. Dad got back quite late, and he’d decided we were eating Indian. He told me, while he was tipping the Rogan Josh out of the containers, that Byron had denied everything. Byron’s dad had refused to admit that his son was a bully, and said that he and Miss Bradley must have made it all up. The Head decided that Byron could only be suspended for one day.
Things got even worse on Wednesday. We had geography after break, and I arranged to walk up the stairs next to Miss Bradley. I spotted her talking to Dad outside the staffroom, and hid round the corner until she got to the humanities block.
‘I forgot my book, miss.’ It always takes the wind out of their sails if you admit to having forgotten your homework before they find out. She said something, but I didn’t hear with all the noise of 7W clattering into the classroom. She asked me to collect the homework at the end of the lesson, and I took all the exercise books to the front of the class.
‘Thank you, Billy,’ she said. ‘You’ve forgotten yours?’
My answer turned into another of those frozen moments. I knew what Byron must have felt like — I just couldn’t stop myself telling the truth.
‘No, Miss. I couldn’t be bothered to do it, so I left my book at home on purpose.’
She made a quick recovery this time.
‘First thing in the morning, Billy. And it had better be perfect or you can do it again after school!’
Me and Andy walked to the chippy after school. ‘What did you say that for?’ Andy asked.
‘Dunno. Couldn’t help it.’
‘Tell me you like Byron,’ he said.
‘Just say it.’
‘I like Byron. Satisfied?’
‘So you can tell lies!’
‘Course I can!’
‘Well, you couldn’t this morning, or why did you own up to not doing your homework?’
There was no answer to that. Andy got one of his faraway looks, and went home as soon as we had finished our chips.
He turned up at my house really early the next morning. He announced that he had an idea, but he wouldn’t tell me what it was. I hadn’t had breakfast, but I managed to grab something and yelled up to Dad before Andy dragged me off to school.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked through a mouthful of bread and jam.
‘I want to do a little experiment. Tell me you like Byron.’
I swallowed. ‘What?’
‘Just do it.’
‘OK,’ I sighed. When Andy got an idea into his head the quickest way back to normality was to just humour him. ‘I like Byron.’
‘Tell me again when we get to school.’
I was getting pretty bored by the time I had told him I liked Byron at the school gates, in the playground, in the entrance hall and at the bottom of the stairs in the humanities block.
‘Keep going,’ he said, starting up the stairs.
‘Where are we going?’
‘Miss Bradley’s room. Tell me again.’
‘I like Byron’- on the first floor landing.
‘I like Byron’- on the second floor landing.
‘I like Byron’- on the third floor landing.
Then, at the door to Miss Bradley’s room the words wouldn’t come.
‘Go on, say it!’
He went right to the front and sat on the edge of Miss Bradley’s desk.
‘Come here and say it.’
‘I hate Byron.’
He smiled — the same kind of smile he gets when he has finished the whole page of sums and everyone else is still stuck in the middle. Sometimes even friends can be annoying.
‘Are you going to tell me what’s going on?’
‘Yes, in a minute.’
‘You like keeping people in suspense, don’t you?’
‘It makes me feel cleverer than everyone else,’ he said. He went red and looked really embarrassed, and almost ran over to the door.
I know Andy is brainier than me. He knows he is brainier than me. But we are friends, so we never mention it. Until now.
‘Are you going to tell me what’s going on?’ I asked again.
‘OK,’ he said, still looking embarrassed. ‘Come outside.’
He walked halfway to the school gates, then turned and looked back at the humanities block. ‘What do you see?’
‘Get on with it, Andy. We’re not in a lesson now!’
He pointed to the roof, where the tower with the aerials was. ‘That tower has been there for a couple of years. I asked Miss Bradley about it once. She said that a mobile phone company pays the school rent for using part of the roof.’
‘There’s a new dish on it. Right above Miss Bradley’s room.’
‘Radiation?’ I asked, finally getting his point.
‘Something to do with the dish,’ he said. ‘I wonder what happens if you are exposed to it for a long time. Maybe we’d never be able to tell lies again.’
We stood there for a bit, contemplating this horrible thought.
‘I’d have to tell Dad I hated his cooking,’ I said at last.
‘I’d have to tell Mum I hate her new haircut,’ Andy said. ‘And my sister would have to tell Mum she is going out with Wayne Jones.’
‘No more homework excuses.’
‘I wouldn’t be able to nick off in games.’
‘No more secrets.’
‘We’ve got to do something!’ Andy said.
‘I’ll think of something,’ he said. And he would, too.
It was quite a simple plan in the end. Andy had obviously been paying close attention in that science lesson when Mrs Goodman had explained that finding things out for yourself was much better than being told. Personally, I thought it was just more confusing, but maybe Andy was right this time.
We were going to get something out of it first, though.
Andy sat near Byron next time we had geography. He finished his work really quickly and, predictably, Byron wanted to copy it. Andy made a fuss, and Miss Bradley summoned them both to the front. This time Miss Bradley didn’t even seem surprised when Bryon told the truth. She was probably quite bright, for a teacher.
I managed to catch her eye when she looked around for a messenger. ‘Shall I get someone, Miss?’
She just nodded.
I ran for the maths block. This was one time that having Dad in school was going to be useful. I didn’t even knock.
‘Dad, you’ve got to come. Byron is telling the truth again!’
He quickly set some work for his class, and came with me.
‘Dad, why don’t you get the Head to come with you?’
‘This had better not be some kind of trick, Billy!’
Sadly, we missed all the fun. Dad sent us all out, and even found a spare teacher to look after us. They were in there all afternoon, and we saw Bryon’s dad arriving, and a policeman. It looked like Part A of the plan was working beautifully. Part B was just as important, though, and I had a Part C I hadn’t told Andy about.
We hung around on the landing outside Miss Bradley’s room for all of Periods 7 and 8. We’d be in trouble for missing English, but this was important. Eventually there was no-one left but the Head, Dad and Miss Bradley.
‘Well?’ said the Head, as we hovered in the doorway. Luckily, they were all still standing at the front of the room.
‘I’ve had an idea, sir,’ Andy said.
‘I haven’t got time for this now, Jamieson.’
‘Sir, do you like being head of this school?’
‘Not really. I’m just here until I get enough experience to get a job as an inspector.’
You’d be surprised how like Byron a man can look, even when he is forty years older, balding, and wearing glasses. I didn’t know people that old could still go red.
‘Sir,’ Andy rushed on before the Head could recover. ‘I think something in the phone tower is making people tell the truth all the time. It could spread.’
‘Thank you for pointing it out, Jamieson. You can go now.’
The Head turned and stared at me. I still had Part C to put into operation.
‘Dad? Miss Bradley? Do you two fancy each other?’
‘Yes,’ they both said together, and then they both turned beetroot red too. I ran for it before Dad could reach me, and invited myself round to Andy’s house for tea.
I don’t see how having two parents as teachers could be much worse than just one, and I’m looking forward to getting some decent meals in the not too distant future.
They took the new phone dish away, of course.