I’m on the news. The actual news. Not the here’s a story about some kid making loom bands to save a dog shelter, now here’s the weather news but the actual real-life news. And they ask me why. Why it happened. Why I did it. I tell them I was hungry.
She’s got one of those haircuts. You know, shaved at the side. It instantly buys her popularity with a lot of the kids. Not me though. I think it looks like she’s recovering from brain surgery. Following a horrific car crash. A lobotomy. She probably wears dungarees when she’s not teaching. Has a boyfriend with a beard. Definitely vegan. She’s tapping grey painted nails on the whiteboard, awaiting an innocuous answer to a banal question. She’s not having much luck. ‘Anyone? Any suggestions?’ says Miss Emmott. You can smell her desperation. See it evaporating off her in waves. Mingling with the scent of damp from unrepaired classroom walls, toxic board-pen fumes and thirty varieties of Lynx and Impulse perfume. They call these sessions the STAR programme. SUPPORT. TEACH. ATTAIN. REACH. It sounds like something that should be painted on the side of a minibus with rainbows and unicorns on it. Not everyone has to do them. Only those with promise who come from families with low academic aspiration. That’s me. At first I was offended, then the other day I went home and asked my dad what he got for his GCSEs. ‘I fudged them,’ he said. ‘Fudged them?’ I asked, ‘what do mean fudged them?’ ‘Fudged them. Got all Fs Us Gs… and Es.’ And then I thought, fair enough really. ‘Anything at all?’ says Miss Emmott. ‘What can we do to make our community, our world a better place. No? Nothing?’ We’re about seven minutes in and she’s already losing the will to live. ‘Do you get paid for doing this?’ I ask. ‘Not a penny, Reilly.’ ‘Well, that’s crap.’ ‘It is, Reilly, yes. If we could make this as pain free as possible that would be great. Our Community, Our Home. Anything we could do?’ I start to laugh. ‘Our community?’ ‘Yes Reilly. Our community. That’s the title of the session.’ ‘Our community. Me, you and Barratt home Barbie over there?’ I’m referring to Chloe at the desk next to me. No idea what she’s doing here. Me. I do Jack in lessons. She’s all gel pens and Paperchase. Her Dad’s proper minted, so there’s certainly no low academic aspiration there. ‘Reilly, is there any need to be so…’ She’s trying to find a word to describe me that isn’t too offensive, one that won’t drop her in it if I decided to report her. She’s struggling. ‘Right. Girls.’ Using her best teacher voice. She’s practiced that in the mirror. ‘I have been asked to roll out this scheme to help students who, for whatever reason, are not on track to meet their target grades. That’s you. OK? That’s why we’re here. ‘ I see it then. She wants to be here about as much as I do. She’s probably been told what to do. What to say. Has no choice. Just like us. I almost feel sorry for her. For a moment I think about backing down. The moment will pass. It will pass then bury itself. Eat itself whole. The worst thing is. We’re over running. Which means I’ll be late for lunch. All the good food will go. I’ll be left with a dried-up tuna sandwich or a slice of crappy pizza. I ask her if she’s noticed the time but she’s off on one and doesn’t bother to answer. ‘OK,’ says Miss Emmot, clapping a singular clap as if it might wake us from our STAR-induced coma, ‘changes we could make. For example, sometimes when I’m in the car and I’m waiting for someone, I would leave the engine running. You know if I’m charging my phone or keeping the heating on. Now I switch it off.’ Oh well, that’s brilliant that. Job done. That’s solved a lot of the issues in my community. ‘Dogs,’ yells Chloe, making both of us jump. ‘Dogs?’ asks Miss Emmott. Who actually looks like another little a part of her has died inside. These are the bits they don’t show you on those be a teacher adverts where they’re all running around with papier mache balloons on their heads pretending to be the solar system. ‘Yeah. Dogs. You can like, clean up after them instead of letting them like poo on the path. I stood in some last Tuesday. Wednesday? Tuesday.’ Jesus freaking Christ on a bike! I bang my head on the desk repeatedly just to feel anything other than the utter tedium of my existence. ‘What about our Global Community?’ asks Miss Emmott, ‘Recycling? I’ve actually started shopping in those shops, you know where you take your own containers for spices and stuff? Cut down on my plastic use’. Tupperware. That’s much more relevant. Spices for all those gourmet curries we love to cook. You know what I want to do? I want to go back in time and find six-year-old, keeno me, and be like Reilly love, chill the hell out. Don’t practice your reading and writing. Be stupid. Forget crappy little Biff and Chip. Traitors. Write backwards, don’t learn to count. That way when you get to sixteen, they’ll think you’re a proper thicko and just leave you the hell alone. Otherwise, little Reilly, all this colouring in the lines is going to do is make them think you can get an eight in physics when you’re sixteen and you’ll have to live out your days stuck in waste-of-space classes like this one. I look up and realise Miss Emmott asked me a question. No idea what about so I ask her if we’re going to overrun. Again. If I’ll be late for lunch. Again. And I tell her that I’m hungry. She doesn’t answer my question but instead repeats hers. ‘What is in your hand, Reilly?’ ‘It’s a water bottle.’ ‘Yes. A plastic water bottle.’ Yeah.’ I cup my hands around the bottle and pull it further towards me. Locking in eye contact. Defiant. She smiles. I don’t. ‘So, what could you do with it once you’ve finished with it?’ I could do it. I could smile and say I’ll reuse it or recycle it miss. I could. But I don’t. Instead, I say, ‘I’ll throw it away with the rest of them, Miss. ‘ ‘Mmm hmm or you could…?’ ‘It’s nearly ten past.’ I’m ignored again. ‘Ree…’ ‘I want to go for my lunch.’ ‘Reeeeee.’ ‘Recycle it!’ shouts Chloe, like some deranged cheerleader. ‘Thank you, Chloe.’ ‘Drop down and die, Chloe.’ ‘Reilly. Enough’ Snaps Miss Emmot. I think she might lose her game face but she doesn't. She takes a deep breath and smiles at Chloe. ‘Chloe’s right. You could recycle it. Or better still you could buy a reusable one.’ And this is why I hate her. Buy a reusable one. The only reason I’ve got this water bottle is because they had a job lot at the food bank. It’s Evian for Christ’s sake. When am I ever going to spend £1.20 on some water let alone a fiver on an empty bottle? She’s beyond clueless. Before I really know what I’m doing, I’m pouring my water all over the desk. She asks me why. ‘I’m hungry,’ I say, ‘and you’re making me late for lunch.’ ‘We all get hungry. I missed my break today setting up this session, but you don’t see me behaving like that do you?’ No. I want to say. I don’t mean I’m hungry as in I’m a bit peckish because I’ve skipped my Marks and Spencer Quinoa Falafel wrap. I mean I’m hungry as in I’ve not eaten since one o’clock yesterday. Because we’ve got no food in the house. Because we never have any food in the house. And while you’re having a go at me about my water bottle, you’re making me late for my school lunch. The only meal I’m likely to get today or tomorrow or the next day. Please, let me go and get something decent to eat. I don’t say that though. Instead, I tell her to go boil her head. And she tells me I’ll be kept back. Another late lunch and another single slice of crappy pizza to last me the next twenty-four hours. ‘Lunch. Lunch. Lunch.’ I start banging the water bottle on the desk. If this was a film Chloe would join in me with my chant. Maybe jump on the desk. ‘Lunch. Lunch. Lunch.’ Maybe other kids would come in from other classrooms. Other kids who also feel hungry every day. Every minute. Who have to sit in special programs listening to people tell them that they are falling behind, that they are under achieving. Inadequate. When nobody knows. Nobody knows the weight of gown-up responsibility and accountability of other peoples’ sadness that they carry around with them on a daily basis. Inadequate. ‘Lunch. Lunch. Lunch'. Nobody joins me though. Instead, even the bottle fails to stand in solidarity with me and decides to smash against the table into two angry jagged pieces. It’s glass you see. I lied about it being plastic. We’re not allowed glass bottles in school. For obvious reasons. Still recyclable though. Miss Emmott walks towards me. ‘Sit down Reilly.’ ‘I want my lunch.’ I stand up. There’s a blip in time, I think. Like that feeling where you’ve closed your eyes for just a second, but you’ve actually been asleep for hours. I’m awake now though. Looking at her face. I realise how young she is. It’s perhaps the shock. The fear that makes her look younger. Vulnerable. She’s backed against a wall and I’m pointing the broken bottle towards her, and I don’t know why. I’m not going to do anything, but she doesn’t know that. And if I’m honest I’m not so sure myself. Must be quite frightening having a glass bottle inches from your face. Chloe begins to cry and then, when she sees I’m not moving, starts shuffling towards the door. Backwards. Hands in the air, like I’ve got a gun. It would be quite funny if it weren’t so serious. She’s gone and I drop the bottle. Eventually. The glass bottle has been safely removed and I’m surveying the classroom. It’s been tipped upside down. They have fled and I am alone, waiting for the inevitable pounding of footsteps of the people who will come and retrieve me from the broken desks and chairs. They’ll change the course of my life forever. I notice a poster she’s stuck up on the board behind her desk. The poster is telling us about there being more plastic in the oceans than fish. I mean if we’re talking about making our community, our world a better place there’s kids in this school, like me, who can’t afford a hot meal each day. Who can sometimes go a whole day without eating properly. Who understand hunger is part of your daily routine. No-one’s designed a poster for that though. As long as the fish are ok then who gives a crap? But that’s a bit trickier, isn’t it? You can’t solve hungry children with re-usable water bottles. So, I’ll be on the news. The actual news. Not the here’s a story about some kid making loom bands to save a dog shelter, now here’s the weather news but the actual real-life news. And they’ll ask me why. Why it happened. Why I did it. I’ll tell them I was hungry. That’ll be the headline. I was just hungry, she says. Just hungry. And I was. I was just really, desperately, unbelievably hungry.
About the Author
Claire-Marie Perry is a full-time Mum/emerging writer from the North East, writing predominantly for the stage and audio drama. She has won a number of awards and small commissions and has been shortlisted for the Hope Mill Theatre Prize.
Claire won both the people’s choice award and was overall winner for the Rapid Reel Monologue competition. Her audio-drama The Date was produced by Owdyado Theatre Company and she was recently commissioned to have her play 30-Something Me performed at The Theatre Royal Newcastle.
Her current project is writing for Do or Die Studio’s Cast-me competition where a performance of her script Fridge Magnets won the overall prize as judged by Colin McKeowan of LA productions.
Hungry is Claire’s first short story.