At six in the morning no one’s really very happy to be anywhere. They shuffled into the classrom, bleary-eyed, grumpy, grey-faced, grunting and nodding at each other. Row and column of desks: there was some dispirited conversation, but it slumped into silence after a couple of minutes. They were all exhausted.
This was Day 245. There were 30 left to go.
A clown burst into the room, blowing a whistle and banging on a drum. He wore a silver suit and a great purple tophat. He raced around the room, whistling, banging, tootling a little horn, while the students were frozen. He ran to the desk, pulled out a cassette player, and slipped a tape into it. Calliope music blared forth. One student in the back fainted dead away, held in the chair by force of habit.
There was some muffled sobbing while the clown beamed at everyone. He turned the volume down on the tape player. He slung his hat without looking on to the hooks lining the wall. Underneath he had bright, cherry-soda hair, curly and monstrous.
He cleared his throat.
“Michael?” he said.
Horror! Angry silence for seconds.
“Michael Andersen?” he said.
“Here, sir,” said Michael.