Thomas was always doing silly things in the classroom for a laugh. He only behaved when Miss Battleaxe was around. We all behaved when Miss Battleaxe was around. She was very large and very strict, and had the kind of voice that could stop the traffic. She had no time for people who fooled around in her class. In the middle of her classroom floor was a large trapdoor which could be lifted with with a small brass ring. We had never seen what lay below the trapdoor but guessed that there might be a small storage room for spare desks or chairs.
On one particular day, we came back from play to find Thomas pushing away the desk above the trapdoor and lifting it up. When it was raised, we all peered into the darkness but saw nothing more than a large square hole, at the bottom of which lay a pile of old books. Before we could stop him, Thomas had climbed down into the hole and sat at the bottom grinning up at us. The next thing I knew was that a couple of boys had shut the trapdoor and replaced the desk above it.
‘Let me out!’ yelled Thomas but we all stood there laughing.
‘Quiet!’ shouted Miss Battleaxe who had appeared from nowhere and we all scuttled back to our desks, except, of course, for Thomas. Miss Battleaxe often appeared suddenly as if she could walk through walls. She said it was a gift.
‘Good Morning, children,’ boomed Miss Battleaxe.
‘Good Morning, Miss,’ we replied.
‘Today,’ she continued, ‘We are going to learn about the Romans and how they changed the lives of so many........’. At this point, Miss Battleaxe paused and asked, ‘Where’s Thomas?’
We all looked at his empty desk and waited for a small voice to cry ‘I’m down here’, but there was only silence. Fred Frisbee then suggested that he may have been unwell and had gone home. Winnie Wickers thought that he might have had to run an errand for the head teacher. No one suggested that Miss Battleaxe might be standing one metre above his head.
‘Well,’ said Miss Battleaxe, ‘We’ll have to continue the lesson without him and you all better pay attention because next week we shall have a test to see how much you remember.’
We all groaned, but not too loudly as Miss Battleaxe did not like to hear children groan or moan in her class. Outside, the sun was shining and the playing fields in the distance looked so inviting, but inside the classroom we had to sit quietly, listening and learning all about the Romans. She probably told us lots of interesting facts about how they got here, when and where they landed, what they wore and what they ate. Unfortunately, most of it went in one ear and out of the other because all we could think about was Thomas sitting there in the dark under the trapdoor. Then Omar O’Shea and Petal Patel started to giggle, but we all looked at them fiercely and shook our heads just like Miss Battleaxe would have done. This was no time to start giggling.
Suddenly, as Miss Battleaxe was describing the construction of Roman roads, the sound of a book falling came from under the floor boards. Almost immediately, Jasmine Juxtapose pushed a book off her desk. ‘Sorry Miss,’ she said as she picked it up and received a cold stare from Miss Battleaxe. It was the one she used to stun wasps.
A little later, as Miss Battleaxe was showing us a picture of a Roman centurion and explaining how he tied his toga, there came a loud sneeze from the underworld. Within a second or two, several pupils were all sneezing together and disturbing Miss Battleaxe’s presentation.
‘Dear me!’ she exclaimed, ‘I hope there isn’t a nasty bug going round. We don’t want anyone to miss next week’s test, do we?’ but no one spoke.
Towards the end of the lesson, some of us thought we heard the sound of snoring coming from the trapdoor. Well, none of us was going to pretend to be asleep in Miss Battleaxe’s class, but she didn’t seem to notice and kept droning on about those Romans. Finally, the lesson was over. Miss Battleaxe swept out of the classroom and, when the coast was clear, we released Thomas from his dungeon. He was covered in dust but didn’t seem too unhappy at having spent the whole lesson there.
Greta Grunge, who didn’t like Thomas very much, said ‘We’re going to have a test next week and you won’t know any of the answers.’ She then flounced out of the classroom followed by some of her tongue-poking friends.
‘I’m not worried about that,’ said Thomas, ‘I just need to have a good excuse ready for not being here. I suppose I could say that I got locked in a storeroom by accident.’
‘Or in the toilet,’ suggested Basil Burlap who usually had lots of good ideas, but not on this occasion.
Well, a week passed and we found ourselves back with Miss Battleaxe again, but this time we all stayed above ground. and the trapdoor remained firmly closed.
‘Now let’s see how much you remember about my talk on the Romans. Get out your workbooks and write the answers to my questions. You will write in your best handwriting and there will be no talking.’
We knew better than to break Miss Battleaxe’s rules. If anyone did, she would rap them across the knuckles with the edge of a ruler. So hard that it ruined the careers of some promising violin players. The test began and I still remember some of the questions, though I didn’t have much luck with the answers. I still wouldn’t.
When did the Romans land in Britain?
How many ships did they bring?
Where did they come ashore?
What kind of food did they find here?
What is special about Roman roads?
and so on.
After the test, Miss Battleaxe sat at her desk marking our workbooks while we had to do something she called silent reading. At last, the marking was over and she announced the results in reverse order. Even though Thomas had missed the lesson,
his was not the first name she called out. That honour went to Danny Dingbat, the class dunce. Danny had managed to score half a point for spelling Roman correctly, but lost it for writing ‘there rodes did not hav spede camras’.
There was some excitement when Crystal Balls outpointed Greta Grunge, who usually came top in classroom tests. In fact, we had just started to applaud Lily Lasagne’s fine performance in which she made only one mistake when Miss Battleaxe told us to quieten down.
‘Save your applause for the class champion. For the only pupil who made no mistakes in our test. For the one to whom I shall award this Easter egg. Today, children, our winner is Thomas.’
She went on to say that, although Thomas had missed the lesson, he had gone to the trouble to find out about the Romans in time for the test. In addition to the Easter egg, she also awarded him the ‘Student of the Week’ gold star on the large chart which she kept to encourage us. When she handed him the egg, she called him the ‘Victor Ludorum’ which had old Thomas, and a few more of us, quite confused until she explained it was Latin for the winner of the competition.
Later, in the cloakroom, I asked Victor, I mean Thomas, how he did it. ‘It was easy,’ he replied. ‘Stuck under the trapdoor, I had nothing else to do but listen to old Battleaxe rattling on about the Romans. There was nothing down there to distract me. I couldn’t flick pieces of paper at Greta Grunge or poke my tongue out at her friends. I couldn’t swop silly notes with Fred Frisbee, wink at Lily Lasagne or stare out of the window. I was just trapped in the darkness and remembered every word she said. In fact, I don’t think I will ever forget them. Now where did I hang my toga?’
Tony Crowley (c) 2011