A minute! That is all it took for the culprit to execute their criminal act. Twenty-two anxious pairs of eyes saw my expression when I discovered the delinquent act. Their mouths were open, heads turning in unison like a pack of sideshow clown heads, attempting to mask their emotions and bluff my intuition.
A red substance dripped from the prongs of a fork laying amongst a pile of pencil shavings, fragments of erasers, and crumpled chalk. Gasps, uncomfortable seat shifting, and whispers filtered through the room as I turned my head sharply in their direction.
My first interrogation question was interrupted by the snap of a door lock. A nervous hand pushed it open. Bang! It closed in a flash as a nervous suspect returned to their seat. Water dripped from their mouth. Their eye contact was evasive. Had they washed away the evidence?
Two girls in the middle of the room caught my attention with their whispered voices. I approached their desk, overpowering them with my presence.
‘You have something to tell me?’ My tone was low and firm, my stern expression fixed on their crumbling faces. No response.
‘We didn’t think they would, do it?’
‘What, steal my lunch? Eat my pie with sauce? Who would do such a thing?’
Silence! I studied my suspects carefully, searching for a crack in their emotional armour. Guilt reeked in the air.
Then I saw the flaky leftovers trailing towards a desk. A drip of sauce lingered on a cheek, a quivering, bony cheek.
My nostrils flared, my eyes widened, and my hands shook. Then a moment of clarity struck me. As I approached the guilty party, a stench of horrific body odour, a dirty, torn shirt, and unhygienic skin characterised the shaking student before me. His motive was evident, backed up by the rumblings of his stomach and the tears that rolled down his dirt-ridden face. Everyone waited for my verdict.
The bell rang. No one moved. They wanted to know how this would end.
I lowered myself to his level and waited for his eyes to lock with mine.
An understanding smile pierced my lips, my eyes glistened, and my voice calmly uttered four words. ‘Everyone, off you go.’
The students fled the room, all except Peter, my culprit. He waited until everyone had gone before he replied with a grateful smile. The message, while not executed appropriately, had been communicated.