He sat in the shade, wearing the expression we had come to call his ‘teacher with a stupid class’ look. He was looking at once cynical, exasperated and pained. Some child had said something exceptionally idiotic, and probably the naughtiest boy in the class had just farted. We had thought he might be wearing his ‘father getting ready for a wedding when everything is going wrong’ expression because a bunch of reasonably well-intentioned sympathisers had turned up explaining Herod had him in his sights again. This was not long after John … well, bit the dust. Though, to be fair, it was a merciful death. But …
Best just to sit quiet and not exasperate him. Finally, he burst out laughing in that wholly unexpected way of his.
“I’m an old mother hen. Look at me.”
And he got up and scuttled around, his arms crooked and flapping like ineffectual wings.
“Oh my chicks, my chicks, come to me, huddle under my wings. But of course, you won’t.”He snuck up beside James, and cocked a pretend wing over him, clucking furiously. James caught the game, and shot off. Then, grown men though we were, we played some kind of tig in the dust. Hopelessly undignified, and unsuitable. A thing no grown man should ever do. He had that effect on you.
In the end, he stopped laughing, and sat down.
“I long to gather you all, but you won’t. I am a foolish old bird.”
He looked so sad.