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School Tour

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“I want to see the Efelent”. A grimy six-year-old hand tugged my skirt and tried to pull me towards the wooden stockade. “It’s an elephant,” I said automatically. “EL-EF-ANT”. I disengaged from the hand and rooted in my bag for a nail buffer. His little face fell for a moment, then a peacock preening himself in the middle of the manicured lawn spread his glorious tail and screeched his magnificence to the ensemble visitors to Dublin Zoo and the kid forgot all about the elephants.

A brief headcount assured me the five kids I was in charge of were still within view. The rest of the groups had disappeared, having spread out with their minders to see the starving sea lions being fed or watch the ‘stoned’ Polar Bears weaving hypnotically on their concrete island. I was only here because my mother tripped last night and banged her head against a door – or so she said. She’s always doing stupid things like that. My kid brother was in the class and she couldn’t turn up to do her turn at the school tour with a black eye – what would people think? Image is everything - so she roped me in to take her place. I protested, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer and she did look pretty weird.

It wasn’t as if I hadn’t got my own problems. I had things to think about, important decisions to make. That’s why I had just flopped on the grass right inside the gates and thrown a bag of crisps and a can of coke each at the kids while I had a think. We weren’t supposed to feed the kids. They all had healthy lunches packed in their satchels. But then we aren’t supposed to feed the animals either, but people do it all the time.

I checked my watch. Only twenty past ten. God, how the day drags! The kids were happy. They weren’t complaining anyway. I checked my phone but there were no calls – none of my friends would be up yet. We were waiting for the Leaving results, so there was nothing much going on.

What should I do, I wondered. Should I book the ticket for the Bell X 1 Concert in a few weeks, or buy the new Ghandi album and have something straight away? It's such a bore that I can’t do both, but I’m totally smashed and the old man refuses to part with any more money. He says the market is killing business and NAMA won’t help him. He was shouting at mother last night, saying he’ll have to get rid of her car. But he’ll get over it. Not like me. It’s really annoying not to be able to get the things I want, when I want them. I mean, I’m eighteen. It’s not as if I’m too young to have a bit of independence.

I was so lost in thought that I didn’t hear the plop of a small body slipping off the wall around the miniature lake or hear the gasp of dismay of the people who spotted her. I heard afterwards that she got an awful fright, but it wasn’t my problem. I had my gang here beside me; that’s the best of keeping them in the one place. Luckily I did, just in time, see a tiny pair of hairy paws grabbing at the blond curls of the urchin (one of mine) who was poking peanuts through the fenced off monkey cage.

“Cut it out. Come back here!” I called to the child, and rooted in my pocket for my mobile phone. I was sure I heard it signal an incoming text. No, nothing. I wonder should I ring Sharon and wake her up? I couldn’t be bothered really, so I took out my IPod and stuck the earpiece in to place. That’s better.

God, I’m sooooo bored, I’m so not enjoying this day – and we have to stay here until the bus comes at 2 o’clock. Luckily some of the kids have fallen asleep. I don’t know why people are always giving out about children. There’s nothing to minding kids really when you’re good at it.

By Joan O’Flynn