The tone is enough for Christopher's mother Emily to stop pushing the pram that is carrying her younger son James. Christopher looks up at his mother. She searches his face for a moment - a face that still holds for her the look of a baby - and then turns the pram around to return the way they have come.
"What's happening?" enquires Christopher.
"We're going home", she says, as if announcing the start of a mysterious, slightly dangerous adventure. And it is. She has never considered home tutoring and has no idea if it is at all possible, but she feels intrigued by the idea. She wonders why she has never considered it before.
Emily becomes aware of an annoying itch in the back of her head.
As suddenly as she was intrigued by this new vision of her son's future, she begins to feel guilty. But it is more than guilt: An enormous sense of wrongdoing is washing over her.
Emily keeps her eyes fixed ahead but she is aware, in her peripheral vision, of the quizzical stares she is receiving from parents walking their children to school. Christopher is also aware of the other children all dressed in claret and grey and heading merrily in the opposite direction from them. He watches one older boy whiz past on a scooter so far ahead of his mother that her presence seems redundant except to carry his school bag.
Christopher lets go of the pram and stops walking. Still troubled by her thoughts, Emily continues for several paces before she notices her son is not by her side.
"Come on then. When we get back you can have a drink and a biscuit and watch some television while mummy goes on the computer." The itch starts to become vaguely painful. She rubs the back of her head but it feels like it's inside her skull.
"Discit" comes the young voice from inside the pram.
"Come on Christopher. I'll find a way to…" she stops and winces.
"I want to go to school."
Emily feels her heart sink.
"You're sure? I mean you don't…"
The unruly tuft at the crown of his newly cut hair bobs as he nods.
"You're sure?" Emily repeats weakly.
Christopher looks at his mother as if she is mad and nods once more. The itching in Emily's skull begins to ease.
The children are already starting to line up to their classrooms in their little segregated section of the school when Emily and Christopher arrive with the pram. Two women are standing near the door of the classroom: a beaming teacher greets the nervous faces with terms of endearment whilst a slightly austere-looking teaching assistant looks on.
As they join the line of parents who are subconsciously keeping to the same distance from the classroom, Christopher turns to his mother. Emily kisses him and holds him tight and tells him that everything will be alright, despite the fact that he has not even questioned whether or not it will be.
Christopher then kisses James who frowns and says "Crissfer" as his brother turns and joins his new classmates, his companions for the coming years of change. They each file into the classroom with Christopher the last in the line and Emily gasps as he disappears through the door, which is then closed.
Through the frosted glass she watches his broken shape shrink and then walk to her right. The windows are almost fully blocked out by blinds but they are raised just enough for Emily to see the claret and grey mid-sections of identical boys and identical girls passing backwards and forwards. The images begin to stir long repressed memories that finally threaten to surface. But the threat is only fleeting. She barely notices the sensation of the chemical change in her brain that forces a tear to her eyes and ensures the memories stay hidden.
Around her, many other parents also dab tears away from their eyes. They smile to each other believing that the reason for emotional state is due to a mixture of pride and sadness. But this is only what they are led to believe as each of them is shielded from the real reason they fear for their child on the first day of school.
Inside the classroom, much later in the day, when the parents are far from view, each of the eighteen little boys and girls is taken aside one by one and led to the school nurse's office. There, the teaching assistant asks the child to look into a kaleidoscope viewer. Then, as the colours split and burst before the child's eye, she places a tiny insect on their left shoulder, which crawls alarmingly quickly up their neck and then into their ear. The child winces as it crawls down the ear canal, and then gasps at a razor-stab of pain as it pierces the ear drum, passes through and then secretes a sticky substance that repairs it. From there it slithers into the fluid-filled cochlea, through the organ of corti and onward to the primary auditory cortex on the side of the brain.
Still its journey has not ended as it seeks out the prefrontal lobe in order to pacify the host and then on to the hippocampus and mammillary body, which harbour emotional behaviour, learning and motivation. There it will stay for the next twelve to twenty years until it burrows to associate areas of the brain for which scientists have not so far been allowed to find specific roles or functions.
A new tear springs to the child's eye, a result of a chemical change in their brain. Then they are finally given permission to leave. The teaching assistant places a tick against a name in an extremely large book, fatter than five telephone directories. On the cover of the book is the name of the school above the subtitle: 15th edition.
Nearby, Christopher plays with a pirate ship. He has already forgotten his experience with the tiny centipede-like insect, as he will for the rest of his life. That is until the moment arrives for his child to attend their first day of school. Then he may experience a sense that something is not quite right - something unnatural. He may even try to resist taking the child despite uncertainty about his reasons. But he will take them nevertheless.