Jake slipped into Biology class, head down, eyes up, heading for his usual seat near the window, close to the front of the room. The teacher wheeled a trolley out from the Prep Store. Lifting a large fish tank she placed it in the middle of the teacher’s desk, inviting the students to come forward.
The class crowded around the teacher’s desk staring into the large fish tank jostling for best viewing rights. It was converted into a terrarium, the top covered with thin wire gauze, filled with twigs of eucalyptus leaves. Jake found himself nearest one end of the fish tank with two girls peering around his shoulders. Heads swayed backwards and forwards, peering in, hoping to spot something.
Finally a curious student asked, “Miss, what’s in there? Apart from leaves and stuff.”
“Look closer. Look for shapes that look like sticks but perhaps are not.”
The class reconvened their search.
“Oh, look. There.” Jake pointed, his finger close enough to the glass of the fish tank to form condensation. He wiped it clean and pointed again before withdrawing.
“Where?” someone asked. “I can’t see anything.”
“Hang on, I can see it,” said the girl behind him. “It looks like a stick is hanging upside down.”
With the puzzle solved, exclamations of discovery sounded around the desk.
“Found one here.”
“There’s another on this side of the tank and it’s different again.”
The teacher began writing on the whiteboard, telling the class the scientific names of the occupants of the fish tank.
“What you see are phasmids, or more commonly known as stick insects. To be more precise, they are of the class Insecta and the family Phasmatidae.
The teacher removed the wire gauze and reached into the leaves. Drawing her hand out, a stick insect spanned the length of her hand, its legs dancing an insect version of The Robot.
“This little beauty is ctenomorpha chronus.”
“It’s like a pencil on steroids,” said one lad, causing laughter to erupt.
Jake laughed too, taking note of its pencil-like body shape, angular legs and looking for all intents and purposes, like a stick.
A few students recoiled, uttering shrieks and expressing shivers as the alien insect began to move along her hand.
“Can I hold it, Miss?” asked Jake in a bold show of visibility.
The teacher extended her arm towards Jake who offered his open palm to the insect.
Jake mimicked the stick insect’s movement with his head, rocking backwards and forwards, swaying like there was a breeze. He wished it was a fire-breathing dragon.
It had been hidden away in shape and hue. The camouflaged shades of green and brown and angular lines of legs shielded it from spying students. Outside the safety of leaf and twig the insect was vulnerable; Jake felt an affinity with the creature.
“Oi, dancing boy. Give us a go,” said one boy.
Unaware he had continued to mimic the insect’s actions ever so slightly, Jake’s face flushed. Extending his hand he watched the stick insect traverse the fleshy terrain.
The array of school uniform framing the edge of the teacher’s desk caught Jake’s attention. They looked like the leaves on a branch in their uniformity: white shirts and grey shorts for the boys and white shirts and blue skirts for the girls. A navy tie completed the camouflage.
Around the edges subtle differences emerged. Shirts tucked in and shirts tucked out. Ties adjusted to the top button, also done up, to ties flying at half-mast. Skirts exposing more thigh than covering it or knee length decorum. Blouses framed cleavage and an array of coloured bras, signals of defiance or signs of invitation. Hair was spiked, straightened, teased, gelled and preened while metal fragments adorned ears, eyebrows, lips and noses.
Jake loosened his tie slightly, fingering the top button until he felt the pressure of the collar release.
Returning the insect to its environment was a signal for the students to return to their desks. Jake retreated to his seat, blending in again as the lesson continued.
At the conclusion of the lesson Jake slipstreamed from the classroom to the corridor in the wake of the student body as it ebbed and flowed from one class to the next, pushed and pulled by the phases of the bell, disappearing from sight in a whitewash of uniforms.