"Will there be a smegmatosaurus?” the ginger boy asked Laura.
On a bus full of blabbing five-graders, her immediate companion was a minor distraction in the sea of sneezes, coughs, swearwords, and Tamagotchis crying in chiptune tears.
She sighed, raising her tired eyes from the paperwork she had to fill out because of last week’s fake bomb threat.
"There might be, sure," she answered, not engaging with the boy's attempt at a lewd joke, which he must have found hilarious and original.
In her three years as a biology teacher, Laura had heard all the possible variations - spermaceratops, T-T-rex (which she imagined to be T-rex's big-breasted girlfriend), velocitractor, and many others. At a seminar she recently attended, the overpaid consultant in a turtleneck said that linguistic creativity should be encouraged, citing some study from 1975. She wasn't as convinced.
The boy chuckled to himself. None of his friends were within earshot. No one to share his amazing puns – or whatever that was – with. Had he made any friends? Laura didn’t notice. He got transferred to the school only last week, another lucky victim of the incessant migration to the big city.
"Miss, we're almost there," the driver – unstereotypically young and polite – pointed at the grey concrete hall two traffic lights ahead. "If you want to make an announcement, it’s probably the best time."
Laura put the papers in her bag, leaving more than half of the boxes (“Who do you suspect to be the prank caller?” “Who in your class lacks discipline?”) blank. It was all meaningless anyway. She unhooked the little microphone and recited her field trip mantra.
"Guys, in a couple of minutes we'll arrive at the museum. Please leave the bus in an orderly fashion. No need to rush like a herd of wild hogs. Oh, and don't go far from the bus. The guide will greet us inside and take us through the exhibition…"
"Will there be a…" Lukas's voice dissipated in the dense soundscape of hastily zipped-up coats, folded bags of chips, and tchotchkes stuffed in already full pockets.
Laura counted the kids as they left the bus, paired them up, thanked the driver, and led her Thursday Explorers – a silly nickname given by the school board – to the entrance. Dodging the other group who were just leaving the exhibition, she was bombarded with questions:
"When will be back?" "Is next Monday a holiday?" "Can Mom come and pick me up?"
Holding the heavy door open (no gentlemen in this part of town), she sighed and said, in the kind of whisper that's meant to be heard:
"I hope you all have that many questions for the guide as well".
The tour started with the trilobites and dirt specimens – the clay pots of natural history museums. There was also a whole room showcasing amber inclusions, which reminded Laura to call her Grandmother, who had an entire collection on display in her sitting room. And another room with different types of petrol-based products – the museum curator’s attempt at showing what became of the fauna and flora that once dominated the planet. And then another room…
Laura was in the tail of the group, which moved in predictable cliques, following the guide's monologue. There were the funnier kids, and the meaner kids, the fashionable girls, and the three rebels that didn't conform. And then there was Lukas, still alone, with no tribe to associate himself with. A lonely Mohican.
The guide's voice made Laura sleepy, even if the guide himself was kind of cute. If only he lost that ponytail…
"Primordial soup… Molecules… Land animals don't appear for another…" the guide’s voice echoed, as the kids passed trowels, shovels and picks, photographs from digs (some even black and white!), assorted bones and rocks. It all looked hopelessly boring but then the big white automatic door opened and the yawns turned into wows and ahhhs.
"So huuuge!" "Like a dragon!" "Finally!"
The guide took a step aside, letting the kids get closer to the giant diplodocus skeleton, protected only by thick velvet ropes.
“He could crush you!” “And you!” “My mom says dinosaurs aren’t real.” “Your mom’s not real”.
The guide patiently waited for a lull in the chatter to announce he’d be taking questions, and it was the very first time the kids had any. How tall was the dinosaur? What did he eat? Was it true that dinosaurs had feathers? Ponytail had an answer to all questions.
And in between the rapid fire of questions, Laura could hear Lukas squirm and fidget, mustering up his courage, trying to catch the attention of the guide with his timidly raised hand.
“Lukas here wants to ask a question. I heard it on the bus and it was so good,” Laura used her best teacher voice capable to hush even the rowdiest crowd. And out of the resulting silence, after a moment of hesitation, a voice of a shy ginger kid emerged, trembling yet strong:
“Sir, if this is a diplodocus, did he have a… diplodickus?” the last word landed with precision, like a punch.
His teacher smiled and quickly looked away to hide her amusement, the guide sighed, and the group erupted in laughter, becoming aware of the new kid for the very first time.