Smiling with anticipation of this momentous occasion, glancing across at each other in readiness. After years of waiting and several practices with Sister Magdalene, it was our time. Gabe flicks the switch to turn on the microphone while I press the bell, calling attention to the important message that we are about to deliver. We had both agreed the rehearsals seemed over the top, considering we had recited this prayer at midday every day of our school lives. It just came automatically.
"Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God", we begin in unison, a sideways look from Gabe indicating it is time for me to continue with the next line. My heart is beating so fast, my hands trembling as I reach to turn the microphone. I open my mouth, expecting words to come, willing my brain into action. My eyes widen, but still no words come, nothing to overcome the deafening silence now engulfing the entire school. Sensing her eyes upon me, I turn to Gabe with my mouth still gaping open, waiting for whatever seems to have temporarily locked my mind to release, to allow my words to come. My eyes are now bulging, panic flooding into my body. I feel a crimson flush working it's way from my neck up to my hairline. I look at Gabe, begging her with my eyes to save me, to redeem us in this moment. But as soon as I realise her hand is racing up to cover her mouth, I know we are doomed.
Laughter explodes into the tiny office around us, bursting and spitting in all directions, in an instant beyond our control. It echoes down the school halls, into classrooms and offices, across the playground where all are still and reverend. It erupts with such ferocity, we are unable to reach for the microphone to turn it off. In a matter of seconds, we are barely able to breathe. One hand reaches to cover my mouth, the other to maintain balance as I fear I'm about to topple over. Our hearing, however, is unaffected, and as the approaching footsteps of Sister Magdalene come into clarity, our tear-filled eyes meet for a moment as we each fight for control. I know it's futile. This kind of nervous laughter reaction is uncontrollable, and the more nervous I become, the less able I am to stop. As the door swings open, we each force our legs to stand and wrestle our faces to rest, remaining frozen in this way while the microphone is pulled from the plug and our eyes fall upon the loafered feet of our principal. But it can't last, and with a mighty snort, one of us sets the other off once again. Sister Magdalene sits.
It takes some minutes, with several lesser eruptions across that time, until we are indeed silent and standing to face our fate. Sister Magdalene, so patient and wise, would like to speak to us about reverence.