Before that time, all of my teachers were women. Though stern they were not sullen and every day at school was a treat. Since my four elder sisters passed through the classes before me the teachers knew me before I became their pupil, oftentimes giving me nicknames like Little-Anna, or Little-Lilly, had Anna and Lilly been my older sisters' names. I felt special. How delightful to be one of many.
Then I was promoted to Junior 4 and had my first male teacher Mister Calroy. Mister Calroy was miserable on purpose. Never had I met someone before who was never once happy. Not in the morning, not at the end of the day, and not even on the days when there was a Teacher’s meeting at lunch and so, having an extended break away from their classes, all the other teachers seemed giddy, walking with an extra pep in their steps, manila folders in the left hand and the right one free to wave a quick dismissal to any student who tried to disrupt their joyous trod towards the main office. Even on those days Mister Calroy walked in the same direction as the other teachers, but with his face set up as if some unpleasant smelling object hung directly before his nose.
The only time he seemed to get some enjoyment out of life was when he took out from under his wooden desk a yellow plastic ruler he called Golden Boy. Then he crept up slowly and soundlessly towards students he felt were misbehaving and slapped them hard on their forearms, or shoulders catching them by surprise. Then a faint but unmistakable delightful glint emerged in his eyes then overtook his spirit and stayed with him for a good fifteen minutes or so while he kept repeating under his breath Who don’t hear will feel! We weren’t sure if he was saying this to us as a warning, or to reassure himself that what he did was called for.
Shari was my second best friend and we sat next to each other in class. We ate our lunch outside usually under the tamarind tree near the Junior 2 classrooms and then ran off down the hill to play under the larger tamarind tree near a corner of the school grounds. Her mother packed her two hard boiled eggs for lunch every day and because she hated hardboiled eggs, but liked me, she first pelted one down the hill with all her strength and gave the other one to me to do the same. Then, holding it in the palm of my hand I reached back and threw it as hard as I could against the trunk of the tamarind tree and afterwards stared in awe at the crumbled pieces of yellow and white and grey.
One day, it seemed that out of the blue, Mister Calroy hit Shari with Golden Boy three times, each one harder than the last. It was as if he forgot who and where he was and at once the last blow was delivered angry welts sprung up all over her arm. Seeing them brought forth her tears. Then I heard the familiar sounds one makes when trying in earnest not to cry but the pain is too much to silence. When she wouldn’t stop crying for what seemed like hours afterwards he stood up in the front of the class and staring at no-one in particular shouted twice “I did it because I love you!” We all gasped simultaneously and recoiled in unison.
As a nine year old it wasn’t something you expected to hear from an old man that was your teacher. I knew something was wrong but I didn't know what. And so I looked down at the silver buckle on my shoe and tried to understand where the feeling of deja vu was coming from. Then it came to me - sometimes they played these ads on the radio and TV, always back to back about teenage pregnancy and domestic violence. The first one, a girl’s mother went to America and promised to send for her but time kept passing and she was left alone and waiting. Next thing you know the girl ended up pregnant. The second one I couldn’t remember it as clearly but it had something to do with a man who loved to beat up the woman he claimed to love, and the stronger the love the harsher the blows. But the woman didn’t know any better so when her friends pleaded with her to leave the no good scoundrel her refrain was that “He do it because he love me”.
To save on our school fees, my parents devised a plan that we would all take the Common Entrance exam a year early. This exam was the gateway to high school and so was nothing to be taken lightly. The last three weeks of Junior 4 I would move up and join the Junior 5 class where I would remain until the end of the school year.
About a month before this transition, Mister Calroy hit me on my hand with Golden Boy. I didn't know why. Maybe I laughed when I should have been quiet, or perhaps I wasn't paying attention. Whatever the cause, as he hit me on my hand my pencil flew out of my hand and straight out the window. I glanced up at him and saw him glaring at me. It was the only pencil I had. He seemed to know this.
'You not going to ask me permission to go for it?'
I held my head down in shame. I didn't say anything.
'I hope when you go outside and look for it it isn’t there.'
Still, I kept quiet. I still didn’t ask permission. He went back to the blackboard and continued the lesson. Shari handed me an extra pencil from inside her desk. Her parents were probably rich since she always had multiples of everything, pencils, rubbers, and small strips of stickers. She even had blue ink pens, despite the fact that we were not old enough to write with pens yet.
When the bell rang for break time and we were dismissed, we went to our usual tamarind tree and just as Shari was about to hand me my egg to pelt I remembered I needed to pick up my pencil. Racing back up the hill I calculated that it was the second window of the classroom it flew out of and searched the ground underneath. The pencil was nowhere to be found.
To be continued...