Several weeks went by. I didn't realize it at the time but on what was to be the last Friday before moved up to Junior 5, when the bell rings for lunch time and Mister Calroy said 'Class dismissed.' just as we all stood up to walk to the door and then race outside to eat and play I heard a man call out my name and tell me to have a seat. I listened to the wooden chairs drag against the floor as my classmates pushed them towards their desks. I heard children laughing and shouting for each other. Then my ears started tingling and I realized I was holding my breath. When everybody was gone and all the sounds started coming from outside the little classroom, without looking at me and instead looking at the surface of his desk and making a sweeping motion with his hand as if he was scooping up sea water towards him, Mister Calroy said “Come up here.”
I knew that I had to do what he said. He was my teacher, and worse yet he was a man. People with deep voices, you have to listen to them, even if you don’t want to. I knew this from my father.
I wonder what this man is going to do to me, I thought. The pencil incident seemed so long ago, and though I remembered it like it happened that very morning, so many other students had gotten blows from Golden Boy since then, he must have forgotten about my unidentified but not unpunished trespass.
I walked slowly up to his desk, more than twice the size of ours but of the same unfinished wood smooth from years of use. He asked me to sit down and I noticed for the first time instead of just one chair he had two. The door was open behind me. The windows of the classroom remained open except at night, each one propped open with a wooden pole square at the ends to rest precisely in a groove at the center of the windowsill. The break time laughter and shouts seemed to grow fainter.
I sat down without looking at him, instead focusing my gaze on the strap on my shoe and started counting how many holes from the buckle there were.
“I want to pray for you, for success on your common entrance exams.” I looked up in confusion “Pardon me?” I knew what praying meant, we did it every morning at assembly. But only because it was what we did to start the day, It didn’t mean anything and we didn’t do it at any other time. In preschool we prayed too, but before we ate lunch. Then it was like a song we sang together;
Thank you for the world so sweet, thank you for the food we eat, thank you for the birds that sing, thank you lord for everything. AMEN!
Mister Calroy interrupted my recollection by saying 'Clasp your hands and close your eyes'. They were the same words our principal Ms. Leury said when it was time to say the Lord's prayer at assembly, Alright children, clasped hands, closed eyes. But coming from Mister Calroy they sounded different, like a command, not an instruction. This was the same command Ms. Leury gave us at assembly time.
At the start of every morning assembly I always looked behind me to see who would catch me if I fainted. On several occasions children were known to faint, usually the same few, and others when the sun was extra hot and when the assembly went on longer than usual. Then they would be carried away by a teacher to a classroom in order to recover. I just wanted to make sure it wouldn't be a boy behind me, and if it was I would try to switch places with the person next to me without saying why.
During assembly when asked to clasp our hands and close our eyes I always closed one down halfway so I could see what was going on. Once, Father Richards said that the reason we close our eyes is because if not then the presence of God would not be with us. I took this to mean that when our eyes were closed God appeared in front of our assembly to receive the prayers we were casting onto him. And so I closed one eye down almost all the way but open enough so would be able to see if a white man with long hair wearing a white robe would be floating around. But I never saw anything.
Clasp your hands and close your eyes!
I let my top eyelid fall towards the bottom one, slowly. Before my top lashes met the bottom ones I halted. I studied the now blurry blue and white checkered skirt of my uniform and stared at where the hem of my dress folded over beneath my knees. The wooden floor beyond them looked blurred. It appeared to now be one large smooth piece of wood but I knew it was in fact smaller strips separated by seams that collected dirt that remained there always, even though the rooms were cleaned every afternoon.
From the corner of my eye I saw the brown laces criss crossed along the top of Mister Calroy's shoes. My upper eyelids fluttered as I tried to keep them still, somewhat closed, but open enough to not be in the dark. I lifted my head so I would be able to see directly ahead. Mister Calroy had his hands in his lap, his fingers intertwined, ‘Heavenly Father...'.
A very long time after, I heard him say “In Jesus’ name” and I knew to say Amen. I opened my eyes and before I could breath a sign of relief he said ‘Okay you can go now’.
I stood up, walked towards the door a quickly as I could without running, then once standing on the concrete steps turned and raced down the hill towards the tamarind trees before I realized I forgot the plastic bag that had the bread the mother made that morning with the cheese spread so thinly I wouldn’t know it was there If i hadn’t watched her spread it herself, the silver knife moving right then left, her left hand cupping the round roll. I decided that I wasn’t hungry anyway and went to look for my friends.