Part 1 -- Part 2 -- Part 3 -- Part 4 -- Part 5
Eriksen’s needling continued until I finally had the chance to take my case to the formidable Mr. Cherret. In the schoolyard, Erikson and his gang had taken away my ball and were playing “keep away.” I was jumping this way and that trying to get my ball back. Hubble, the extremely tall, most senior of the bishops, heard the commotion and came over to investigate. Hubble was hard to read; his face had been chiseled in ice and hardly moved. It was reputed that if one were brave enough to look carefully into his deep blue eyes, one would see the cross hairs of a riflescope. With a single look from him, Eriksen sheepishly handed him the ball. Hubble took the ball with an air of disapproval but he did not give it back to me. I asked him where he was going with my ball. He told me in his stilted fashion that the ball had been confiscated.
I did not now what “confiscated” meant and wondered what had happened to my ball. Later I mustered the courage to ask him about it. He said Mr. Cherret had it and I could go see him about it. I would lose a hundred balls before I would see Mr. Cherret about anything. But why did Hubble want me to go see Mr. Cherret? Perhaps he was giving me a chance to take my complaint against Eriksen to the highest authority of all.
The next day, early in the morning, I knocked timidly on Mr. Cherret’s door. My stomach was a vacuum, my legs were rubber. His voice told me to go in. I walked into the oak and leather chamber. Mr. Cherret was at the bookshelves, my small rubber ball centered on this bare desktop. British Diplomacy, I thought.
“What is it?” he asked, still preoccupied with the book he was pulling out of the shelves.
“Sir, Erikson took away my ball and....” He turned to me, and I could see by his annoyed expression that he did not wish me to continue to whine my petty complaint to him. “...and Hubble took it,” I finished.
“Hubble took your ball?” he asked.
“No, sir, he...he did something else to it.” I could not remember “confiscate.”
“He...he confused it sir.”
“Hubble confused your ball?” Mr. Cherret seemed less bored with me now.
“No, sir, he...he confessed it, sir.”
Mr Cherret considered this for a moment. “Why do you suppose he would confess your ball?”
“I don’t know, sir, he just confessed it and when I asked him, he said it had been confessed and that I should see you about it.”
He put the book back in its place and pulled out another from the shelf. “Well, you have done as he asked. You may go.”
I hesitated for a moment to see if he would give me the ball. But he opened his book and turned away from me. Did he expect me to just take the ball? Confused, I walked out of the office. It seemed I was doomed to live under Erikson’s tyranny forever. Disappointed and disheartened, I knew now that talking to Mr. Cherret was a mistake. While I had hope, I could bear the torment, but now that everything had failed me, I would certainly crack. Hubble must have known that, which is why he had set things up for me to complain to Mr. Cherret. Why had Hubble done this to me? Did he enjoy this abuse as much as the Eriksen gang?
The breakdown happened one suppertime when Erikson made a face at me. It was a small taunt in comparison to everything else he had put me through. But suddenly, I was overcome with righteous anger. Banging both fists on the table and weeping, I wanted to call him something vile. But I could not think of anything vile enough that would not make him smirk even worse. The boys in the dining room stared aghast at my behavior. Rusty looked embarrassed, but somehow he gave me what I needed: I turned to Erikson and spat out venomously, “Pork eater, pork eater, pork eater!” Erikson was taken aback. His smirk disappeared. “Pork eater, pork eater!” I yelled, but the surprise quickly wore off. The smirk reappeared. I stomped out of the dining room without being dismissed. Mr. and Mrs. Cherret looked up briefly, then went back to their respective potatoes.
That night there was silence in the dormitory. No one wished to talk to me, and they knew that if they talked about anything at all it could lead to making me the center of attention. This lasted a few days. What had been a small silliness between two boys was now a school wide scandal with Erikson as the hero and with me as the crybaby. Erikson’s fans were ever more devoted to him, and my friends, even Gill and Howard, were cooler toward me. Rusty was still fence-sitting.
But the utter loneliness of being an outcast was changing something me.
A week after my scandalous behavior, we were sitting in the recreation room watching Danger Man, when it occurred to me that the actor looked a bit like Eriksen. Immediately I stopped liking the handsome spy and wished the next Russian bullet would kill him. Badu from Nigeria and Zia from Pakistan were playing pool. Charles, Badu’s much younger brother, was asking Hubble’s permission to play pool after the seniors were done with their game. Hubble seemed amused, as Charles had to stand on a chair to gain the necessary height. Except for the chair, Charles was not a bad pool player. Rusty and Erikson were arguing over girlfriends again, and being shushed by the others watching the program. I overheard Erikson say, “Persian girlfriends grow up to be ugly-looking women.” I had heard him belittle Persian women for a long time without reacting, but now I felt a rush of anger. Not the righteous kind this time, but the aggressive bloodthirsty kind. I didn’t care how many friends Eriksen had, how much older he was, what seniority he had, what Mr. Cherret would do to me, or what England would do to Iran as a result. I would draw the line in blood if I had to. I walked over to him, stood very close, and growled ominously, “My mother was a Persian woman and she was beautiful.”
Erikson’s face dropped in disbelief. He momentarily lost his smugness, but before he could recover and start laughing, I grabbed him by the collar, lifted him out of his chair with a strength I did not know I had, and pushed him backwards. He went tumbling, chair and all. Instantly everyone dropped Danger Man and swung towards the real action.
In Iran, the unspoken rules of the fight dictate the following sequence: A hits B; B is allowed to hit back once, then half the rest of the alphabet grabs a struggling A and the other half grabs a struggling B and urges the feuding parties to make up. This sequence is not honored in England. There, the battle is to the death, and may the best man live.
There was a delayed roar of excitement. Like an atomic blast, first the intense flash, the shock, the power, and then the thunder. Erikson bounced up, somewhat shook up but ready to fight. He tore off his jacket with the school emblem on it and handed it to McConachie, who folded it ceremoniously over his arm. I too tore off my jacket and looked for a volunteer to hold it. Rusty demurred, looking away. Gil and Howard weren’t interested either. It looked like I would be fighting with no sponsors. Then Hubble stepped in proudly and took my jacket, making a show of it. Another crowd roar as authority sanctioned the fight. This gesture by the highest-ranking student in the school immediately attracted a large cheering section to my side of the fight. Eriksen looked liked he had received his first serious blow from me. A psychological one.
Unknowingly, I had pressed a button that had invoked the ancient traditions of the native islanders. Quickly, an area was cleared and the ritual circle was formed. Tactical advice began pouring in noisily from all sides. “His leg, his leg, grab his leg.” “Watch that elbow.” “Keep it coming.” “Don’t look into his eyes.” In the commotion I heard Hubble’s voice say, “You know you can take him!”
Continued in Part 5
From The Mullah With No Legs and Other Stories.
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