GOWANUS Summer 2000
VIEW FROM THE BACK ROW
By Anthony Milne
TURKEY IS STUNG
Turkey never knew what bit him.
It was French class, first thing after
lunch, and Turkey was in mid-
“Les jeunes filles sont dans le couvent,” Turkey had just recited with his eyes shining and a sweeping gesture that took in the open classroom door and the balcony, Small Yard and the attractive buildings across Pembroke Street. Turkey was a prefect, which meant he was on the way to becoming a priest and meanwhile doing a teaching stint. But he still had some imagination.
He turned to write on the blackboard, bending over and hitching up his soutane, and repeated slowly, “Les...jeunes...filles...” when Montooth took careful aim and let fly.
Montooth was a crack shot with rubber bands and paper pellets, which he reinforced with staples.
The paper pellet whizzed straight towards Turkey’s long red neck, which was why he had his nickname, “...sont...dans...le...c-“, and struck him just above his plastic clerical collar.
He gave a kind of squawk, then made a choking sound, and his post-prandial (as he called it) dinner mint flew out of his mouth, struck the blackboard and shattered into fragments. He shot upright and his empty hand went to his neck, making a grasping motion as if he were trying to catch something. He waved the hand still holding the the chalk above his head and bolted from the room.
He must have decided it was a Jack Spaniard and expected another. Montooth wisely put the rubber bands in his mouth, chewed a couple times and swallowed. I had seen him do this before and wondered about the state of his intestines.
Out on the balcony Turkey bobbed and weaved and continued to wave the chalk in the air while we all watched in amazement. Then we heard a voice somewhere outside the classroom call, “Ay, ay, like Turkey gone mad boy!”
That brought him to his senses. He stopped waving the chalk and opened the other hand to see what he had caught. There was nothing. When he came back inside, grimacing and tugging at his collar, his eyes on the ceiling, there was a large white circle on his neck.
“Any of you boys see a gepe nest in here?” he asked.
“No sir!” said twenty-nine voices.
Achoo, the brain of the class who was a Page of the Blessed Sacrament, was looking down at his French book.
“Achoo you didn’t see what stung me?” Turkey asked.
“Sir,” Achoo began, “Sir, I think Montooth...”
There was a sudden commotion at the back of the class.
“Sir! Sir!” Montooth cried, his feet drawn up on his seat, his eyes on the floor beneath. “Sir, I just see a scorpion run under my desk!” Everyone else pulled up their feet as well. Rostant stood up on his own desk, Rat rolled up a copybook and prepared to give chase, and Singh hit Achoo a tap.
“Lord Jesus, have mercy,” Turkey muttered, his eyes turning to the crucifix above the blackboard. He left the room to a growing murmur, and I remember thinking, This has gone too far.
By the time Fr Las Bocas, the Dean of Studies, arrived the class was in an uproar. Rostant, the lookout, was caught up in the excitement and had failed to give the warning, “Bocas coming! Bocas coming!”
Fr Las Bocas was a serious character. Bocas-by-Day that is. The other Fr Bocas, Bocas-by-Night, the result, I had heard, of an ancestral act of miscegenation, was lenient by comparison and principally interested in sports.
Bocas-by-Day had been an Island Scholarship winner thirty years earlier. We heard he once had a bout of brain fever. He was a small man with his hair stuck down on his head and beady eyes made even beadier by thick glasses. “Coke-bottle glasses,” Rat called them, but not so Fr Bocas could hear. Fr Bocas liked to cross-examine you in confession and make you admit to sins you didn’t know you had committed. Then he gave you five or ten Hail Marys for penance and sometimes some Our Fathers as well.
Once, he gave Rat the Five Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary. Rat didn’t know them, he didn’t even have a chaplet. So Fr Bocas made Rat kneel instead for a whole hour on the floor of the chapel. Rat couldn’t straighten his legs properly for a week after that, and he had to sit out the pommecythere-seed football final. This was long before Rat was expelled for passing wind over a Bunsen burner and causing an explosion.
Fr Bocas went straight to the blackboard, looked down, picked up Montooth’s paper pellet and turned towards the class.
“Mr Rouget is badly hurt,” he said. Mr Rouget was Turkey’s real name. “His neck is swollen and he believes he was stung by a scorpion. He made me give him Extreme Unction, though I knew it wasn’t necessary. Fr Speer has applied a Belgian black stone, and a doctor has been called.
A murmur arose at the back of the class.
“Silence!” Fr Bocas said, his thin lips trembling. His beady eyes moved through the class row by row, striking fear. “Don’t think I don’t have a strong suspicion who did this. The whole class will do long penance this afternoon and every afternoon till the guilty party owns up.”
Seventy-eight hands immediately dove into pockets, feeling for Iron Man, the big peppermint sold by Bella in the ice cream parlour, guaranteed to last through any long penance.
“And no one will suck peppermints, I will be there to make sure of that,” Fr Bocas added between his teeth, his lips still trembling.
No one owned up. We all had long penance for a week, Achoo included. Fr Bocas supervised, and during the long afternoons after school he grilled Rat, then Montooth, then Rostant, then Singh. When he got to Achoo, Achoo began to sob so hard he couldn’t speak. Rat and Montooth had threatened him with dire consequences.
Fr Bocas also took Turkey’s French class each afternoon, and we spent hours in silent excruciating revision.
The following week Turkey returned, a piece of sticking plaster just above his clerical collar. He looked carefully at the floor and ceiling, then said, “Good afternoon, boys.”
“Good afternoon, sir.”
“Fr Bocas told me you had a week of revision. But he had to be strict with you. I think we’ll take up where we left off.”
Then, his eyes shining and making the same sweeping gesture towards the balcony, Small Yard beyond and the buildings across Pembroke Street, he said, “Les jeunes filles sont toujours dans le couvent”.
He bent towards the blackboard, stopped, looked round quickly, then bent again, speaking slowly as he wrote.
Montooth looked at Rat, who looked at Rostant, who looked at Singh. I saw Rat shake his head slowly and Montooth put away his rubber bands.
Our house in Bush Camp was called a bungalow even though it rested on eight tall green iron pillars and had two storeys.
It was built of wood. The walls, inside and out, were painted cream, just like all the other houses in the oilfields. The high corrugated iron roof, enclosing the attic where noisy bats lived, was painted green. The area beneath the house was paved with concrete.
The house was set in an enormous yard that contained fruit tress, two fishponds and an ancient pink poui, a fowl-run and a large circular water tank set on the ground and built of bricks and cement.
The pitch drive into our yard forked in two and led into the neighbour’s yard as well. The Vieiras had lived next-door for several years, then the Harrises, who were from England. The Vieiras were Trinidadian, but their mother was English. She was relatively fair-complected and had thick ankles. She laughed a lot and liked to drink and chat, both at home with my parents or at the club. Mr Vieira was quieter. He was tall and dark. He was a driller and in his spare time built useful things out of wood on a workbench under his house.
They had three children: Helen, Carmen and Allan. Helen was much older than the rest of us, Carmen only slightly so. Allan was my friend. He was tubby, with close-cropped dark hair and a broad smile. He and I made our First Communion together in the small wooden church three miles away. I was six at the time and was devout even at that age, proud to be Roman Catholic. The school we went to was Anglican. One of the teachers, Miss Menlye, was Catholic. She gave Allan and me special lessons, teaching us the catechism and hymns, to prepare us for First Communion.
On the great day I was dressed all in white, with a large white rosette pinned to my sleeve. I exchanged holy pictures with my friends, and my parents gave me a missal with a hard black cover embossed with a gold cross. After communion I felt very holy until I calculated that the host had been digested.
One morning a couple weeks later I went to see Allan. Carmen was alone in the yard and told me he wasn’t home. She said she thought he had gone to the club.
Then, with no warning, she touched herself and asked if I wanted to see her “thing”. At first I wasn’t sure what she meant. But I went with her behind their water tank and she pulled down her shorts and white panties, revealing her hairless mound and small slit.
She picked a long, thin piece of grass and asked me to push it into her. I did so with a clinical interest and a minimum of sexual excitement.
“Carmen, come here at once!” her morther called from an upstairs window where she had been watching.
She quickly removed the blade of grass, pulled up her clothes and ran up the stairs, leaving me bewildered and afraid.
I heard Carmen’s mother shouting at her and then beating her pitilessly.
I ran straight home in a panic and
and told my mother what had happened. She pursed her lips, said I was right
to tell her and said I must always tell the truth no matter what. She added
that Carmen was a nasty little girl.
(Anthony Milne <email@example.com>
was born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1951, educated there at St Mary's College,
and subsequently in Canada and at the University ofthe West Indies, St
Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago. He has worked as a journalist with Trinidad
Express newspapers since July 1981, covering politics, parliament and
just about everything else under the sun.)