D Is For Discipline
Dedicated to the memory of PHS 4 Humility '06
By Huang Kaishan
There is a hole in the middle of the class whiteboard. It accuses them of so many things that they're guilty of, a hole the size of your head, thereabouts, as evil and ominous as the perfect Os in the bodies of the Hollows, Menos and Arrancar in Bleach.
The classroom is foggy from the dust that swirls and whirls up, down and around and into the lungs; the floor hasn't been swept, ever. There is an embattled metal cupboard in the back of the classroom with one side of its double-panel doors having fallen off its hinges. The soccer ball hides inside the old cardboard box that used to store A4 sized paper, so it says on the box. And in between classes or whenever the teachers are absent or have forgotten to come to class again or during recess sometimes, the boys take the soccer ball out and they kick it around the classroom. It bounces off the walls, the whiteboard, the tables, the chairs, heads. Plain paper and other unwanted worksheets form a strange sort of undergrowth in this surreal jungle; it slithers and moves with the changing winds from blackened ceiling fans.
The hole is actually not so much a hole as a dent. It's a deep dent smack in the very centre of the whiteboard that has broken the back of the board and punched the wall.
The class' table arrangements are a study in randomness, the doors are shut tight against teachers and today the boys are buffing their nails because it's the newest fad. And Dan is yelling, "RAPE HIM!!"
This is class 4D.
In this order, boys are painting their nails, "raping" Da Xiong, reading Maxim, jumping out of the window, screaming, being tortured.
Soo Chin is reading The Picture of Dorian Grey when Da Xiong is cornered behind her by the ravenous wolves that are the class boys. She notices the boys who have gathered and slides a bookmark in between the pages as she closes the book.
Da Xiong stands arms apart from his body in a half crouched position, as a sumo wrestler does before battle. His eyes dart around – tables blocking the front, four on the right, two on the left. With a sudden ebullience of spirits, the boys pounce and Da Xiong dives under the table beside Soo Chin. Wriggling like an eel, he emerges from the other side, takes a second to stand up but that second is his undoing. Baboon throws his arms around him and pins his arms to his sides. The rest descend like vultures. Da Xiong is manhandled to the floor, dirt and dust mingling with the sweat on his shirt to form unsightly stains his mother will scold him for when he gets home.
Soo Chin watches demurely from her chair, Wilde safely nested in her lap away from the boys' trampling hooves. To them, tables, chairs and all other forms of furniture are mere obstacles in their path to be mounted and cleared and used for one-hand vaults.
Da Xiong writhes as though in unbearable pain under the steel grips of Dan and Andrew. And Baboon crawls atop the diminutive Da Xiong and straddles him, knees lifted off the floor as he sits unceremoniously on his stomach. He then unbuttons Da Xiong's shirt, wrestling intensely with the dancing black circles as Da Xiong wriggles like a freshly decapitated catfish. Soo Chin shifts guiltily in the seat of her chair for looking at a boy's naked chest, but she doesn't look away.
And with a brain surgeon's carefulness and solemnity, Baboon writes "Da Xiong loves Caroline" on his white, unbeautiful chest in black permanent marker.
The boys guffaw and giggle with appreciation. Perlin has a camera, so she takes a commemorative photograph. The photograph will turn out just like the one in social studies textbooks, a black and white picture taken at the close of the 19th century of hunters standing over the lifeless body of a magnificent striped beast. Back then, the government paid people to kill tigers.
Show's over: Soo Chin and Eunice turn to each other and begin arguing over who is the "bored-er" of the two. Rain is flipping through a magazine of buxom white cows, tender-fleshed and decorated with small colourful pieces of cotton. Soo Chin decides it appropriate for him to share in his boredom-killing and demands the magazine from him. Rain refuses. An argument ensues.
On the other side of the classroom, Baboon, stripped of his shirt, is swinging himself up onto the windowsill. He is dangling half of himself out the window, butt on the windowsill, his left forearm pressed the interior wall. He looks down, swims in the vertigo of being three storeys up.
"You're a girl. What do you have to look at it for?" Rain is saying.
The neighbouring class notices Baboon and clusters about its windows to shout at him. Yong Ren is threatening to push him; Baboon grabs the edge of one opened window, pulls himself further out. He manoeuvres himself into a precarious position, one hand on each side of the opened windows, feet supported on the window ledge, like an outstretched spider about to do a push-up.
It feels as though the red bricks on the ground floor are looming above him. He tightens his grip. The edges of the windows feel dirty. He cranes his head back to look into the classroom. Most of the class are watching, except Soo Chin and Rain, who are still arguing over the magazine.
He takes a deep breath.
The sun gleams on Baboon's wet-sand-coloured skin, traces a shadow along the curve of his right shoulder blade. Sweat gathers in the black cusps of his outstretched arms, a mask of thick warmth radiating from his wound up face. The morning breeze courses over bunched up muscles, licks his shivering stomach and calls to him to drop into its deep caress.
"Xiao xin yi dian, the window not that strong," shouts Da Xiong. Behind him, Rain is surrendering the magazine to Soo Chin.
Baboon grins, lifts his right hand from the window – somebody shrieks – and gives a little wave. The boys are laughing. "Hao lian," comments Da Xiong. And then, without warning, Baboon leaps.
And he is the world.
The ground and the sky are careening along the same path to inevitable headlong collision. The sky is right behind him, he can feel it pressed into the back of his head. The bricks, dark candy red, are rolling toward him with screaming ferocity; Baboon, unimpressed, rolls himself into position and strikes, a superhuman force smashing into the indestructible. Safe.
Rain is at the window, screaming at a high-pitched single note, for the hell of it. The rest are cheering, an orchestra of piercing wolf whistles and whoops. Eunice is saying, "Siao" and on ground level, Baboon is standing up, turning around and pumping his fists in the air. Da Xiong throws his shirt down after him and Baboon, jumping up, arm outstretched, eyes squinting against the boiling sunlight, snatches the fluttering cloth out of the wind. His feet slap rough brick and his muscles unroll and he is darting back indoors to avoid attention from passing teachers. And Soo Chin is looking up and asking, "What? What happened?"
"Somebody tell me!" she whines.
And just about then, Mr Luo, the discipline master, walks in.
"What is going on here?" he asks, back straight, eyes searching.
"What are all of you standing around for? Isn't there supposed to be a class going on right now?" he says. Everyone scuttles to their seats, heads low.
"I was walking by and I heard a girl screaming. Why was there screaming during lesson time? Who was it?"
A titter spreads and dies quickly. "Who was it?" he demands. "Don't make me ask twice. I have better things to do than stand here and talk to you."
Rain raises his hand.
"You? Aren't you a boy?"
Rain flushes and is silent.
"Aren't you the captain from the Boys' Brigade?" asks Mr Luo.
"Yes," says Rain.
"Yes, what?" says Mr Luo.
"Yes, I am the captain of the Boys' Brigade," says Rain.
"Why were you screaming like a girl?" asks Mr Luo.
Rain says nothing.
"Not just him, I know many of you here are from the uniformed groups. On the parade square, you show discipline but during your normal lesson time, this is how you behave. Like monkeys!" Mr Luo pins his gaze on Soo Chin, the counsel president. Soo Chin stares at her table.
And Baboon, suay to the end, bursts into the classroom, grinning foolishly. He sees Mr Luo and yelps. Shock, fear and horror, in queue, play themselves out on his numbed face.
And his shirt is still open, browned skin exposed in a long strip to a navy blue line low on his hips.
"Who are you? Do you belong to this class?" Mr Luo is asking.
Baboon nods dumbly, confused, looking furtively at his mates at the back of the classroom.
"Don't look around. Do you need other people to tell you your name? I said, who are you?" repeats Mr Luo.
"Bill," said Baboon, his mouth hanging half-open.
"What were you doing outside of the classroom?" asks Mr Luo.
"Huh? I was in the toilet," answered Baboon, reluctantly returning Mr Luo's burning stare.
"That must have been some bowel movement, to make you sweat all over," says Mr Luo.
"Yah," says Baboon impetuously, risking a half-smile. Unconsciously, the class sucks in a nervous breath.
Mr Luo walks towards Baboon, stands in front of him. "I don't think you understand what the word 'integrity' means," he says genially. "I'll give you one more chance. Where have you been?"
"I was in the toilet," says Baboon unblinkingly, jaw clenched with newfound resolve.
Mr Luo gives a derisive grunt. "Stand in front of the whiteboard," he says.
Baboon obeys, his faltering step his only giveaway. He stands in front of the whiteboard's gaping hole, an ominous hole that laughs and laughs and laughs at him.
"I'll give you a choice. You either give me fifty or you tell me the truth," says Mr Luo.
Baboon burrows himself in the grip of his teeth, the crack in the board, the tension of his arms. He hears nothing.
"If that's what you want, then give me fifty. Make sure the whole class can hear you loud and clear," says Mr Luo.
Baboon places his hand on either side of the hole, palms down, and steadies himself, feet shoulder-width apart and takes a calming breath. "Hurry up, none of us have time to wait for you here," Mr Luo says and before he finishes his sentence, Baboon throws his head back and with the strength of his inexorable hatred, smashes his forehead into the centre of the hole.
"One," counts the class in ragged unison.
His head is reeling; rising anger keeps him moving, his head a swinging hammer against the whiteboard that cries out the pain he feels.
"Two, three, four, five, six,
"seven, eight, nine,
"thirteen, fourteen, fifteen."
Soo Chin covers her mouth with her hand and chokes back tears.
"Count!" commands Mr Luo.
"Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen," gasps Soo Chin, looking anywhere but at Baboon. By twenty three, she gets up and flees the classroom.
"Twenty four, twenty five, twenty six" The thudding sound of Baboon's head against the board is weakening and blood is spreading across the centre of the hole like the unfurling of a butterfly's wings.
"Twenty seven." Baboon sags, barely able to stand. Da Xiong only made it to twenty the last time.
Rain sits in the front row, stone-faced as Buddha, watching Baboon struggle as only he can.
"Twenty eight." Baboon kneels, hands on the floor, back to the ceiling, finally defeated.
He throws up onto the floor, his eyes glaze over and he falls into his own vomit. Da Xiong makes a move to help him up and then stops.
Mr Luo looks up from the prostrate figure and looks around the classroom. "I hope this teaches you a lesson. I want to see better discipline from this class. Especially since it has so many leaders from the uniformed groups. You are here to get an education, not to monkey around." He looks at the bloodied whiteboard. "Clean this up," he says.
And then he leaves.QLRS Vol. 9 No. 4 Oct 2010