Monday, 20 June 2011

Fatal Collision

I was known for many years as a crier. This did not involve a bell or the expression ‘Hear Ye!’, unless it was my classmates shouting ‘Hear Ye! Hear Ye! That fat kid is crying again!’ If someone hit me, I’d cry. If (in fact, particularly when) I forgot my lunch, I’d cry. When the girls asked kindly, yet firmly, that I not participate in a round of Kiss Chase, I’d cry.

Midway through secondary school I gained the masculine attribute of bottling it up and keeping it suppressed at all costs. This does little to pardon a crying legacy of fourteen years.

My first vivid memory of crying at school was during a lunch break in year three. For some reason I was running (perhaps rumours of free cake were circulating again) across the playground to reach the main building. I had made it up onto the concrete disabled ramp when someone rounded the corner in front of me. Too late to stop, our heads collided, and naturally my weight barrelled the other boy hard into the railings.

Pain throbbed in my chubby features. I put my hand to my nose and it came away bloody. It was decision time: to cry or not to cry. I looked to the other boy, Stuart, from my class. His mouth was bleeding profusely, surely enough to justify some tears. I took the plunge and let my eyes leak. Much to my chagrin, Stuart didn’t.

A dinner lady arrived to drag us to the nurse. My nose pitter-pattered a trail of blood on the corridor floor that remained visible for the following two weeks. While we walked I probed my mouth; a tooth near the front had been knocked loose. This was leave to cry harder.

The nurse attended to Stuart first, leaving me to squall by the door. Stuart smiled as she mopped his face and checked his mouth. One tooth was missing, another as good as gone. She gripped it between thumb and forefinger, and whipped it loose in one swift tug. More blood, the most I’d seen at that point in my life. Stuart didn’t cry. He kept smiling.

I didn’t tell the nurse about my own loose tooth. When she came near me, I cried.

Nearly a decade later, I stood in a crowd on my secondary school playground to watch Stuart beat the hell out of another boy. They were on the ground, and Stuart had him in a headlock from behind. In between taunts he slammed his elbow down onto the boy’s head. Understandably, the boy began to cry. There was no sympathy. The crowd jeered his tears. By then I had shucked my weeping tendencies. The boy cried harder as the elbows crashed down on his cranium. I laughed as loud as all the rest.

Stuart left the school soon after. The next I heard of him was a few years later, when his obituary appeared in the local newspaper. He had crashed his moped into a lamp post at speed and caved in his skull. When I read the news I put my fingers around the tooth, long since restored from the day of our collision. I closed the newspaper. I did not cry.

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