by Delroy Nesta Williams
“What is the capital of Jamaica?’ I thought to myself. I knew the answer; it was either Kingston or Kingstown. I always mixed up these two but it wasn’t the time to be unsure. I needed that answer to get an A on my final exam. I had already calculated my score in my head. My mother had promised me a trip to Roseau during the summer if I had gotten all A’s. I couldn’t wait to run along the city streets and go to the market with her. I had never been to Roseau, I heard a lot of things about it though; my mother would go there ever so often and always returned with lots of groceries and fine things.
I had imagined Roseau as a very big city, with very tall buildings, wide streets not like the wooden houses and dirt roads of Gros Michel, far from that too. There was no way the capital could be anything like my village. Besides with street names like King George V Street and Great George Street, I couldn’t help but think that Roseau was a majestic city full of business men driving their fancy cars, looking really important in their suits and ties. At least that’s what I read in books about the cities of Europe, I would expect the same of Roseau.
“Daryl, Daryl... wat is de answer for 12 an 15 ner?” whispered someone behind me, disturbing my thoughts.
“I doh know ner,” I responded without even turning around for fear that Teacher Roach would see me. She heard and saw everything; I was scared to death of that lady. She was so stern and meticulous, that nothing escaped her.
“Tell me ner before Teacher come back in de class,”
“No boy, I fraid,” I continued.
“Boy jus say de ting quick before she come back, hurry ner!”
“No boy, I cyah do that.”
“Hear de man, boy I doh want to fail dat test ner, I doh want to repeat mamzelle class!”
At that very moment, a cold breeze filled the room, everything got quiet and even the mosquitoes that were buzzing around my arms and legs seemed to stand still. The hands on the old class clock, which only worked during exams, seemed to stop too.
“Daryl and Dwight, what have I said about talking during tests?” Teacher Roach asked sternly.
I stayed quiet; I wasn’t going to utter a word, not me, never.
“Daryl! Dwight! Who is going to answer me?” Teacher Roach scolded in her slow, deliberate speech that felt like she was actually counting the words before sounding them.
“I cyah remember ner Teacher,” Dwight responded defiantly.
“You cyah remember ner Teacher?” she said mockingly, “We will see who remembers when I take out Lucifer from the cupboard.”
Lucifer was a giant rod that was kept locked up in the class cupboard and only used for “special” occasions. I had overhead the other teachers referring to it as the rod of correction. Teacher Roach used it to perfection, scaring the life out of all its victims. I had only received two strokes from Lucifer before and I didn’t want anymore. I had trouble sitting down on my chair for weeks after that. Rumour had it that the rod was made from a carefully handcrafted guava branch that was soaked for months in oil to preserve it.
“Who remembers what I have said about talking during tests?’ Teacher Roach asked the class.
“Teacher, you say we shouldn’t talk with anybody or cheat,” responded Mary. I hated Mary, she was always quick to respond and yearned to be the teacher’s favourite. To say she annoyed me and the rest of the class was the biggest understatement.
“And who can tell me what Daryl and Dwight were doing?”
“Miss they were talking wii,” Mary responded again without any hesitation.
“Is that against the rules?”
“Yes Teacher,” the class responded in complete unison.
“What do we do to students who break the rules?”
“We show dem to Lucifer!” Tony, a boy in the back row shouted out.
“How many strokes do you recommend Mary?”
“Me, Teacher,” she quirked, “I would gi dem five each wii,” she continued with a huge grin.
“Daryl, take the keys from the desk and take Lucifer from the cupboard.”
“No Teacher, no,” I cried out, “is not my fault ner.”
“So whose fault was it?”
At that point I looked over to Dwight and I could see the anger building up inside him. I was caught between a rock and a hard place, but I could always escape Dwight; Lucifer on the other hand was a sure thing.
“So whose fault was it Daryl?” Teacher Roach asked again.
“Teacher, Dwight dat ask me for answers to questions 12 an 15 wii,”
“Dwight is that true?”
Dwight didn’t budge, he didn’t say a word but I could tell that if he could have killed me at that time that he would have done it so swiftly that not even the hand of God could have prevented my death. The vein in the middle of his forehead was about ready to pop open; the blood would have splashed all over the walls of the classroom.
“Daryl, get me the rod, now!”
“Me, miss?” I asked.
“Yes you Daryl, who else?”
“Yes Miss,” I responded. It was already bad that I had ratted out Dwight but now I had to retrieve his method of punishment. I held unto the rod and could smell its odour. It was so pungent, almost a similar smell like that of rotting onions. The cane felt so strange between my fingers and so heavy but the way Teacher Roach swung it through air to dispense “judgment” would have made you think that it was a feather. She had some strong shoulders and arms for a woman.
As I returned to my seat I put my head on my desk. I had just sent Dwight to the slaughterhouse but the sad thing about it is that he would survive and come back for his revenge. Dwight didn’t utter a sound during his five strokes, soaking up the lashes like they were just a slap on the wrist; he was too busy thinking about paying me back for my treachery.
We still had two more exams to complete before the end of the day. I was sure he or his friends wouldn’t attack me before the bell had rung. I was quickly devising an escape strategy. I needed a plan since my house was on the other side of the village and I had to cross the guava field and pass directly in front of Dwight’s house before reaching Lime Street. I had the perfect idea, if only I could implement it.
The next few hours strolled along, almost causing me as much pain as I had envisioned receiving from Dwight. Every time I turned around I would see him staring at me with this painful but evil expression on his face, his eyes almost ready to pop out of his head. The vein running down the middle of his forehead was still bulging as well, although soaked by sweat because of the immense heat in the classroom. A slight touch would have caused it to rupture and spill out unto the blackboard at the front of the class.
I was a nervous mess; I couldn’t concentrate on my tests. I kept thinking of what happened before and how I would escape. I only had one good chance of getting away, but that would only succeed in delaying the inevitable. Dwight wasn’t someone who anybody should bring to anger, especially the way it happened in front of the entire class. He looked like he was ready to breathe fire any minute.
It was nearing 3:00 now, half an hour before we were officially dismissed and it was time that I make my move.
“Teacher Roach, I doh feeling too good ner, my stomach hurting me wii!” I belched out.
“What’s wrong with you Daryl?” Teacher asked.
“I think de food I eat for lunch hurt me wii Teacher,”
“What did you eat?”
“Food from yesterday wii.”
“You want to go to the Principal for medicine?”
“Yes Teacher, yes!”
“Anybody want to accompany Daryl to the principal’s office?” she asked.
“Yesssssssssss!” shouted a voice from the back of the classroom. An almost deafening sound that made my knees tremble with fear, so much it was said with raging fury.
“Dwight, go with Daryl,” she demanded, “stay with him until the Principal send you back to the classroom.”
Those words sunk my spirit. Teacher Roach had just dug my grave and she didn’t even realize it. I would haunt her for the rest of her life for what she did to me. Dwight stood up with a sly smile on his face almost too eager to help. He had seen through my trick.
“You tink is you alone that smart eh,” he murmured under his breath. “I have it for you later enno.”
The next thirty (30) minutes were a blur, passing by so quickly; from entering the Principal’s office, getting sent to an empty room to wait out the time and having a teacher prepare bush tea for me. I couldn’t see or hear Dwight but I knew he was lingering around the school yard, just waiting on me to make my way home.
I had escaped, but for how long? The bell had rung now but I had decided to wait a while before leaving the room in the hope that I would fool Dwight and his friends who would surely be waiting for me. Maybe they would have thought that I had left already or that one of the teachers would have already taken me from the sickroom.
I waited for about fifteen (15) minutes before vacating the room, carefully opening the door so as to not arouse any suspicion or make any unnecessary noise that would inform any bystander or onlooker. The door creaked open just slightly before I squeezed my way through. I didn’t risk opening it up fully at all. I could take no chances. I had decided to leave my school bag behind so that I would have been able to run more freely. I turned the corner just after leaving the sickroom, the coast was clear. Not a student or teacher in sight as I continued tip-toeing through the school hall. I quickened my pace and what started off as timid steps soon became full blown strides. As I was about to jet through the school gate, it came swinging in my direction, knocking me across my arms as I had raised them to protect my face.
“Iye, yah yiiiiiiiiiye,” I cried out.
“Where you tink you going, you think you wudda escape easy so den?” I heard Dwight scream out.
“Leave me alone boy,”
“You doh think I would wait for you?”
“I doh want no trouble,”
“You doh think of that before you make Teacher Roach beat me in front de class?”
“Is your fault wii,” I responded in a loud voice; growing in confidence as I stood up.
“Well dat is your fault now,” Dwight said, now exposing Lucifer that he had kept at his back.
“Where you get Lucifer?” I cried out.
“So you think I doh know how to go in de cupboard?”
“How much strokes I get?” he asked.
“I doh know, I doh remember!”
“Mickey, Larry, how much strokes I get?” he asked as his friends emerged from their hiding places. They grabbed my arms and held me steady as Dwight prepared to lash me with the cane.
“Five you get wii Dwight!” Larry sounded with a sly grin, wishing that he could be the one to whip me instead.
“Is three of us eh, so three times five is how much?”
“Fifteen wii, fifteen,” Mickey said although his tone sounded uncertain.
“So fifteen strokes for you wii Daryl, I sorry but is fifteen you going to get eh,” Dwight said menacingly as I tried to wriggle my way from the hold of Mickey and Larry. They were just too strong for me. It was pointless. I would have to take all my fifteen lashes as I couldn’t see any way to escape from my predicament.
Larry and Mickey pulled me against the column that held the gate, each one stretching my arm in opposite direction as Dwight measured Lucifer. I closed my eyes hoping that it would make the situation go away, or at least I could concentrate on something else. The pungent oniony-smell of Lucifer filled my nostrils again and forced a tear from my eyes even before I felt one blow from the cane. I could hear the shuffling of Dwight’s feet as he prepared himself. Larry and Mickey pulled at my arms even harder and for a moment I thought about my mother, how she would still beat me if she ever found out what was going on in the school yard, doubling my pain and anguish. I would have to take my blows in silence and not tell a soul.
Dwight swung away as Lucifer whistled through the still afternoon air striking me on my buttocks as I cringed against the column, almost climbing it up from the shock of the stroke. I stuck my teeth together to prevent myself from screaming as the pain shot through my body, every nerve ending now awake. The second stroke, even more ferocious than the first tore through my pants and exposed my underwear bringing Larry, Mickey and Dwight to an uncontrollable laugh. After they had composed their selves, Dwight recommenced with his assault. I was counting every blow, hoping and wishing that fifteen would get there soon. He was on number four and I was wishing that somehow he would have miscounted to my benefit. He swung again, this time so hard that Lucifer dropped from his grip and rolled a few metres away.
I heard as he walked to retrieve the cane but I didn’t dare open my eyes. I didn’t want the pool of tears to escape from them and for Dwight to see me cry. I wouldn’t let them see me cry. Dwight was now making his way back towards me, kicking a few pebbles from under his feet in my direction. One of them hit my ankle too but that wasn’t as painful as anything that I had so far endured. I stuck my teeth together again and closed my eyes tightly preparing for another lash from Lucifer. Mickey and Larry again pulled at my arms; their grips still very tight as Dwight urged them on to pull at me. He was going to make me endure ever lingering moment, he was just so menacing. Again he shuffled his feet, preparing to strike me with Lucifer.
“Stop it, leave de person’s child alone,” a voice screamed from outside the gates and within seconds Dwight and his friends had vanished from around me. As I realized what had just happened, I too dashed outside the school gate, not even looking to see who rescued me from my captors. I hoped that the person hadn’t recognised me because the last thing I wanted was for my mother to receive the news of my beating at the hands of Dwight and company. That would have equalled double punishment.
When I had reached a safe distance, I stopped and turned around, still panting though. There was no one in sight, not Dwight or his friends and surely not the person who saved me from my turmoil.
“Thank God,” I thought, “thank God... but where was Lucifer?”