Nchum wanted to steal an eraser. That particular emotion silently steamed as he gazed down on a pencil scrambled word in his notebook. Two sticks for every mistake you make, his teacher had said before they started writing an essay on ‘My Dreams for the Future’. Nchum licked a finger and started to rub the mistake out. It turned into an ugly dark blotch near a solitary preposition.
“Alright, that’s enough! Bring your work one by one. You,” Nchum’s heart skipped a beat, “Bring me your notebook.”
The kid sitting two desks in front stood up and nervously walked toward the teacher. His face was unnaturally pale given his light brown complexion. He placed the notebook on the teacher’s table.
“So, ummmm…..A boxer huh?” The teacher mumbled to himself as his eyes scanned the notebook uninterested. There was a dilation in his pupils.
“I told you didn’t I?” he turned to the kid. “Two sticks for every mistake you make.” He licked his lips. “Turn around and face the wall.”
The teacher brandished a thin cane – which he called ‘Excalibur’ – and rained down six rapid burst on the kids poor butt. Pat,pat,pat,pat,pat,pat.
The kid had a lone silver slanting snot dangling, and tears were streaming down his face by the time he returned to his seat. Nchum uncomfortably squirmed – his butt cheeks clenching – watching the scene. His small heart palpitated like the rapid sound Excalibur made in a rhythmic trance. Pat,pat,pat,pat . . .
Time seemed to move faster then the second hand clock in their classroom, which was infinitely ticking away running on half chewed batteries. Finally it was Nchum’s turn to walk up to the scaffold. He deliberately slowed down his walking pace, but of course how long did he think that would delay the inevitable? Time seemed to move faster.
The last scene he saw before he started to cry was the sharp rolled cuff of his teacher. He looks like a bartender, a random thought flashed inside his head as something wosshed down from above. Patpatpatpat.
The soft sensation after the stick left an amazing numbness. He ran a hand over his butt, quite sure that by now you could almost practise cursive writing on it.
It was break and all the other students had left the classroom. Either playing outside or – most probably only that. What do kids ever do but play? Or spent the rest of their other time wanting to play?
But sometimes they get other urges. A dark spot in their small universe(s).
Nchum had always noticed the girl who sat beside him was not as bright as she looked. She had very little to no friends, as loyalties in friendship change like diapers in their kingdom. She was always the last man whenever they lined up for lunch. The last to submit her homework. She had wet herself the week before – unable to speak up that she needed to go to the bathroom. The whole classroom was entertained. She stuttered like a pop song when their teacher asked her why she hadn’t asked for permission.
What mostly tempted Nchum was that she owned a Barbie themed school box filled to the brim with stationary. That particular observation was not new, it was something he had always noticed everyday, but now a new possibility came into realization inside his head and attached itself to it. Astronaut Barbie waved and smiled at him beneath Achumi’s desk.
He went over and opened up the contents of the box. Two huge, white Apsara erasers shone at him like flashlights from beneath, coupled with two mechanical pencils with bountiful refill, and a unsharpened traditional hexagonal wood pencil.
Astronaut Barbie found a new home in Nchum’s school bag that day.
To Nchum, the thought of getting caught was as foreign as Europeans venturing outside of their continent. He slept peacefully that night, hell, even with hint of pride and contend. No dreams, no nothing. Just deep sleep.
Nchum went early to class the next day. The enthusiasm and adrenaline from yesterday had died down, and the fact that he had stolen someone’s School box was nearly forgotten. The regularity of his everyday classroom scene also cajoling him into completely erasing that fact. The bell announcing the start of first period rang aloud. Everyone quickly settled down in their seats.
The classroom was quite, the only sound that swept was a low murmur which gradually seemed to increase. A few minutes passed and still there was no sign of their teacher. No one in the classroom could care less, and none one in the classroom had caught on on Achumi’s empty seat. As for Nchum, he had noticed both, and oh boy was it a deadly combination. The realization and implications of his act yesterday surfaced like thin vapours. Slow steam of dread and fear.
The door to their classroom sprang open. His teacher walked in brandishing Excalibur, with Achumi following behind like an obedient squire. He set the cane down and sat half-butt on the table. Achumi stood frozen, unsure of how to react. Nchum was frozen too, staring at Excalibur and his teacher’s sharp rolled cuffs. Astronaut Barbie smiled inside his bag.
The teacher clear his throat in a sigh.
“I am disappointed in you lot. Never in my five years of teaching have I encountered an incident so low as this. You may not be aware but I pride myself in my teaching and even more so when it is reflected on my very own students.”
Nchum couldn’t care less what his teacher was going on about, he was so rattled he did not even register a single word his teacher had been saying. His stomach somersaulted and sumo wrestled.
“But of course, what can I expect from you? How can I expect you to understand what I am trying to convey? After all, you’re all just snotty little brats.” His teacher scoffed, picked up Excalibur and twirled it around his fingers.
“What I want from you, is honesty. Completely honesty. I want you to be really honest and tell me who stole Achumi’s pencil box yesterday. Complete honesty here. Come now, hurry up.”
The then silent classroom followed a pronouncing of innocence and shock, ‘I didn’t steal anything’, ‘check my bag. . .’ and some other statements along that line. The snippet of ‘check my bag’ was what brought Nchum back to his senses and assess the gravity of the situation. He knew in his guts that he was toast; the canning from his teacher, the shame, the guilt, his mom’s beating. Things would never be the same anymore; he will be forever tattooed a thief.
Inside the classroom, Nchum was not the only one in despair. Achumi had never in her life been ogled by that many pair of eyes. She flashed back to last weeks incident. She began to cry softly, not out of shame but the poor girl was just overwhelmed.
“Quiet down!” The teacher gave a sigh. No one noticed but he was honestly really tired; the dark circles around his wrinkled eyes, the patchy stub for a beard, his book yellowed shirt, all was a subtle reminder that no child in the class room could pick up on.
Nchum looked at his teacher; his stomach still unsure whether it was a wrestling arena or an organ. His heartbeat, a cool Trance.
“I’ll give you till the end of the day. You either give back the pencil box to Achumi or you bring it to me when no one is around. Don’t worry, I wont reveal your identity or punish you. You know yourself.” Saying that the teacher took his seat and told the sobbing Achumi to take her’s too. And so she did. And so did everyone. If you had listened closely, the sigh that the students let out almost resembled a tyre being deflated.
In the end, Achumi found Astronaut Barbie inside her bag, smiling at her almost as if she never left. Achumi was glad, Nchum was relieved, and their teacher was both. He had gambled you see, if the thief had been smart enough he could have just hid the box or disposed off it and no one would ever know. No one was going to check no one’s bag (at least not till he was pressured by Achumi’s mother.). Or it could have been that the thief had already disposed off the box keeping the contents. Anything was possible, but he still gambled. Because deep down the teacher knew that none of the kids he taught had a speck of dark spot in their hearts. And he intended to keep it that way.