Sunday, January 31, 2010


The Great Hall was filled with a hundred boys, all eagerly awaiting Saturday night cinema. This week’s feature was the David Niven film, The Brain. All hundred boys were wearing bathrobes and slippers, all except one. One boy was missing his slippers. This was not acceptable. The rules were clear. All boys must wear their bathrobe and slippers. There was no ambiguity.

The headmaster stalked like an enraged tiger at the front of the room. “Who,” he wanted to know, “who is the one?” The one who had taken the boy’s slippers. The one responsible for the delay. The reason the catcalls and boos had begun, first in the back row, moving further forward, stopping a safe distance from the red-faced behemoth pacing in front.

I was as irritated as the others. Who would take a boy’s slippers and risk the whole school missing the film? Didn’t they know how precious this event was, the one normal activity in a week of rugby practice and Latin conjugations? I had heard that it was a good film, a likable comedy, and I was ready for some levity. There were still two more weeks until “visiting weekend”, an opportunity to be home with my family for thirty hours. I needed this escape.

I was one of the good boys, never in trouble. I followed the rules, turned in my schoolwork on time, and possessed enough self-control to avoid the leather slipper and the ping-pong paddle, punishments the headmaster meted out on more foolish boys.

Why were some of the boys turning my way with that look in their eyes? “de Beer”, they whispered, “own up!” My friend Jones (did I ever know his first name?) elbowed me in the ribs. “Come on, tell him you did it!”

Me? Why me? I hadn’t done such a stupid thing as take the stupid boy’s stupid slippers. Why were they looking at me? I would never risk Saturday cinema. I would never be so unkind. It wasn’t me. “de Beer, de Beer,” the voices hissed. “Fess up!” What were they talking about? Did they want me to be the scapegoat? I wouldn’t do it. No film was worth it. “Tell him you did it!” I retorted.

The headmaster sensed the buzz and zeroed in on his prey. He knew the culprit was somewhere in my row. He closed in. The boys’ urging became harsher. “Come on, de Beer, be a man. Own up to your mistake!” I could hear the incensed snorts emanating from the headmaster and could feel the growing desperation from my classmates.

I didn’t understand why they were picking on me. I wasn’t their usual victim. I stayed clear of trouble. “Well, if it was me,” I challenged, “where do you think I put the stupid slippers?”

“Are you crazy?” this from my best friend, Robinson. “You know you put them on top of the wardrobe, next to Dawson’s bed. I dared you to before breakfast. Remember?”

And I did. I did remember. It was me. I had done this stupid thing. And I knew what I had to do.

I stood up, a hundred pairs of eyes on my back, and followed the headmaster to the front of the Hall. And around the corner to his study.

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