Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Days Of Innocence

I arrived at the school as a scrawny 15 year old carrying a huge bag with my right hand and a pair of football boots with my left. It was my choice to leave home and be on my own, away from the various constraints imposed by my grandparents. At last, I could play football to my heart’s content. And pursue my interest in music to the fullest of my ability. No more hiding my borrowed kapok guitar under the bed and playing it ever so softly in the middle of the night.

It was a paradox. My grandma, who had the vision to send me to an English school, 16 miles away from my village, was against me being seen with a guitar in the village. And she loathed the fact that I loved playing football so much. Wait till she knew that I had already begun smoking at 14! In retrospect, perhaps she was just trying to protect me from the conservatism of the village folks. I was English speaking and was behaving more like a town boy in my small village. At 14, I would even carry my pretty second cousin on my bicycle to school in the afternoon on the way to my football practice and her co-curricular activity. She was older by a good 3 years but that would not stop the staring eyes of the village folks. My grandma would go berserk every time someone told her that I was doing so. It was an innocent act but she did not like it nevertheless.

So I made up my mind. After Form 3 and my LCE (Lower School Certificate, which is similar to the current Peperiksaan Menengah Rendah – Lower Secondary Examinations) examinations, I was going to leave that silly village! That was my resolution. My grandparents and family reluctantly let me go at the instant of my complete stubbornness.

The week which followed my arrival at the hostel was filled with one of the hardest period in my entire life. I was subjected to various initiation processes, which in other words, means that I was subjected to ragging. There were times during that week when I regretted my decision to enrol myself in a boarding school. I would be asked to do my seniors’ laundry. To carry a knapsack and crawl under the double decked beds which lined the whole length of the dormitory while carrying a broom with my hands ala a commando. “Do the helicopter”, shouted one of the seniors and that would mean I have to bend down and put my index finger on the floor and spin myself like a helicopter blade until I almost puked! “Royal flush” would mean my face in the toilet bowl while being flushed by the senior. “Weightlifting” would mean you would be stripped naked and fed with some porns to make your penis erect and a pair of football boots would be hanged by their laces on your penis to see whether your erection would be able to withstand the weight of the boots!

Being a footballer had its advantages however. Firstly, I was able to escape many of the ridiculous ragging activities due to football practices. The school had an almost fanatical support for its football team and footballers were treated like some sons of God! Football practices were in the late afternoon, at about 5pm. And that was when the ragging took place. Secondly, some of the seniors in the hostel were also footballers. I would make a mental “marking” on those nasty seniors who were also in the football team. During football practices, I would try my best to leave some nice aluminium studs mark on their legs as a form of retribution. Thirdly, seniors were generally nicer towards a school footballer.

Apart from football, my being a guitarist and singer also helped during that week. Because some of the seniors would just ask me to sing and play guitar instead of indulging in “weightlifting” or “helicopter”. Despite the pains of the ragging week, I never cried, because boys didn’t ever cry those days. Boys didn’t report those things to the teachers too those days. Boys were made to last. Boys were not meant to chicken out and sing like a bird to the school authorities about such things. Boys just accepted things as they were. And life has to go on, as it always has been in the past, and as it will, in the future. It was my decision to leave home, and I would have to stick with it.

One day during that week, the head prefect called me to his room. His name was Yusuf and he was in Upper Six. As the hostel head prefect, he was entitled to a room all by himself as opposed to us, who stayed in dormitories. He looked soft to me. Slightly built with fair skin. What struck me from the first time I met him was his eyes. They kept on shifting as if he was not willing to look into my eyes for fear of me reading his mind by looking through his iris. He was gentle in demeanour but was arrogant to a point where I thought he was some kind of a mini megalomaniac! He would go into an external monologue on how tough Form Six was, how clever he was and how very popular he was with the girls! I knew right away that this guy was trouble personified. And it left me wondering how he became a head prefect. He would later forced me to copy study notes for him. Pages and pages of them, which he borrowed from his classmates. That day, I must have spent more than 4 hours in his rooms copying the notes. I hated it. Deep down in me I was telling myself that one of these days I would get back at him. I would probably pee on his face while he was sleeping. Something like that.

Throughout the next month or so, I learned that Yusuf personified the proverbial “ball carrier”. Yes. He was loved by all the teachers in school. He was the blue-eyed boy of the hostel master. In front of them, he could do no wrong. He was the ideal student. He deceived and schemed his way to the top. As a result, he became the hostel head prefect. His rise to the top somewhat typifies the prevailing Malay culture, the “Melayu Baru” culture. Although Yusuf’s time was in the late 70’s, he was somewhat ahead of his time. Soon in the 80’s, the Malaysian political and economical landscape was a copycat of what Yusuf was. It was as if Yusuf was some kind of a test boy, sent from the future as a seedling to all the greed for power and material gains epitomised by the Malays political Gods in the 80’s and 90’s. It was a pity that he wasn’t a footballer. In fact he did not play a single game, that twerp! Had he played football, I was sure he would have ended up with some nice presents from me, or my friends.

Friends. Yes. I wasted no time in making new friends after the ragging week. Some of them remain good friend until now. I gradually began enjoying my new life away from home. At last, I was free. It was me and my friends. Me and my football. Me and my guitar. Me and myself!

I was already smoking ciggies by that time. In fact my ciggy day started when I was only 14. In retrospect, I wasn’t addicted to it. It was mere peer pressure which caused me to smoke. I needed to be within the inner circle. There was this need to be accepted. To be, in current lingo, cool. Obviously, the possibility of us being caught was always there. And that would cause an adrenalin rush through my veins which would leave my face red with excitement. Yes. I was an adrenalin junkie right from then!

We would smoke in the school toilet during recess time. In the late afternoon, before football practices or some extra curricular activities, we would smoke I some corners of the school hall, or under some staircases. We would even smoke under some trees across the football pitch. If we were caught - well, we were caught on a couple of occasions – we would be instantly hauled up to the hostel master’s office. There he would open his cupboard and we would be asked to choose our preferred rotan. Yes, this guy was sadistic! He had a collection of rotans of various length and thickness. He would cane us all with a smirk on his fat ugly face while uttering some nonsensical mantra as if he was achieving some orgasmic pleasure from it all. He would call us stupid, not because we smoked but because we were caught, as if to issue us a challenge. Despite all that, the whole hostel citizenry, including myself, loved him. His was a kind heart. He would have dinner with us sometimes and he would sit and talked with us about all the nonsense which we were facing as teenagers. He was a good teacher. But if ever he caught any of us for any kind of offence, My God, did he change into a sadistic bastard! He just retired recently. And we actually kept in touch until now!

We had a special smoking place in the hostel. That place was only known to me and about 5 of my closest friends. It was on the ceiling in one of the washrooms. We had removed, or rather made removable, one piece of the ceiling board inside the washroom. At night, after the usual prep, we would climb up and remove the ceiling board. We would then be on the ceiling together. It would be dark up there and sometime a friend of mine would bring a candle. There, in the candle light, we would have our candle light smoking session until about 11pm, when we were supposed to be in bed. We would smoke and chit chat about the usual mundane stuffs. About football. About teachers. About guitar chords. It was more than a hideout for our smoking session. It was our sanctuary of sort. A place sacred to us and for us to share our daily lives. It was a place where boys would create an indescribable bond with each other.

Yusuf’s room was at the end of the block in which my dormitory was located. From the washroom where our secret place was located, his room would just be about 20 feet away. One night, one of my friend suggested that we should all crawl towards Yusuf’s room and eavesdrop. It was a good idea. Perhaps we would find something about Yusuf. Something funny. Something strange. Something we could use against him. That idea was unanimously accepted.

We crawled the 20 feet on the ceiling. When we saw the fans hook fastened to the ceiling bar, we knew we were right on top of Yusuf’s room. We stayed quiet while my friend put his ear on the ceiling board trying to catch any kind of sound emanating from Yusuf’s room. After sometime, he stopped and he looked bewildered. When asked, he said he heard some really strange stuffs. He could not describe what it was. All of us then put our ears to the ceiling board. I could hear something which resembled a soft cry coming from the room. We were all dumbfounded. And we were all wondering what Yusuf was up to.

We crawled a bit further away from the room to discuss our next move. We then decided that we should poke a small hole in the ceiling board to see what was happening down there. And so, we crawled back to be on top of the room. Using his finger, my friend slowly and carefully poked a hole in the ceiling board. He then took a look. Within seconds, he withdrew from the hole. He had this horrified and disbelief look on his face. As if he had seen Yusuf sucking blood from the neck of another hostellite! One by one we took a look. And when it was my turn, I could not believe my eyes! There he was, this head prefect of ours, all naked, crouched like a donkey, inserting his small dick into the ass of an effeminate Form 1 boy! Oh My Gawd! Yusuf the sodomiser! Our head prefect. Our model student. Our head boy who was so popular with the girls, or so he claimed. He was sodomising a Form 1 boy!

After a while, someone started laughing. I think Yusuf could hear that. We all crawled as fast as possible to the washroom and came down. Just as we had closed the ceiling board, Yusuf came into the toilet. With a stern face and voice, he asked what all 5 of us were doing after bed time. One of my friend said we were using the toilet. I was struggling to contain my laugh. He accused us of smoking and said he would report us to the hostel master the next day. At that point, I thought this was the time to get back at him. I told him we were not smoking. “We are fucking each other’s ass”, I said. My friends were rolling on the floor laughing their heads off! “Go ahead and report”, I challenged him. Yusuf’s face was whiter than white! He could not find a single word to utter. After a moment which seemed to last forever, he managed to find enough strength to turn around and walked away. “Oooh….nice ass, boy!”, said one of my friend. He just walked away.

The whole hostel, and school, came to know about that incident within days. But true to form, the school covered up the incident. Yusuf the head boy was above the normal jungle law. No rotan for him. The Form 1 student was left alone. No talk. No counselling. No nothing! Back at the hostel, anarchy was beginning to take place. No one respected Yusuf or any of the prefect anymore. I would spit on Yusuf’s footprint. Finally, he left the hostel.

The last thing I heard of him was about 10 years ago. A friend told me that he was a schoolteacher!

Welcome to the twilight zone!

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