“I have two announcements children,” Mr. Williams our teacher, said. “One of them, very sad.”
He waited in his usual manner, the one that gave us the impression that he felt like shouting, but wasn’t going to utter a word until we were all very quiet, and that if we weren’t, there would be serious reckoning after.
A sort of hush settled, but there was a slight bit of giggling coming from the boys in the back benches. I could hear Ravi behind me drawing his pencil for the hundredth and seventy nought time, through the line on the bench between himself and Leroy. We all did that, but some of us used chalk. We had long wooden benches with matching desks.
Each person shared their bench (and desk) with someone else, usually someone they didn’t care for very much. The teachers tried to trick us into not chattering too much by making us sit far away from our friends, but that didn’t matter to us too much. What, with all the paper we could pass around the class and all that. I think we spent more time writing notes to our friends across the room, than we would’ve spent talking with them, if they were sitting next to us.
“Firstly, I am glad you all made it through the storm,” Mr. Williams continued. “I have never seen a storm like that all my life, so it was something very rare in this country. You may never see one like it again.”
One hand in his pocket, the other on his beard, Mr. Williams was getting ready for one of his speeches. Though he sometimes looked up to the galvanised, zinc sheets in the ceiling, he managed to keep his eyes on all of us, all at the same time.
“Apparently,” he continued. “It was extremely small by comparison to what happens elsewhere in the world, so we are very lucky.”
“Secondly,” he said, leaving his beard alone and pressing his thumb and forefinger into his eye sockets. “We’ve lost one of the boys in the other year four. Most of you know him as Slinky.”
We did know Slinky. He was our age, and was one of the boys who used to put little mirrors on their shoes then sneak up behind you. Once they had succeeded in getting close to you without you realising, they would put their foot beside yours, so that they could see the colour of your underwear from under your skirt. They would then sing, “Blue, blue, (insert name) loves you (if you were wearing blue). If you’re wearing red, they sang, “Red, you peed your bed.” White means you’re a blight. The worse one was, “Pink, you stink.”
Slinky was also the one of the boys who had a lot of fun rubbing out our hopscotch when we drew them in the dust. He was really popular in school, so when we stood on one side with a little stone we’d found in the school yard, drawing the little square boxes, he would get belly laughs from the crowd as he used his foot to rub out the lines on the other side. The quicker we drew, the faster he erased. Marleen, Marla and I would hop around drawing lines, but it would only take a skip and a quick succession of dragging steps for him to erase them all.
“You will, I am sure, find out the details later,” Mr. Williams was saying. “But it’s not very good at all. I don’t want you to be shocked, but I should say that Slinky was beaten to death by someone. Again, don’t be alarmed or scared, this is all very unusual,” he said, showing us both his palms in a sort of push - push motion, his head cocked slightly sideways.
“We were all knocked for six at how someone could beat another person to death,” he continued.
Actually sir, I’m sure it could happen very easily if someone is very big and very angry, and the other person is very little and scared.
“. . . It is alleged,” Mr. Williams continued. “This means that it’s not been proven yet - that Slinky climbed up the man’s guava tree, swung unto his window sill, and into his bedroom. He was caught as he tried to climb back out, and in his hurry he fell out of the window. The man then ran outside, untied his dogs and then proceeded to beat Slinky. No one knows what really happened, but apparently when he was found, he had bite marks on him as well.”
I glanced at The Honourable Comrade Leader’s picture on the wall, to see if he was taking all this in, but he had his usual ‘I’m-watching-you-but-not-really-caring look.’ A sort of look I once saw on a painting my uncle said was world-famous. He said that the picture was so famous that Nat King Cole once sang a song about it.
Mammy sings Nat King Cole when she’s in a good mood. Her favourite one is:
“Light up your face with gladness,
Hide every trace of sadness.
Although a tear
May be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying.
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile,
If you just smile.”
It always felt uncomfortable to look directly into the Comrade’s eyes. The grown-ups think that he knows everything, so they lower their voices every time they say something bad about him, (which is a lot, I can tell you) even in their own homes. They dared not say anything ratty about him (or the PNC party) to anyone but family or close friends, because of all the stories and legends of his spies. I think that maybe he’s somehow managed to work out a way to make himself see stuff through the pictures that hang in all the public buildings and schools. How else could he know of some people’s secret dislike of him?
“The man who allegedly killed Slinky is now in the lock ups,” Mr. Williams continued.
“I don’t want you all to worry, but I am sure it will be all over the news later on. If anyone has any questions or wants to talk, I am here always. You all have some time to now work quietly, remember you have your end of term tests soon. And also, don’t forget that the deadline to pay for your final tour is today. Lyken, are you sure you don’t want to go?”
“Yes sir,” I answered.
“This trip is for the whole class, you all worked really hard in your Common Entrance Exams.”
“I know sir.”
“Everyone else is going, this is your last chance.”I put my head down and didn’t answer him. He won’t understand. I am not allowed to go on trips and things. Mammy said she didn’t have the money, or the time. I couldn’t tell him that. I was too embarrassed, so I closed my eyes, bit down on my back teeth, and waited for him to just go away.
* * *
Two days later the newspaper printed the story about Slinky. Mammy heard about the incident from Edwards (she was one of the teachers at Mammy’s old school, before she transferred to the one in the scheme near to where we used to live). She was nice, but I didn’t know her first name. Mammy always called her Edwards. She was one of those grown-ups who you never saw on their feet, because she always travelled around on her bicycle. I think her legs must feel very strange when they’re asked to walk around her house.
Mammy bought the papers and made me read Slinky’s story to her. The reporters and police didn’t seem to know exactly what had happened, but the papers said that the ‘suspect allegedly accused Slinky of repeatedly climbing into his house and stealing his possessions.’ It said that the man was so annoyed that he decided to catch Slinky and scare him. When he caught him that day, he set his dogs on him to trap him, then he hit him. The papers said that he must’ve hit him several times and really hard, because he had lots of broken bones.
Poor Slinky, I thought, but I didn’t say nothing.