I have to smile at one story that I do remember from the juniors, at the time of course it was serious—I always seemed to be at odds with the teachers, especially when they asked one of those questions that needs no response. At first, I was very keen, and would give, what I thought was a perfectly proper answer. What did they expect? Kids only understand proper questions. These days, it would be said that I had some sort of a syndrome, but back then I was told to stand in the corner for being silly.
On this day it looks as if I am in big trouble, I have been given a letter addressed to Mrs. Weguelin. I reluctantly pass it over to mum; she looks at the letter for a few moments turning it over and over. I think she is hoping it is addressed to someone else. Finally, fixing me with an unblinking stare, the letter is opened. I step away out of reach of the tea towel that my mother always wears over her shoulder like a weapon. She can make the damp tea towel crack like a whip when the moment takes her, you know all about it if it catches your leg. She takes a deep sigh, saying.
“You haven’t got nits again, have you Alan? I have only just got rid of the last lot, I’m going to have to cut all your hair off, it’s the only way”
Mrs. Salmon is in our kitchen having a cup of tea—her large body fills the armchair to overflowing—she really is a very big lady. I may have avoided the danger of the whip cracking tea towel. But now, before I can dodge her outstretched hand, like a spider waiting for a fly Mrs. Salmon pulls me onto her lap. Out comes the fine-tooth comb and she is ready to begin her search and destroy. This is something of a hobby for Mrs. Salmon, she is an expert. I think there is always a fine-tooth comb in her apron pocket, someone always has nits in our family and probably so do most of our neighbours. Even if we were all completely nit free, she would still have a little look. Before the comb can get to work though, Mum reads out the letter, it is not from ‘The Nit Nurse’, but from Miss Slaughter.
I watch the drama unfolding from the vantage point of Mrs. Salmons lap, I don’t understand what the letter says, I have never heard such words before. There is a silence as the two friends look at each other, Mrs. Salmon closes one eye as if to concentrate her mind. I have noticed that she does this a lot—I’ve tried it myself, but it makes no difference, I still never know the answer to anything. She is now almost closing both eyes, this is something new, I am really getting worried, it must be very serious.
“What the bloody hell is dumb insolence”? Mrs Salmon asks this very slowly as if it is something that even she has never heard of before.
Mum continues to read the letter, then she looks at me as if the letter says I have done something terrible, I am in the hollow of Mrs. Salmon’s lap, I get ready to make my escape, but I feel a heavy hand on my shoulder, I am trapped in the web like a fly.
“The headmistress is saying you are disruptive in class and are not taking the lessons seriously, she says you keep asking inappropriate questions or giving silly answers. What is this all about Alan”?
Now mum is also looking through narrow eyes, I quickly slide off Mrs. Salmon’s lap into the safety of the scullery, I start to explain but my stutter comes back, finally I blurt it out.
“It was not fault, Laury Zubiena told me to say it”.
I felt a bit of a traitor blaming Laury, but it was perfectly true, they were his exact words, he has helped me lots of times. Laury is one of boys who knows things and can always be relied upon to come up with some sort of an answer.
“What did that Laury tell you to say that was so bad Alan, that they have sent me this letter”?
“”Our new teacher, was pointing to all the parts of the human body on a chart, and she asked me what they were for”
I could tell by the look in my Mums eyes that she was afraid of the answer that I gave to the teacher, because she was holding her breath and her head was cocked on one side— she often looks at me like this and it is a sure sign of big trouble.
They are both looking at me now waiting for an explanation, but I am so nervous it just won’t come, until once again I blurt it out.
“The teacher said that our skin is the largest organ in our body, and she asked what it was for. Nobody put their hand up to answer and she just kept looking at me, and then Laurie whispered, ‘It’s to keep the blood in’, so that’s what I said”.
As soon as I managed to tell them what I had said, I thought Mrs Salmon was having a turn, her whole body started to wobble, then they both started giggling and leaning on each other.
I couldn’t think what was so funny, I think Laury was right, what else could our skin be for? If we had no skin the blood would go all other the place, wouldn’t it?
I’m beginning to think that I really don’t fit in at school.