The room had never sounded so calm, but not utter silent, not with the shimmering rain falling outside and battering the overgrown trees, and the red framed clock hung on the milky wall inside and rattling its hands. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
It was a kind of wordless tranquility interrupted sometimes by heavy breaths, and sometimes by page flipping sounds. Thomas shifted in his chair, looked briefly at his classmates who were drowned between the pages of their books, then looked back at the clock. Fifteen minutes remaining he thought. Another heavy breath.
Facing the students, on one side of the room, there’s a wooden desk with two drawers on each side. On its top, there are a couple of large books and a pair of glasses. A small thin man in black costume and white clerical collar around his neck sat motionless contemplating the weather outside.
A fork lightning flashed in the sky and interrupted the teacher’s observation.
Another heavy breath.
The teacher, Father Francis, shifted his glance to the classroom, stood up from his chair and walked towards the whiteboard. He picked up the black marker from its stand and spoke out loud while facing the students “Young Thomas, would you please read the last paragraph from today’s chapter?” The rumble of the thunder followed his request and drew a small smile over Father Francis’ face.
Thomas, aged thirteen, shifted again in his seat, took a deep breath and read out loud tediously “ ‘The only necessary way for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Edmund Burke’ “
Promptly and cheerfully, the teacher said “and what do we make out of this wise saying?…Yes?…Anyone?” No one moved a muscle but Thomas who had made a frowned expression. The teacher said “Thomas, what do you make out of this?” and added a big smile on his face, then he turned toward the board and raised the black marker to take notes. All the faces in the classroom turned toward their classmate’s direction. Thomas leaned back in his seat, blew the air through his teeth, looked up at the ceiling and remembered the prayer they had forced him to say during the assembly in the morning, he straightened himself up and said “I think that God is a maniac, sitting and doing nothing to the innocents people who are suffering and dying in the middle east”.
Needless to say that Thomas got expelled that day, of course not because of what he said inside the classroom since his teacher wasn’t close minded but only because he punched a kid outside the classroom who confronted him by telling him that he was going to burn in hell for what he said and Thomas had decided that if he’s right, the least he can do in return is make him burn in agony.
Thomas got punished later by his grandparents who took care of him while his diplomatic parents were outside the country and that was most of the time. Thomas didn’t mind being locked inside his room because he got used to sneaking out through the window, which is what he did that night without a second thought. He met with his friend at the park, they were skating and bullying other kids and that was most of what they did during their free time. Bullying.
They all got excited and cheering when they saw him even though they didn’t care for what he had exactly said, they cared only for not taking shit from anyone, except Joyce, his dark haired friend, she cared for what he had expressed at the classroom and she agreed with him.
“Check out what I borrowed from my father” said Geoffrey while pulling a packet of cigarets from his red hoodie’s pocket, his friends gave him a fixed look when they saw what he had brought with him. Geoffrey, taller than all his friends, rolled his eyes and said “of course without their knowledge”, and that turned the whole little gang more cheerful. They agreed on using the least number of cigarets so his parents wouldn’t speculate it. Another kid about their age was passing by when he saw them smoking and puffing, they saw him too, which was bad news for him. Thomas, to avoid further shit in the future, stepped towards him calmly and asked him politely about his name. “Rodrigues, my friends call me Rod” the other kid said. “Okay Rody” Thomas said cheerfully with a smile, then he narrowed down his face and there was no smile on his face anymore, “I don’t care for what your illiterate friends call you. If I even hear a gossip of what you just saw, I’m going to beat the shit out of you. We will all beat the shit out of you. Do you understand?” Thomas asked bitterly and raised one of his eyebrows. His friends had already joined him in line. Rod’s only reasonable reaction was to run away as fast as he could. The little gang laughed hysterically.
The next day society carried on with its own business. Children went to school, their parents went to work, and old people visited each other and babbled about others’ business. Thomas’ grandmother cleaned and swept the entire house except her grandchild’s room, she didn’t want to bother him. His grandfather went fishing next to a small lake around their neighbourhood, it was his daily morning routine, to avoid being present next to his wife during that time of the day since she always nagged about everything until noon.
Thomas woke up enthusiastically around 10:00 am. He coughed a little and drank water from the cup held on the table next to his bed. He ran the stairs swiftly like he always did when edging through the window isn’t tempting enough. He greeted his grandmother who had always prepared him a plate of cookies topped with fruits and nuts alongside a cup of milk.
“I’ll go out in few to get some groceries, tell your grandpa that I’ll be back before lunch” Mrs. Celia said casually and looked at her grandchild who had eaten half the cookies already and now was munching another one exhaustedly. Thomas nodded and she left the kitchen. She came back immediately, pointed her forefinger at him and said, “You’re still grounded. Stay in the house”. And she left again while speaking loudly “and go easy on the cookies”. He heard the main door shutting by the time he finished his cup of milk. He climbed the stairs sluggishly, washed up and changed his clothes then went down to the basement where he was not allowed to enter if there’re no adults inside the house.
He opened the basement’s door, switched the only light on and descended the stairs quickly because he wanted to gain advantage from his grandparents’ absence and discover all that he can about the precious stuff that rested in the basement. He headed directly to one of the corners and pulled a huge wooden box. He kneeled next to it and opened the lid and grabbed a frame with a picture inside of his young grandfather during his military service. Thomas contemplated for a short moment then he checked the back of the frame and he saw a message written there. He mumbled the words ’To our best medic, J.” Thomas smiled and put the picture aside, then he picked a big hunting knife inside its sheath and held it high. It seemed like a sword in his hand. He put it aside next to the picture and picked a small journal with no title or anything written on its cover. He opened it up and saw that it was empty, all the pages were blank. Confused and mystified, Thomas heard some noise coming from the house above him, it was more like a human voice. Instinctively, he put the items back into the box and pushed it to its corner, then tiptoed the stairs while clambering up. His grandfather was speaking on the phone when Thomas stepped in front of him, “Ah, here he is, the little devil” Mr. Jeremy said, then covered the handset with his palm and whispered to his grandchild “She’s the big devil” and winked at him. Then he removed his palm and said “Yeah, found him. Don’t worry. Aha. Ok. What? No. Ok. Fine. I got it. Ok. Bye Bye” and hanged the phone in its place. His grandfather looked at his watch and muttered “one hour left” and drew a heavy breath. He turned toward Thomas and said “Where have you been hiding anyway? You’re not supposed to leave the house, you know that you’re punished” and before Thomas could even manage to reply, his grandfather said “You know what? No matter” and turned around and walked away, then he stopped, Thomas still looking at his back, and he called from his shoulders “Would you like to help me clean the damn fish?” then continued walking out to the backyard. Thomas darted eagerly after him.
Cleaning a fish is a messy thing, Thomas thought, but intriguing. He watched his grandpa prepare the set as he covered the table with newspapers, then he brought a bucket and a container. Mr. Jeremy disappeared for a moment and came back wearing some gloves and holding a sharp cutting knife. He picked a fish from the cooler that he set next to him and laid the fish flat on its side, he held it firmly by the head with his left hand and scrapped the scales of the fish with the knife in his other hand. Thomas observed his grandpa’s work closely, he noticed his gentle and firm slicing behaviour as he kept his strokes short and quick but not too hard. Mr. Jeremy removed all the scales and rinsed the fish with water using a hose which Thomas had held it for him according to his instructions. Once the loose scales were removed, Mr. Jeremy would place the fish in different container and bring out another fish. It was a soothing process that made Thomas feels mesmerised and captivated, more precisely with the motion of the knife in his grandfather’s hand. Thomas smiled because he knew the secret behind his skill with knives.
Mrs. Celia came back home after an hour with the groceries while Mr. Jeremy was cleaning the backyard alongside with Thomas. She greeted them cheerfully and went back to the kitchen, Thomas followed her holding the clean fish container with both hands and he put it on the kitchen’s counter then he went to clean himself up. After an hour or so, they all sat together over lunch. “Mmmm yummi! This smells really good” said Thomas as he gazed into his dish of roasted fish and garlic potatoes. “Eat them while they’re still hot” his grandpa said, “very delicious” he added as he chewed on his first bite and nodded at his wife who was proud and calm.
“I want to go skydiving on my 18th birthday” said Thomas promptly when he was about to finish his plate. Startled and surprised, his grandparents looked at him for a moment then back at each other. Mrs. Celia smiled at him and said “isn’t that a bit early for your 18th birthday?” Mr. Jeremy gave out a small chuckle and said “Why skydiving?” Thomas beamed with delight and replied at once “Because I love flying. I want to fly.” Mr. Jeremy laughed harder this time then stopped when Mrs. Celia nudged him, she thought that he was mocking his dreams, “Be nice” she said. Mr. Jeremy turned toward Thomas and said “Yes, a lot of people love flying. It’s a wonder how much we want to fly so high but at the same time we won’t let go of things down on the ground”. Thomas wasn’t quite sure of what he had just heard, but his grandmother was quite certain, and also mad, “I’m not selling my Chevy if that’s what you mean” she protested against her husband while putting the napkin firmly on the table. Mr. Jeremy nodded in agreement which helped his wife to calm down and lay her hands below the table. Then he said “of course you’re not selling it dear because no one would buy it anyway. You should send it for wreckage”, Mr. Jeremy and his grandchild bursted out laughing. Mrs. Celia got somehow ticked off and replied immediately “Fine. Perhaps I’ll send you along with it”, and the three of them laughed joyfully. It goes without saying that Thomas and his grandfather didn’t get their usual dessert after lunch that day.
Thomas spent the first half of the fading afternoon studying in his room while listening to classical music. He ignored all the messages from his friends and the phone calls from Joyce. After finishing his schooling he moved to the living room and sat on his grandfather’s rocking chair. He silently read a thick book about planes -he was really fascinated in flying- for another hour till he heard his grandmother calling after him and his grandfather, dinner was ready. Mrs. Celia had poured a bouillabaisse soup in three plates when the rest had joined. The smell was mouthwatering to a great extent that there was no shared words nor comments, not even compliments, until one’s had finished his plate. They ate impatiently and Mrs. Celia noticed their satisfaction, “Glad you liked it because tomorrow’s lunch is going to be the same” she said. Thomas decided to stay at home and continue reading his book instead of sneaking out.
He went to school next day and had an amiable reception from his friends. The supervisor called for him after the assembly and took him to see the principal. Thirty minutes later he came back to his class, Father Francis welcomed him in good spirits and asked him to take a seat, most of his classmates got agitated when they saw him stepping inside the class, they wanted to know what had happened with the principal. Geoffrey’s curiosity boiled more than the others and passed a note to Thomas revealing only one word “SO?” Thomas wrote the words “SAFE” and passed it back to conform his inquisitive friend. Father Francis didn’t notice any of that, or maybe he noticed them passing notes but acted insignificant. He asked Geoffrey to read the day’s chapter which was about The Parable of the Lost Son.
Thomas slipped away quickly from the class during the break and went to the restrooms. He came back and searched for his friends inside the play field. He took a halt when he saw them gathered around a boy of their age and they were bullying him. He was in no spirit to join their undertaking, so he walked away towards the library. He met his teacher there, Father Francis, who was standing on a ladder putting some boxes on top of a shelve. “Do you need some help?” Thomas asked tranquilly. “By God, you’re an angel. Can you please hand me the grey box over there?” Father Francis asked while pointing towards a table three feet away from the ladder. His words took away Thomas’ attention for a moment but he waved his thoughts away before someone notices his awkward composure and helped his teacher.
Five minutes later they finished moving the boxes, Father Francis came down the ladder and expeditiously asked Thomas while cleaning his hands from dust, “So did you really mean what you said that day?”. Thomas felt like he got caught unguarded, his eyes wide open, mouth half shut. He nodded slowly, afraid of making something reckless on one hand but firm on being honest on the other. Father Francis stepped forward and leaned toward him, his eyes sharp, sharper than Thomas’ grandfather’s knife, and his voice too profound and deeper than the darkest abyss, “Do you think you can do a better job?” Father Francis asked. As one would expect, Thomas didn’t respond immediately due to many rational reasons, but mainly because he was actually thinking about the former weight that was laid over his intellect and wisdom, cross-examining his own hybrid potentials, flying through a sky of ample choices. After another minute of absolute silence in the outer world and of sheer chaos in his inner one, Thomas nodded. Father Francis raised his eyebrows, “Yes I can” Thomas said, unyielding and resolute, his eyes fixed on his teacher. Father Francis stepped closer and said “Show me”. Without a second thought, Thomas turned around and headed back to where his friends were located, they were still bullying the same poor kid. Thomas paused for a second outside their semicircle and looked at the grey sky above him, “Watch me” he said, then managed to slip through his friends and stood between them and the poor boy, his eyes razor-edged. “Stop this right now”, he articulated every syllable flawlessly. Inside the class room, the red framed clock ticked and stopped. Tick.