Fiction #48 Cry Baby
Fiction #48 Cry Baby
‘You will respect Margaret in the same way as you speak to Mr. Ewing,’ my father announced the day before she commenced. ‘Teachers deserve your utmost respect.’ His deep gravelly mallee farmer’s voice rang in my ears as I meandered through the green-grey foliaged mallee scrub on my way to school for the new school term.
Already the north wind was whipping up snakes of dust curling along the ground and as I followed the railway line through the cutting the blast of hot air brought sweat patches to my shirt like some bizarre way of wetting myself. By way on contrast the sweat beads on my skin dried almost instantly.
I went to a small, one-teacher school in rural South Australia. Well, most of my primary schooling was with the one teacher, Mr. Ewing. For one memorable year it became a two teacher school. The assistant teacher was Margaret, who just happened to be my second cousin. That relationship gave me no advantage in the classroom. Margaret treated us all the same, even handed, fair, authoritative and with good humour.
Rodney hated her. And he hated me for being related.
‘She hates me,’ he hissed at recess on the first day. ‘Tell her to stop, ferret face.’ He thrust his pimply face towards my nose until I could see food scraps on his teeth that had not been brushed in weeks. His foul breath washed over me like a salami tsunami threatening to drown me in the detritus of Rodney’s disgusting diet. I knew his diet was disgusting; he’d sat next to me at lunch time too many times.
I tried to move towards the play ground. Rodney shoved me against the wall. He had received dozens of reminders from Margaret in the first two hours of the school year, to the point where Mr. Ewing had to intervene.
‘This is your last warning, Rodney Henschke,’ he said leaning over his desk. ‘One more step out of line and I will be forced to call in your parents and tell them what a pain you are.’
‘You don’t scare me,’ sneered Rodney. ‘My father is chairman of the school council – and don’t you forget it. He’ll get you sacked, he will.’ His smirk spoke volumes. I remembered how he took exception to a detention the year before. A two year old would have been proud of the temper tantrum that resulted. The very next morning Mr. Henschke was on the door step of the classroom.
I had just arrived at school; others were still drifting into the school yard. Pre-school games were starting to get under way in various parts of the yard. One group of older girls sat giggling in the shade under the old peppercorn tree on the northern side of the playground. Three of the younger children were having races across the crusher dust covered area next to the classroom. They all stopped in their tracks as Rodney’s father launched into a vitriolic verbal attack on mild, well mannered Mr. Ewing.
The teacher backed defensively into the classroom. I could still hear the irate parent shouting, but now the words were muffled by the thick stone walls of the classroom. Leon and I sneaked around to the southern side of the building and looked in through the window. The adults were sitting at the teacher’s desk. Rodney’s father was still shouting but I didn’t take any notice of what he was saying. He stood up and towered over the figure of Mr. Ewing. His blotched face bulged with veins I thought would burst any second, and with a greasy finger he poked the teacher’s chest so violently Mr. Ewing’s shoulder moved with each jab. I was just waiting for the follow-up punch; his other fist clenched and unclenched threateningly.
I eventually managed to escape the attention of Rodney. The new school year seemed to be off to a sour start. I was looking forward to having my relative as another teacher in the single classroom. She was mainly attending to the younger students while Mr. Ewing taught the older classes, including mine. This was to be my final year at primary school. High school beckons, but first I needed to complete the seventh grade. In my class were my cousin Greta, my neighbour’s daughter Suzette, Leon another neighbour and Rodney. We’d been right through primary school together.
This recess time was no different despite being the first one for the year. The younger children gathered at the sand pit, groups of girls took over the playground equipment and the boys headed for the open area affectionately known as the oval. It was a square shaped patch of dirt bounded by mallee trees and the southern part of the school building. Unlike true ovals it boasted no grass except after rain, something we didn’t see much of in this part of the country.
Many of the boys had quickly organised a game of cricket. John and Martin were batting, Ken was the current bowler and the younger students had fanned out across the dust bowl as fielders. Some of them were quickly bored with the game and were already fidgeting and ready to start chasing one another as an alternative game. They knew from past experience that their chances of having a bowl were slim; their chances of batting were even slighter.
Leon and I, now free of the attentions of Rodney for a few precious moments, wandered into the game. We chatted about our holidays. Leon, with his slow nasally drawl, droned on and on about motor bikes, the new tractor, harvesting the wheat crop and the farm animals in his care. He sounds just like a slightly shorter version of his father, I thought. And just as boring.
While we were the best of friends we had few things in common. It was a strange relationship brought about mainly through lack of other potential friends. In a small rural school in a small town there were few opportunities to make friends; you put up with what was available. Leon was the only one my age; I certainly didn’t want to make the effort to befriend Rodney.
‘Move over wombat arse,’ yelled Rodney as he strode across the oval. ‘I’m batting.’ He snatched the bat out of John’s hands and shoved him forcefully. John staggered backwards, his mild protest wasted on Rodney.
‘Rotten Rodney rules again,’ muttered Leon who usually never said anything negative about anyone. For Rodney he always made an exception. The fights between Leon’s and Rodney’s father were the stuff of legend in the small community, and had come to blows on more than one occasion.
‘Send down ya best – and it’ll head over the border,’ he taunted.
Ken hesitated for a second. He took a few extra steps back before commencing the run in to bowl. For a ten year old he had a superb action – and he was fast. He bowled a super ball right up in the block hole and to Rodney’s dismay, the ball thudded into the stumps, sending the middle stump cart wheeling away.
All the fielding students cheered and danced wildly in celebration.
‘Shut up ferret face!’ Rodney glared in my direction. He turned, picked up the fallen stumps and set them up again. Ken reached out to take the bat to have his turn batting. School rules dictated that whoever bowled, caught or ran out a batman had the right to replace the dismissed batsman. Rodney shoved him away.
‘Get lost Ken! I’m not out – ya hear?’ He took guard again. ‘Now get back and bowl again – and this time wait until I’m ready, ya stupid mongrel.’
Ken was about to complain but thought better of it. He sullenly walked back to his mark in the dust and prepared to bowl again.
‘Are you sure you’re ready this time?’ Ken waited for a response. ‘Ready?’
Rodney looked around at the fielders, checking to see where he could hit the ball. He thumped the bat into the ground five or six times, swatted an annoying fly from his nose and then nodded at Ken.
Ken commenced his run. This time he steamed in even faster, grim faced and gripping the ball firmly. He came to the crease and let go and absolute screamer. The delivery was short and faster than I’d ever seen him bowl, but the beauty of it was lost on all the watchers by the result. The ball thumped short into the dry pitch creating a wild puff of dust before it reared up wildly. Rodney reacted with a jerk of his left arm, raising it up to protect his face. Everyone watching heard the loud crack as the ball crashed into his arm.
Rodney instantly dropped the bat and clutched his arm. ‘Mummy!’ he cried. ‘Mummy! Mummy!’ he ran off towards the classroom cradling his broken arm in his other arm, screaming as he went. ‘I want Mummy!’
We all stood around stunned by this sudden development. I glanced back at the disappearing figure of Rodney. I wandered over to the bat still lying where it had dropped. The ball had rolled only metres away.
‘That was a ripper of a ball Ken,’ Martin said. ‘I’m pleased you didn’t bowl like that at me.’
‘It’s what he deserved after I bowled him fair and square the previous ball,’ Ken said. ‘Still – I hope that I’m not in trouble with his old man.’
‘Who would have thought?’ I said.
‘That tough bully boy Rodney would be such a cry baby,’ I said. ‘I’ll never forget this day.’
‘And we can all make sure that bully boy never forgets it either,’ Ken added with a sly wink.
The new school year had suddenly taken on a much more positive feeling.
© 2015 Trevor Hampel
All rights reserved.
- Although I have listed this piece of writing under fiction, some of it is true, based on a real life. Mine.
- This piece was originally written as a warm-up writing exercise.
- You can read more of my stories here.