At thirteen, the lesson I hated most was Craft, Design, Technology – not just because I was useless at anything practical, but because it was the one lesson where pupils weren’t sat behind desks but stood behind waist-high work benches – making me an easy target.
Granted, I must have cut a pathetic figure – unkempt hair, face covered in acne, ill-fitting apron over my school uniform – as I clumsily tried to cut through a thin piece of wood with a hacksaw, but surely I could have inspired at least pity, if not kindness?
My tormentor, though, a girl called Eva – who had long silky brunette hair and perfect skin and the sweetest smile she always employed whenever she was being especially cruel – was never going to show me the slightest shred of pity.
As soon as teacher left the room to get a replacement hacksaw blade from around the corner, Eva seized her chance. Darting across – as ever with her entourage of equally sweet looking friends in tow (all giggling behind cupped hands as they formed a circle round my bench) – Eva, standing directly behind me and peering round my shoulder, asked, as if all nonchalantly: “Hey Tom, what are you making?”
My mouth had gone dry, and already, inside, I was panicking, but trying my best not to show it.
“A spatula,” I croaked, betraying my discomfort.
The girls laughed, and when Eva, without saying another word, made me jump by placing her hand on my bum, they laughed again. Then Eva brought her face right up to mine. “It’s really good,” she whispered, keeping her hand on my bum. I didn’t dare move, and couldn’t, for my whole body had tensed up so that I was frozen to the spot, but even worse than that my face had gone bright red. That was what I hated most, my involuntary blushing, and Eva knew it.
“Why are you blushing?” she said, finally removing her hand. “I just came over to see what it was you were making.”
The classroom door creaked open – teacher was back – but Eva and her friends, having perfectly timed their cruel charade, had already dispersed, returning to their benches like nothing had happened.
The lesson continued, a lesson which, as it turned out, was very productive – for, in that hour, as well as making progress on the spatula, I built a wall around me which remained in place for ten long years, and which no person of the opposite sex could breach.
The following week, I got myself suspended when I deliberately smashed a load of test tubes on to the floor in the chemistry lesson, at the very moment Eva and her friends were approaching my desk. Dad, on being informed about it, asked me why I’d done it, and when I simply shrugged my shoulders, he gave me such a hiding – but, still, it was worth it, for when I was eventually re-admitted to school, I was put with a different class.
In any event, anything – including Dad’s brutal fist – was preferable to Eva’s gentle hand.
Thomas McColl lives in London and has previously had stories published in magazines such as Bare Fiction, Fictive Dream, The Fiction Pool, Sick Lit and Hypnopomp. His first full collection of flash fiction and poetry, Being With Me Will Help You Learn, is published by Listen Softly London Press.