Through the vague haze of years and memories, my first day of school comes as something of a blur. For two years, and two years is like a millennium at that age, my sister had been regaling me with account after glowing account of all of the great things that she did at school. Things like reading and writing, and counting, and jump rope and hopscotch. Things that she would insist that I learn, so that on her weekends, I’d be the pupil and she’d be the teacher, and it’d be her duty to impress upon me all the valuable lessons that she’d learned that week past.
In this way, I was a veritable Rhodes scholar when I first entered Primary School. I could read and write with the proficiency of a second grader; I was wise beyond my years. If only I was as tall as I was wise. If that were the case, then my suitcase would not have seemed the Sisyphean obstacle that it was on that first day. Unlike all the other kids, who had bags thrown over their shoulders (or thrown onto the ground at irregular intervals) my sister and I had suitcases. They weren’t the slim briefcases you’d see lawyers with, either, but big chunky jobs with shiny flipping latches that made a loud cathunk! when you popped the mechanism, and banged sorely against my shins when I carried it to and from school. The damn things were huge! And they were as solid as the proverbial brick outhouse. Which was behind the genius of my parents, who insisted that we should go to school with these suitcases because they would last.
You have to remember that this was the eighties and money didn’t grow on trees (even though they still used paper to make the money, and paper does come from trees, after all) and every penny had to be scrimped. Things were made to last back then, too. There was none of that cheap plastic crap that broke and needed to be replaced every six months. These suitcases could have survived a grenade blast with barely a scratch. If I was just a few inches shorter, I could have been put inside one of these suitcases, and no matter how much I kicked and screamed and carried on, no one would have known I was in there.
So armed with these great lugs of suitcases, with shoes that chafed my heels, I fell in line behind my sister, who was behind my mother, a limbo line that wound its way to the front gate of the school. Almost instantly, my sister was swept away by her friends, people who up until that moment had only been names. I wondered vaguely which one was Sally, and which one was Mary, but this wondering didn’t last too long. I was concerned with the human forest that seemed to be springing up around me, tangles of legs and arms in grey shorts and grey shirts and black shoes with blue socks. Everyone looked the same. They were dressed exactly as I was, just bigger. And by bigger, I meant BIGGER. Worse was to come when mum and I went into the office.
I was told to “sit down while I talk to the ladies over there,” and directed towards a pair of soft yellow chairs. One of the chairs was empty. The other contained a chubby kid busily examining the contents of his left nostril. When he saw me approach, he patted the vacant seat with a meaty hand. “You can sit here,” he told me, as if by giving me permission he had some power over me. Me being me, I was going to sit there anyway; my mum told me to, and she had more power than this tubby child.
“My name is Adam,” he said. He offered me the hand whose index finger had only moments before been excavating his nasal goldmine. “Pleased to meet you.”
I didn’t shake his hand, but Adrian didn’t seem to mind.
“First day of school, huh?” he asked, and I nodded. “Yeah… I’ve been waiting so long for this. My big brother, Mark, is in the sixth grade… and he’s like, this tall…” Adrian stands on his tiptoes and indicates a height several inches over his head. He’s not much taller than I, but I get the impression that his brother is a mountain. “My brother can count to a hundred and fifty.”
“Well I can write my name.”
“Mark can run fast.”
“My sister’s friend is called Sally.”
“Wanna know something?”
“When you’re sick, your poops go all runny.”