Tuesday, February 26, 2019


            We knew the rules. We knew there was no talking during the afternoon rest hour. But we talked anyway. We broke the rules and we were punished for it.
            There were four of us in our small dormitory at Croft House. Four beds with identical counterpanes fitted tightly into a bedroom that was designed for two. We were required to make our bed each morning. We were required to make it neatly, in accordance with a strictly prescribed and regularly enforced procedure. That was another rule. There was always the danger of inspection.
            We were not exactly talking. We were whispering, so that no one in authority would hear us. So we thought, I have no idea what we were whispering about, some little boy nonsense, certainly, something both silly and exciting, something about one of our teachers, perhaps, or something about school. We knew we weren’t supposed to be even whispering, but sometimes you break the rules.
            Anyway, the door bursts open and there is Mr. Chris. We freeze into sudden silence as he stands there, looking at us, one by one. “You know the rule,” he says.
            “Yes, Mr. Chris.”
            “You know what happens when you break the rules.” Not a question. Mr. Chris is angry. You can tell he is angry by looking at his eyes. His face.
            “Yes, Mr. Chris.”
            He steps forward into the room and we see that he’s holding a wide leather strap in his hand. He swings the strap so it slaps against the trouser leg of his grey suit. “Who was talking?” he asks.
“I was, sir,” I say. The others don’t say a word. Mr. Chris must know they were talking, too, but he picks me out. As an example.
            “You,” he says. “Off the bed. Hold out your hand.”
            I stand and hold out my hand in front of me. As the others watch, Mr. Chris raises the strap over his shoulder and brings it down with all his might across my outstretched palm. I suppose I cry out and drop my hand because he simply picks it up and tells me sternly to hold it out straight. Then he raises the strap again and brings it down with another sharp slap across my palm. The tears come to my eyes but I know this is not the moment to cry. If I cry, that will be the end for me with my friends…
            It was only three on the hand that time. Not six. It could have been worse. I could have been called down to the study and had to pull my trousers down. But it was only three. Then Mr. Chris turned and left, grim-faced, pausing long enough at the door to warn us against more breaking of the rules.


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