Rob was on his usual Wednesday high horse ‘I hate Wednesday afternoons. I hate the walk to the station, I hate the train to the sports ground, I hate the cross country running and I hate the journey back. It’s all a waste of time!’ Rob was always careful to make sure that Stokie the gym master was out of earshot when he revisited his hatred of Wednesday afternoons.
Mike, his best mate, replied, ‘Running is better than rugby. We can stop for a fag and take the short cut along that footpath. They hardly ever check up on us and at least we are away from Stokie and his whistle. He’s a sadist. How did we ever get an ex-Army PT instructor as a gym master? That man is a monster, Rob, just a monster!’
‘He is,’ said Rob, ‘but I suppose we should think ourselves lucky we can run on our own.’
‘You mean walk so long as we use the short cut and no one checks.’ Mike said.
From Mike’s blazer pocket appeared cigarettes, a book of matches and a small cotton bag on a string.
‘I pinched the fags and matches from behind the bar in our pub. Dad will never notice and if Stokie pats us down the book of matches won’t rattle and give us away.’
After changing into their kit Stokie gathered together Rob, Mike and their classmates. He stood ramrod straight in his rugby gear.
‘You boys will run the usual cross-country route. I will be refereeing the other lads but before you set off, I want you all to hold out your hands with the palms facing down. Now, not next week. I said now!’
The boys comply. Stokie takes the hands of each in turn and sniffs their fingers.
‘Michael, I smell tobacco on your fingers. Any dim wit can see how yellow they are from nicotine. Do I look like a dim wit to you, Michael? Do I? I have consulted the finest medical brains in the country. They confirm that I am neither a dim wit nor cabbage looking. What did they confirm, Michael?’
Michael could not respond even if he had the courage to say that he thought Stokie was a dim wit and cabbage looking.
Stokie relaxed and his voice moderated. ‘Before you set off, we will go back to the changing rooms, where you will empty your bags and school clothing. Smoking is bad for your health but sport, especially running, improves your fitness. If I find any smoking materials then that boy, or boys, will still be allowed to run. After all, I am not heartless. That boy, or boy, can run circuits around the pitch whilst I referee. It will be good exercise and I will probably remember to tell you to stop…eventually.’
‘Let’s stop for a fag, Rob.’ Mike was puffing.
‘How did you fool old Stokie? He never found anything when he searched our stuff.’
‘Do I look a dim wit or a cabbage, Rob? Do I?’ Mike did a good impression of Stokie.
Reaching behind his neck he pulled up his St. Christopher necklace. A watch and a simple religious symbol were the only jewellery allowed by the school. The string holding the cotton bag was looped through the chain. Inside the bag nestled the cigarettes and matches. They inhaled deeply on their symbols of victory over the monster, Stokie and puffed smoke rings.
About the author
David has been a contributor of several stories to Cafelit following his introduction to his local creative writing group. Back after a long break struggling with technology!
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