Nursery school was all about reciting lines in books and coloring things. By the end-year you had crammed the whole damn book by heart and you chanted the stupid lines in your idle moments to impress anyone within earshot. The rest of life at that tender age consisted of fears, joys, tragedies and hopes. (Dismiss the hopes as wishes for chocolate and sweets.)
I remember the things I was afraid of, and how I would hide from them. I used to “see” devils and run from them. My dreams and nightmares were vivid and engrossing affairs. Sometimes I confused actual past events with events in my dreams. I remember feeling that within me there were two versions of me, a good and a bad me, and I remember always straining to suppress the bad one. I tried to explain these things to people a few times, but after a while I stopped trying because nobody seemed to understand, maybe because my vocabulary was limited.
Running, drawing and playing soccer defined who I was at breaktime. This was a result of my dreams, in which I would be sprinting hard, in a state of terror, away from either a teacher with a cane or a red devil. (There was always a red devil with horns, a firm eight-pack in his abdomen and an arrow tail, but who otherwise looked like me and, sometimes, would audibly call my name!) In waking hours, especially in class, I avoided going to places alone, because, in my mind's eye, the red devil would appear and start giving me ideas and terrors. Therefore I avoided going to the restrooms alone. One day I told a teacher that the red devil was in the toilet seat and he pretended to chase the red devil away but I knew the stupid teacher didn't know what he was dealing with so I hid behind the door as the exorcism continued.
The red devil never did much to harm me, except that at certain random moments he would chase me and I would take off running at the top of my speed. Other times, something funny would happen, or a joke would be told, and I would laugh so hard I was out of breath and my entire ribcage hurt; I would silently blame the red devil for making me laugh. “The devil is poking me,” I would think amidst manic laughter.
Laughter was a big part of my childhood. I was always laughing at any given opportunity, a happy kid. The laughter would make me stretch my legs forward before me and curl up my toes! My six-pack came into being necessarily as a result of laughing so hard it felt like my abdomen would cave in from the pressure! I would laugh until a tingling sensation ran down the backs of my legs down to my curled toes! My head would be thrown back! In those moments it seemed as though the whole universe had come in to participate in that particular bout of laughter. The more memorable ones were whence I fell out my seat – I was notorious for swinging in my seat, and convulsive laughs from red devils tended to spring surprise attacks on me in these moments. Elsewhere, I discovered that I could laugh while running, both at the same time, for no reason but to enjoy the sensations thus created.
Girls held a strange but somewhat vague attraction for me, as objects of curiosity. To start with, the administration at that nursery school gave the general impression to boys that girls were bad and not to be mixed with. On the other hand, my class teacher openly favored girls and beat boys with apparent malice using great vigor to swing the big bamboo sticks. One could easily cry in advance by simply anticipating the beating. The girls themselves were enchanting in a funny sort of way. Girlfriends were taboo, though I did ally myself loosely with a certain light-skinned classmate and the whole arrangement was an unwritten pact even if very little actual conversation ever happened. In those days, all that sufficed to convey that a relationship had begun was a prolonged stare accompanied by a wide smile (the resulting facial expression was mildly alarming). If she cried and ran to the teacher with “He smiled at me,” game over; out came the bamboo stick and you became enemies. If she smiled back, members of the class were supposed to see that a boy and a girl had smiled at each other, and others were required to respect the union by avoiding smiling aimlessly at either party. The same mechanism worked with best friends; you could walk up to a best friend and demand to know why he was smiling with someone else.
Of course, snitches and teachers' pets thrived in such environments. There was no question of liking or hating them. You feared them, gave them bribes to overlook your misdemeanors, and also gave then little encouragements in order to help them avoid making up imagined crimes and assigning you as their perpetrator. I remember parting with a Fudge Chocolate, then prized highly, to seal the prefect's lips, which tended to unleash multicolored versions of untruths with my name sandwiched therein. She accepted the treasured chocolate delicacy with royal airs, arrogance and a sense of entitlement which if I had been any wiser I should have slapped her for daring to display. She forgot to thank me. She also “forgot” the fact of the bribe the same day, having my name placed in the list of tiny tots who her eagle eye had spotted picking their noses without a handkerchief – a category of crime which rose above other possible crimes.
Childhood innocence was fun. Often, I would pick up taboo statements from a variety of sources, but I had the intellectual wherewithal to recognize them as proscribed in public hearing. One such maxim was “All of nature has an orgasm and we call it a natural disaster!” This statement was and still is outrageously funny, but for one complication: back then I didn't know what an orgasm was (despite the fact that I would laugh like one possessed after sharing the joke with myself). Telling this joke to close friends and the light-skinned girlfriend yielded little more than polite but entirely clueless laughter inspired by the vague awareness that a weak joke of some sort had been shared. I even whispered it to the class prefect, because her record as the class genius would serve her well in appreciating and maybe even breaking down the joke for me; but she widened her eyes at me, puffed up her cheeks and promptly added my name to the noisemakers' list, with never a care for whatever the blazes I was grinning about. After being beaten by the teacher for noisemaking, I cried soundly, overcame the hurt slowly and returned to the Nature Orgasm Joke surely. Again, nobody got it, and others even sent me away because I was smiling at them and they already had best friends and boyfriends. Desperate times call for desperate measures; I decided to ask my mother that evening when she came to pick us from school.
My brother and I sat in the back, pinching each other and admonishing each other to be strong and not to report each other to our mother for various crimes committed during the day, upto and including the ongoing pinches. I decided to ask Mum the question quite innocently and naturally, and so, pretending like it came to me unbid and out of the blue, I asked, “Mum? What's an orgasm?” She paused and asked why, and I said “I heard some class eight boys saying “All of nature has an orgasm and we call it a natural disaster!” and laughing."
Mum laughed till tears rolled down her face, and we laughed too to see her so happy, but she eventually refused to tell me what an orgasm was.