Mister Pride was not an excitable type. Indeed, he could masterfully pooh pooh, without uttering a single word, an ampule shooting flames of sulfuric acid into a students face. You could not winkle a twitch from one of his two intact eyebrows even if your hair was on fire. You may suggest that hirsute fires should elicit more than a cursory glance.
“Sir, my beaker exploded.” A piffling matter. “I burned my hand with carbolic acid, sir.” No discernable eyebrow movement. “I blinded my friends with this foaming thing.” Nothing except, “What is the name of the chemical compound which foams and may cause blindness?”
It happened though. The teacher whose equanimity knew no limits was tested and failed. We all believed the man was made of sterner stuff, but no we were sadly mistaken.
He actually had to leave his podium, go to the lab door, open it and go outside into the light encrusted hallway to scold two students going at each other like two feral cats.
It all started innocently enough with Van Something doing something which he mastered which was to irritate, divide, irritate and conquer. He threw something at me, while we were still shuffling off to our seats. Mea culpa, but I had mistaken the direction of the assault as coming from where John H was sitting in the front of the class. Indeed I had idiotically thought that John H was the mastermind behind the assault. (Why he sat in the first row of the classroom is a matter which surely requires speculation.) In retrospect it could have been a bee with a touch of mad-cow disease.
I thoughtfully, but speedily, unzipped my gym bag. Propitiously, I had a pair of clapped-out sneakers in this putrefying bag. As an aside I should mention that my gym bag was within easy reach because I had just come from gym class. In addition I will now, belatedly, defend mister Leper. Just because you make your charges jump over things like pummel horses, and emasculate themselves on two bars parallel to each other, does not make you a mean-spirited man.
The sneaker snapped into my paw as if my hand was the opposite magnetic pole to the sneaker. I sized it up in mere micro-seconds or as long as it takes to get a chemical reaction from Cl2 + H2 (hint: 2HCl), flexed my arm and threw it with disquieting accuracy. I was a bowler hurling a googly at John H’s head. He was both batsman and wicket. Or to use a more well known analogy – he was the batter and I was the pitcher aiming for his head. Whishwhooshwhiswflappfuf ! It, the sneaker, with bacterial growth of uncertain genera, met its target.
John H was taken aback but – give him his due – he reacted without blinking an eye and struck out after me before he actually placed his derriere on the pulpit seat. I was quicker then than I am now. I sprang like a springbok towards the back of the class, circling around and doubling back towards the only exit. High-footing it into the hall was not a well-planned escape. Ah, but not before I knocked over a desk or was it Van Someone-Or-Other.
Let us now go into slo-mo.
We were both outside Chemistry class, immediately in front of the office – a flimsy glass walled thing – from which office staff ogled us. The importance of the moment niggled. I suspect John H too felt the stirrings of discomfort in his gigantic frame but not enough to stop us dead on our mutual self-destruction.
John H grabbed for me. It was expected and natural that his grapple for my head would succeed as he was at least one head taller than me. But for some unexplained reason, I ducked – oh yeah, this is something I had learned from Cassius Clay – and John fell on top of me. Clumsily. I went down. He went down. Slowly. He on top of me, I under him. He grappling for my throat. Then, with shadow of Irish luck touching my shoulder, I slid out from under his colossal frame and got on top of him. I pinned his arms against the marble floor saying something incomprehensible. Perhaps it was, “Say uncle, or I wallop the bejayssus out of ya´.”
Mister Pride’s shadow fell on us. Mister Pride was not, had never been, a tall man, that I can recall. At that very precise moment though he was much taller than John H and I. He would be as we were both sprawled out like two rutting gnu. His voice stopped us from continuing with our silliness. “Stop it. Get up and into my office.”
His office, what little there was of it, was a dark monochromatic place. The idea occured to me that it was indeed more boring than a Friday night in front of the telly tapping a rhythymic foot to Lawrence Welk. But maybe I embellishing the moment. It, the office, filled in very quickly with John H’s vertical and my waispish frame. I do not recall very much of that which followed except to say that John H did not blame me for anything nor I he. My memory conspires to tell me that we both mumbled something like “It was a misunderstanding.” Mister Pride sent the “incident” to higher authorities. I do believe it was mister Stulac who took it to adjudication (which means that he gave it a good rumination) but he kicked the whole episode out of touch. Was it Van Someone-or-maybe-not who once said that Stulac was a vampire. No, he was not. He was a mensch.