The Second Day:
Nasser leaned back in his hard, angular desk-chair, damp shirt clinging to his back with chilled sweat, a fine mask of sweat peppering his forehead and stinging around his eyes. He wiped twice with his wrist to cease the irritation, but succeeded only in rubbing the salt deeper. The heat inside the room was bordering on unbearable, even for people accustomed to an Arabic climate; the air still and humid from the perspiring pubescent bodies crowded closely, being baked by the blazing September sun outside.
“Fucking A/C,” he mumbled under his breath as he raised his bleary eyes to the useless contraption fixed to the wall. He shifted once more and felt the cold damp clothing slime against his skin, his eyes shutting, his mind slowly lifting him from this proving ground which he hated so much.
“Nasser…” The vaguely familiar voice echoed through the empty spaces in his head. “Nasser! Head up buddy!”
His head swam, searching for the voice, an American accent, and locked on; Schneider, a teacher.
“Sir?” His eyes opened, his head cocked forward. “Yes, Sir?”
“Not getting sleepy-time at home?” Schneider poked.
“No sir. However nap time is wholly un-satisfactory in your classroom, partially because of the absence of my teddy bear.” Nasser grinned, a gesture reciprocated by Jeff’s half-smile. They had not been acquainted long but Jeff Schneider had guts, and Nasser had cheek, so they got along well figuring out each others intentions. The lecture continued to end.
The bell rang. A mass of humanity stood and moved as spectres through the door, joining yet another mass, into another mass, into a seemingly infinite movement. And then it was all over, the tide changed, the sea subsided, and everyone was in their new seat in the next class. Then the bell rang.
“Hey, they fired that fag teacher!” A slap on Nasser’s shoulder told him this was his morning class with Blag.
“Why?” His face was stern, his voice razor sharp.
“Some kids parents saw him dressed as a chick at a party over the summer.” His excitement was a palpable, someone to victimise.
“Beresford right?” was the reply, remaining outwardly unmoved.
“Yeah. Isn’t it hilarious?”
“Yeah,” Nasser smiled forcibly, dismissing the conversation, then turned to face forward adjusting his cap, tucking his thick, long red hair behind his ears and airing his cold drying T-shirt. He fell into deep thought about the administration’s actions. Hypocrisy was the first word to spring to mind, usually the most brash to choose too. It was a lesson every student knew; the parents could bend the grand words of the schools mission, it was those who held the money to fund the operation that called the shots, otherwise it was all dress and pretty words.
“Excuse me, Sir.” The class turned. The voice was heavily accented and paused selectively to gather words. “Sir, my first period teacher didn’t read the announcements, could you?”
“Yes, Sir, can you read the announcements?” a second voice joined, made brave by the first.
“I certainly can,” Dr. Khan’s eyes shone; finally a chance to use his ill-exercised wit. “Perhaps you should be asking the question which is will I?” His fingers pointed to articulate the words, each one enunciated with great force.
“Will you please, Sir?” the speaker at the back of the room persisted.
“No. I don’t think so. I will pass the paper around, and you can read them for yourselves,” wearing the smile.
“But Sir, none of us heard them! There could be something really important!” Urgent indignation smothered the sentence in a thick and exquisite finishing to the lie. “Right?”
Until this point Nasser had kept his eyes dead forward, mulling over the plight of the deposed teacher in his head. It was the slight inflection at the end of that stupidly innocent, silently sarcastic tone, telling him it was time to turn his attention with the rest of the class. Of course he knew exactly who it was, the usual. Aziz sat at the back of the class, a contingent of his group around him, his eyes searching the class to rally allies to his cause. Part fear is what drove many high school boys to side with him. His was the most terrifying type of bully to an impressionable young man, but the type of gang leader who could be easily silenced by a woman, providing she was of the correct race. The doctor and the student held each other for a moment, grappled in battle.
“Yes, Sir.” The voice shattered the stalemate with its unheard of quality; her tone was genuine, her candour, the sound of pure, innocent truth, and its inexplicable but detectable presence. “A lot of us had English class together with Ms. Williams and she forgot to read the announcements.”
“Ms. Williams you said?”
“Uh-hu.” Her green eyes looked on the soft underbelly.
“I will remember to check with her.”
Alina rarely had an ulterior motive, that was obvious. To lie to, or try to manipulate a teacher, was not something which crossed her wildest imagination. Dr. Khan knew this. That was the most torturous part. He smiled at her as pleasantly as he could; knowing he could not deny their request now that it was the fair thing to read the announcements. Control was the game in every class, leadership the sought after goal, though the reasons for the pursuit differed greatly. These were the universal lessons of school.
The announcements were read, and the lecture commenced. The doctor had not lost, but he had not won. Aziz too had not won, and deep inside his racist nerve panged, hot for victory.
At lunch the lines in the cafeteria were buzzing with conversation. The second day of school was going well. Student ranks were swelling now as they gathered in a common place. Conversation turned inevitably towards the adventures of the summer. Clothes, hair styles, physical enhancements all compared. Testing for position had recommenced, those who were under dogs the year previous could rise to fame this year, just as those who were untouchable before the summer could become ghosts of themselves. It was the potency of your personality, how defined your character was, which gave you the correctly addressed position. Like atoms the groups gravitated around the central members, their nucleus, the drifters on the outside occasionally moving through other groups, picking up odd bits of gossip to bring back to their own huddle, to become a more important, more central member, even just for a moment.
Nasser made it to the front of a line, adjusting the strap of his backpack higher on his shoulder, over the huge baggy sweater he wore. Picking up the food and placing it in the stretched front pocket he paid, though prices had once again inflated, some items nearly double what they had cost the year before. He tucked his hair into his cap with a finger and started walking to the tables in the small grassy area. There was a little shade from the sweltering sun there behind the mosque, under the few trees. That’s where they would be. He knew this because it’s where he would go; they thought the same way, and they detested mixing with other students. But they had lost the auditorium, their precious air conditioned hide away, to reconstruction. It was their friendliness and trustworthiness which earned them this special place where the authorities would turn a blind eye to their presence. But it was gone, so they would have to clench their teeth. He saw them then, a dark group surrounding a table in the centre of the garden.
To them it was called ‘The Tight Crew,’ a name they had jokingly picked up from some happiness or other. Their secretive cell within the structure, and it was supposed to be air tight. They would operate as a family, as a unit, brothers to the end. Through anything they would count on each other’s strength. But like any group of men, they were only ever as strong as their weakest. It is the breaking point in a person’s character which really reinforces the manner in which they were brought up. Like the timeless chain link, each person who claims strength has at least one point which has unfortunately, but inevitably, been carelessly constructed. There are no perfect circles of steel, only straight lines bent to shape and clumsily moulded together at the tips. It is up to the metal to make due and set itself as strong as it can across the thin gap of air and fibres. Every link breaks at this fatal character flaw, it’s merely a matter of how much pressure is applied, and for how long.
“Halla habibi! – Hello, my close friend!” The loud greeting rang out from the table to welcome their friend to which his surely demeanour cracked the first time that day. How could he not smile? It was an Arabic greeting though he was the only one with any Arabic heritage.
“Hey buddy guy!” He called back in a thick and falsified Indian accent.
“How’s it going man?” Kim asked as Nasser sat.
“Sick of this god damned human putrid waste that surrounds us, already.”
“Wow, Nasser, always a happy guy huh?” Myung Jun Kim was not unsinkable, but he was seemingly infinitely less bitter; a character of compassion, intelligence, and the enjoyment of relaxation.
“Ah, you know him, pissed off at the world.” Herman dabbed on his insight with his infectious chuckle.
“Ya’anni, cool guy?!” Blag jumped on.
They spoke on, as if in code; an endless barrage of hidden meanings and witty comebacks, layered in the solid glue of histories common experience. Their language was part of their bond, an endless jest with accents and jokes used indiscriminately. Every comment was a quotation from some shared time together. It was their mission to laugh at everything, to reduce everything in the world to a joke, to destroy the importance of anything but each other, so that they carried no inhibitions about their bond. But to the outside world they kept an unforgiving demeanour. It was known that they looked down upon many as being intellectually inferior. Some of the other students were afraid of the knives in their mouths, many just ignored them and didn’t provoke any personal attacks, but a few burned to avenge past humiliations in some public display of superiority. But how?
From across the open court yard, under the shade of the awnings, spiteful eyes watched them. But how? Amir turned this question over once again. Finding no answer presented itself, he turned half his attention to the bread and cheese fatayer sandwich he had been chewing through. They were smug and condescending. He had once upon a time eaten at their table. They had never accepted him as one of them. The bread stuck in his throat and he sipped some juice. Then one day Blag, the big mouthed bastard, had been particularly insulting and ended by making it clear to Amir that they did not want him around anymore. He chewed without tasting the food; it may as well have been ash. So he had not approached them since. His lip quivered with disgust as a particularly loud wave bellowed from their table and echoed across the empty concrete paved space, baked by the intense heat.
Though it may have been Blag who dealt the blow, he could piece it together; he knew the sociopaths in the group. It was Herman and Nasser who really felt no guilt, or showed none. Surely enough Blag had said it, and felt pleased with himself too, but it was those two who called the shots when it came to time. They would have stopped it unless one of them wanted it. Kim didn’t care it seemed. Blag cared too much. Was it Herman or Nasser? It must be Nasser. The bastard was so full of shit, so proud of his “Crew” he didn’t want outsiders.
Amir stiffened as he saw Kim stand and pick up his bag. Then Nasser stood and shouldered his back pack. Of course, they never moved alone, always in groups, fucking cowards.
The voice bellowed near enough to Amir to make him jump violently. He turned with a sharp jerk to see Dawood and Trevor walking past grinning. Dawood was holding a traffic cone with a hole in the top which he was using as an impromptu megaphone.
“All praise! The Messiah approaches!” He yelled once again, pointing the horn of the cone at Amir who smiled excruciatingly as everyone around began to shoot annoyed glances at the spectacular noise.
“Blessed be thy bollocks,” Nasser laughed as he walked towards them making a cross in the air in. “How‘re you guys?” the Irish twinge in his accent sounding on the letter ‘r’.
“Thank you kindly Jesus,” Dawood smiled.
“Good man!” Trevor answered. “How was your summer?”
“Not bad, not bad. Just doing God’s bidding,” Nasser joked, keeping up with his nickname; ‘Jesus’, earned by his long hair and beard.
“How about you man?” Dawood nodded at Kim.
“Was bored out my fucking mind! Went back to Korea though to visit family. That was alright.” Kim moaned in exasperation. They laughed on account of Kim’s good character. Even if he had a short temper and was not apt to putting up with nonsense, everyone knew that he was a good guy.
“What about you two thugs?” Nasser reciprocated.
“Ah man, you know how it is, just chillin’ and takin’ it slow. Know what I’m sayin’?”
“Hangin’ out by the pool, havin’ a good time with the ladies,” Dawood added.
“Good times,” Nasser still smiled, but it was friendly, and they all sensed the conversation was over. “Well, we’ve got to see Bennett before lunch is over, so we’ll see you guys later.”
“Yeah, later man.”
“Take it easy.”
“See ya’ ‘round.”
The boys walked around each other and Trevor and Dawood turned their attention now towards their usual bench, where they ate lunch with their group of expats, none Kuwaitis and half-breeds. These were kids who either had American parents, were Americanized Arabs, or were just the plain old mixed Arab-American born. They talked about how it felt to finally be seniors. Above them on the wall was painted the schools constitution.
The International United American School of Kuwait
1. Is dedicated to nurturing independent and educated world citizens.
2. Believes every individual has innate rights, which allow them access to continued education, the liberal pursuit of education and the possibility of greater education.
3. Does not uphold any one system of government, religion, race, or creed as being more correct than any other.
4. Believes discrimination and intolerance to be violations of human rights, which will not be tolerated.
5. Wishes to improve its facilities through communication and cooperation between students, staff and administration.
6. Respects the privacy of the individual as an intrinsic right, which may not be violated without the general consensus of the student council and administration.
7. Believes in the importance of integrity in academics and sports, and acknowledges the key role of students in representing the school, therefore no students shall compete without the approval of the student council.
8. Regards the above statements to be universally confirmed by all parties of interest and they shall be held true, unchangeable and irrefutable.
Below were nestled two lines of text, the paint so fresh that the shade of blue contrasted darkly to the faded lines above it. With time the paint would fade and it would become hidden within the fabric of the school itself.
Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated.
Nasser sat in Mrs. Bennett’s English Literature class staring down at those words in his student handbook. Few bothered reading it, a fact which disturbed but did not surprise him. They never realized that this was their sword and shield as students, as individuals. He studied it carefully. The last two lines were a new addition; they were not part of the constitution. This section had been added over the summer vacation with the introduction of a new administration, seeking to crack down on “those who gained an unfair advantage” by leading a ‘War on Cheaters’. To say that the policy was complex, intricate, well planned and understanding would be the perfect way of descried exactly what the policy was not. It is not easy to define the line between an honest mistake and a premeditated lie, and paranoid minds always see suspicious activity.
Little could be discerned so far as to the nature of the policy. There had been an assembly the day before, with a speech from the new principle, with many sleepy eyes already drooping under the onslaught of his unbearably slow delivery. Such phrases were spoken as “a need to protect the integrity of the institution” and “unilateral efforts to compensate for the inexcusably far gone state of unprecedented deceit,” phrases which washed over uninterested teenagers. Apart from this the policy read in one line; “Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated.*”
His eyes caught the asterisk at the end of the sentence and fixed on the addendum, hidden as always, in extremely fine print, so fine in fact one would easily mistake it as a short dash at the bottom of the page at a glance. “See page 72.” Flicking through a few of pages at a time he neared closer and closer to the end of the book, then arrived. There, nearly at the end of the book, right between the useless last week of the planner’s calendar and an empty page which separated it from the references of names and telephone numbers of staff, was written the page entitled ‘Cheating Policy.’
“Well played,” he whispered, grinning at the sport of the game.
The Administration hereby reserves the indisputable right to detain students for lunch times and after school, while investigation of a cheating charge is underway. Failure to comply with investigation may result in indefinite in-school suspension, with regular workload still applicable.
During the investigation period all suspected evidence will be confiscated and reviewed by the investigatory parties. The investigatory parties herein shall be defined as those appointed by the head of the Administration, unless they are not, in which case they will not be said investigatory party. In select cases, select herein qualified as those cases which have been selected, as opposed to those which have not been selected, and more specifically those selected by the Owner, the guilty party shall be directly referred to detention practices, as approved by the Administration.
Furthermore, all evidence may be searched completely and thoroughly at the discretion of the Administration. Students are assumed guilty until proven innocent. The onus is upon the student to prove themselves not guilty. Upon finding a student guilty of misappropriation of academic practice the Administration reserves the right to bypass the guarantee of an appeal, confiscating all evidence from public review, in order to avoid similar or imitated instances, sentencing the student to immediate expulsion.
“What the Hell?!”
The general consensus was dire.
“I know,” Nasser affirmed. “The ass holes hid it well.”
“It’s like Stalin’s cleansings and the kangaroo courts…” Blag spluttered. “It’s like kangaroo court cleansings! K.K.K.”
“Except court and cleansing start with ‘C’s’ not ‘K’s’” Nasser couldn’t resist.
“Uh, and there’s no arguments or cases against them allowed,” Herman added. “So you can’t have much of a court.”
“Fuck you guys!”
Herman laughed his infectious chuckle and slapped Blag on the back, which set off Kim, which broke Nasser down into laughter too.
“Piss off,” Blag smiled.
“So what should we do?” Kim probed the issue curiously. “Should we tell student council and make howsha with the school?”
“Yeah, I’ll do it,” Nasser replied, smiling at Kim’s use of Kuwaiti Arabic vernacular, a word meaning ‘a fight.’ “Summer is in my Media Studies class in the morning.”
“Right then, I gotta’ run mates.” Herman was shouldering his book bag. “My brother will probably be waiting at the car for me.”
“Me too.” Nasser put his cap on, tucked his thick shoulder length red hair in tidily, and hoisted his backpack onto his shoulder.
“Cool guys!” Kim said loudly in a heavy accent, their usual mimicry of an average teenage Kuwaiti boy. “Ride together!”
“Aye,” Nasser laughed and used his Welsh accent. “Later boyos!”
“Later,” Blag slapped them on the shoulders.
“Peace,” Herman added as they gave each other a last loose salute and parted for the day.
Herman and Nasser walked side by side.
“Surprised Blag didn’t ask you for a ride home,” Herman said.
“I think he’s staying to try and make some time with the new girl in school.” Nasser smiled and glanced at Herman, which, of course, was anticipated and symmetrical causing them to chuckle.
“So, Kim’s being a buddy and hanging out?”
“No, I think it’s just game on for the new girl!”
This was cause for a full out gut laugh from both of them, and their voices boomed over the heads of the other students causing people to turn around and shoot annoyed glances at them. Their group were all slightly above average student height, Nasser being the shortest. Herman however stood well into six and a half feet, being the tallest person in the school. Altogether they could be seen when they were coming.
“So what about this new policy?” Nasser posed the question to get them back to the topic on his mind.
“What about it man? I mean it’s not like we can do shit; student council doesn’t have any power because parents won’t back their kids. Without the parents you know they’re not going to listen.”
“Yeah, I know, it’s about the money. I just wish we had some real way of exerting power.”
“Mate, we’re 18 years old, we don’t pay our own tuition, what power could we possibly have?!” Herman laughed.
One thing Nasser admired about Herman was his way of putting things which were difficult to say for him into a more simple way of looking at them.
“Cigarette mate?” Nasser asked as they stood by their cars.
As they stood at their cars waiting for their younger brothers Nasser pulled of his sweater, took off his white school shirt and stood in pants which, despite his fevered arguments insisting they were navy blue, were now obviously black, matching the black tee-shirt he wore underneath, and he was rid of his uniform. He lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply, despairingly relieved. He knew now that he was off school grounds and no longer in their uniform; they could neither use the excuse of their property or him misrepresenting them to punish him. The most they could do is for some concerned passing teacher could call his parents, but they already knew. Mulling this over, he smiled at his own wit. As the other students hid behind various buildings feeling they were being adventurous in their deviance, he stood to face the school gates head on. His mind made him invincible, and how much he loved being Nasser.
At home they sat around the lunch table, his father had yelled at the servants for the food not being made perfectly, then criticised Nasser for his poor performance in school, then took no further interest in the state of his education, or the institution in which it was being conducted. Then Nasser went up to his room, closed the door, and opened it the next morning.
The Tenth Day:
Nour started school the way she always did, late. She had gotten a late slip because of this. Enough of these and she would begin earning detentions again. It didn’t bother her, they would call home, she would tell her parents it was the traffic, whatever. Walking through the empty halls was always therapeutic for her. Everyone was in class, it was quiet, she could be alone. No need to deal with the eyes of all the boys and worse, the ears of all the girls. The pressure was too much for her sometimes, the image to keep up, being too cool, too uncaring, too rich for it to matter to her. They envied her, and they had to envy her, or it would all fall apart. It hurt sometimes.
“You’re late again.” Mr. Leevins almost exclaimed. He was not used to the system yet.
“Yes, sir.” Nour replied. Why on earth did it need further explanation?
“How many times already?” It took a while for new Western teachers to get used to the Kuwaiti way.
“Traffic sir.” She smiled cutely, able to convey it was obvious and there was no reason to ask.
“I see, try to get here on time, OK?”
They always seemed so polite to new teachers who were used to being addressed differently. It was just the way it was here, that is how one would address teachers. It was preferable to having to use names.
“Alright, go on and sit down.”
She sauntered past him smiling, that look of having to deal with a silly annoyance but still triumphant flashing in her eye. She headed towards the other Kuwaitis. Being high up in the food chain was not easy, at times she disgusted herself, but it’s not like she could genuinely be polite and risk losing her place among the wealthy pure Kuwaiti kids. Years of conditioning and practice had made her used to the local custom of living two lives.
“Halla, kayf halech?” The leader of this group of boys greeted her in Arabic. “Hello, how are you?”
“Halla,” She greeted him, but made sure to keep it at a reasonable distance.
They talked animatedly, bantering and joking in the Kuwaiti fashion. The boy, Faisal, was thickly built. He was not what you would call handsome; his snub nose only served to match his double chin in a strange boar like fashion. Most Kuwaiti men weren’t very attractive she sighed inwardly, they were of mixed build sets and facial structures, but none came out to a very handsome appearance. On the other hand she was quite pretty, having big bright eyes and clear chocolate brown skin. This was also unusual for a Kuwaiti woman. It seemed like all the goodness had been bred out of most of them.
She broke off and sat with the girls exchanging the odd slice of gossip under their breath. What couldn’t be said in whispers was text messaged between mobile phones underneath desks. News was buzzing around the country of a bill going through debate in parliament with bad implications. Something about reforming the schools in Kuwait, but it was not yet clear to them what reforms were meant to be passed. They liked things the way they were; it was comfortable.
A desk crashed to the floor, having been tipped over by one of the Kuwaiti boys. They had become bored with making odd noises to annoy the new teacher, who had successfully ignored their tactics. This was to test how far they could push. Mr. Leevin wheeled around in shock.
“What was that?!” His eyes were wide as if he expected a school shooting or something.
“Sorry sir, my desk fell.” Mohammed implored, with all the innocence and embarrassment in the eyes of a true actor.
“Oh, Mohammed!” Faisal goaded the situation by yelling this in an exaggerated tone of concern.
“Oh! Oh!” the other boys in the group joined in noisily, made brave by their leader.
“Alright, enough, enough! Are you sure that fell by accident?”
“Yes sir! Why would I push my own desk over?!” He was so hurt by the suggestion.
“Alright, well be more careful ok?”
“Ok sir, sorry sir.”
Mr. Leevin put his attention back on the marker board and his lecture. Mohammed smirked and made a laughing face at the other boys. This was a soft spot. They knew they could drill in here. Nour didn’t understand why they hated their education so much, but couldn’t fight against it. She just had to keep getting her grades in and pretending it was so easy she couldn’t not be failing school like the others.
The bell rang and Aziz was on his feet pushing the others aside to get to the door first. They had to know who went first. He caught sight of Faisal in the hall and headed to meet up with the other group. The two small gangs of boys met and exchanged greetings. Now they were a reasonable portion of their full numbers. Speaking candidly about what they were going to do for the weekend and all the activities they could explore they almost didn’t notice one of the school rejects passing.
Fawaz never understood how he had become destined to be cast out. He had a goofy appearance to begin with; buck teeth, a head which came to a point at his nose, but left nothing of a chin or forehead to speak of, ears which stuck out like sails. Add to this that he was not pure blooded Kuwaiti, then the fact that his family were not wealthy, his dull mind which made his jokes constantly seem funny to only him, and an uncanny ability to always say precisely the wrong thing, and he was sure to be constantly unwelcome in the power structure. All of this he knew from fourteen painful years of school. Now he got through the days with his shame by trying to hide in plain sight. He never understood why he was cursed to be so wrong from the beginning. He believed in God, he prayed as a good Muslim would, but he was never answered.
As he walked past the considerable gang of boys he kept his gaze fixed forward. He couldn’t drop his eyes. Just keep staring straight ahead. He wouldn’t let them see how scared he was, his heart beating hard, his fingertips tingling as the blood rushed through his body.
He didn’t realise what had happened until he was face down on the floor. Someone had punched him hard on the back of his head sending him face first off balance, the pain now making itself blatantly obvious. They had definitely been going to the gym this summer.
Laughs burst from the group as he sprawled to get up again as quickly as possible.
“Fawaz, duh!” Faisal challenged him to show some kind of retaliation.
“Fawaz, you piece of shit!” Aziz joined in Arabic. “Get your ugly face out of my sight.”
He rolled over to look up at them, he felt that sting in his throat, that stopping in his chest. No, oh God no, he couldn’t cry here. They would kill him. He nodded, crawled to his feet and got away as fast as he could, hearing them shout and laugh after him.
They continued to laugh at that moron as he disappeared into the crowd.
“Someone needs to teach him to be a normal human,” Aziz laughed.
“What a piece of shit!” Nader yelled happily.
He was so pleased with his new group of friends, the protection, the acceptance. For years he knew pain because of a little accident he had when they were all younger, but he wasn’t like Fawaz, it wasn’t like Fawaz at all. It was just an accident and he was a kid, he had grown up since then. That fag was just an idiot who deserved it.
Part of what will go in a Lord of the Flies type scenario. I’m hoping to use this to branch on into another three books explaining the problem with how power is seen and acquired in our society.