....so I did what any sensible 6 year old scared witless at the sight of the approaching cane would do.
This is what I did.
I stuck my left hand firmly to the left side of my face, and continued screaming. Yes, you read that right. This may seem a strange manoeuvre, and I did it as the result of some perverse instinct brought on by an excess of adrenalin and the purest of fear.
It certainly didn’t come as the result of logical thinking, yet there actually was a sort of logic in it. It went thus: he is not going to hit my hand while it is on my face. [Well, I was certainly counting on that…] Therefore, as long as it remains there, my hand is safe. I’d never seen Old Jim cane any boy anywhere but on the fingers, so this was my mantra.
Old Jim took me by the wrist and tried to remove the hand from its hoped-for haven of safety. Fear had given me preternatural strength, and all he succeeded in doing was lifting me bodily off the seat by the wrist, my hand stuck to my face like a leftover bit of an unfortunate Siamese twin.
Old Jim put me and the cane down, and wrenched the hand away, but by the time he had picked up the cane again, my hand was clamped back firmly on its spot on my cheek. And before he could grab the other hand, I planted it just as firmly on the right cheek. He wasn’t catching me that way. I may have been 6 but I wasn’t stupid. Just petrified. Literally.
Old Jim surveyed the situation. It was probably one he hadn’t quite encountered before, but he was a resourceful man and had a few decades of other experience on me – six at least. Once again, he took the left wrist, hand still attached more firmly than ever to face, and lifted me high above the desk.
|Illustration by Watto|
If you fall over a cliff and grasp a handy branch to stop yourself dropping into the abyss, this tactic works only as long as the branch holds securely, and you devise a way to get out of the precarious situation you’re in. You can’t just hang on to it forever, hoping someone chances by and rescues you.
This was the fatal flaw in my logic. Except for divine intervention, I had no hope of rescue from the situation to which I had committed myself, but as I was the sinner, I wasn't counting on help from above. Still, a smallish earthquake strong enough to distract Old Jim would have been handy if the timing was right. Clearly, it wasn't.
I began to realise the awful truth. Old Jim was stronger than I was and I weighed little more than a good-sized bag of marbles. Even the desperate nature of my plight gave me no chance of holding on for the infinite length of time required. Not even the ringing of the end-of-day school bell would have saved me, as Old Jim did that himself, and his bell-ringing hand was otherwise occupied.
So the inevitable happened at some point. My muscles tired and I slowly sank to the floor, no more tears left as the arm straightened and the fingers uncurled. There were two sudden ‘swippp’s with the cane, and it was all over. My fingers hurt and then went numb, but the ordeal had passed.
That ordeal anyway.
I still had another to face; to my mind, potentially just as bad. Maybe worse.