To commemorate Guy Fawkes Night, Mr. G_____ set our form the challenge of composing a story about a terrorist plot, in which we were the ‘plotter’. Whilst questioning selected individuals on their chosen target and intended means of mass-destruction, a flat, phlegm- blocked voice monotonously declared at a perfectly timed lapse of silence;
“I’m gonna blow up Stan S____”
The laughter prompted by this remark still pummels through my head like a merciless drill gouging through soft, sensitive stone. I never realised Matthew hated me enough to want to murder me. But at times it seemed every other pupil who secured a place at the school had to surrender his conscience once the application had been accepted, as if it were an obligatory fraction of a contract. Therefore, it shouldn’t have surprised me.
Matthew V______ joined St. P_______ in the third year, when one of his parents became the new head. He was an instant personality; in those days it was unthinkable to have a parent working at your school. He received an elevated seat on the bench reserved for those of trendy society, admittance to the school choir without needing an audition, and a stream of cameos in collaborative creative writing projects.
My earliest memory of him was his saunter; he shuffled about as if one leg were shorter than the other. It wasn’t possible to determine whether he was truly lame, or whether pride had found its way even to his knee caps.
Being anything but popular, I interacted with him mainly at brass band practise. We seemed to get along, until one afternoon – while preparing for a form talent contest - I overheard him murmur “Not really” to another student who enquired of him as to whether I was ‘any good’ at playing the French Horn.
Upon migrating to secondary school, he lost the novelty of being the head’s son, and immediately sank amidst the masses.
Matthew was one of many individuals who treated me civilly in primary school, only for the social circumstances of secondary education to stimulate their inner ugliness to the realisation that they had someone onto whom they could project their insecurities, guaranteeing them a peaceful existence – for nobody would think to find fault in them if they joined the rest finding fault in me.
He was part of a privileged minority to escape the honour of having an insulting nickname attached to him (those attached to me would require a catalogue in its own right), likely a result of him being so bland and characterless that the dispensers of those nicknames had no reason to notice, let alone target him in the first place.
I interacted with him rarely, for he avoided me as if my vices were transmittable. But whenever his grey eyes fell on me, his features contracted into a look of contempt and disgust that gave his muddy brown lips the appearance of a clenched arsehole.
I hadn’t done anything to provoke his hatred enough to make him want to blow me up. Perhaps he convinced himself that my reputation as the form’s resident bender and band geek shrouded something sinister that it was his duty to expose. But I doubt he was witty enough to conceive of such a thought. Either he hated me that much, or he simply realised that he could use me as an excuse to make sure everyone else knew he was still there.
When I began wearing glasses for the first time in the third year, Matthew was the first to present his views.
“You don’t really need them”, he remarked acidly, fancying himself a psychologist.
I’ve occasionally imagined myself responding to his observation with equally acidic rebuttal; “You’re right. I didn’t really need them. I just want to draw even more unwanted attention onto myself”
His circle from our form comprised of others just as loathsome as himself. Walton always put me in the mind of an overweight hamster, with his bloated cheeks, pink hands and large front teeth permanently stained the colour of urine. On an English trip, he took it upon himself to warn those sitting next me that the darkened atmosphere of the theatre would make them vulnerable to a sexual assault. During the coach trip back, he entertained an audience with a speech on the loathsome sin of homosexuality in tones loud enough for me – seating across the aisle – to clearly hear.
West – his brow large enough to substitute an airport landing strip - was just as cold and devoid of a soul as the mutton that inspired his epithet. ‘Spam’ enjoyed informing me of the fact I was officially the ugliest boy in the form, implying that he possessed statistics to prove so.
In the fifth year, Matthew broke yet another taboo and became a member of the fabled Smoking Crew, a band of valiant devils who practised the unthinkable and smoked on the school premise between classes. If he did it in an attempt to immortalise himself in playground lore, he failed terribly, because, unlike most of the other ‘hard nuts’ who formed this posse, very few knew of his existence.
He wasn’t invited back to the Sixth Form.
I last saw him in person entertaining Walton and West outside the school gates with tales of his new existence working a stall in R______ Market. He had undergone no considerable change in appearance besides looking as if he had been pumped with several tanks of helium. That same walk – somewhere between an invalid’s shuffle and an idiot’s stride – carried him back into obscurity. He surfaced from that black mass of nothingness that is Facebook only once during the time that I used it, where I came across a photograph of him – with several additional chins – gripping a misty pint glass in a vice of sausages and grinning stupidly at the camera with a look that carried a stronger resemblance to constipation than tranquilly.
It was the same look that had flashed across his face as he bathed in the ovation of his audience that day in Mr. G______’s class.
There is nothing else to say about Matthew. He wouldn’t deserve anything more. He has probably forgotten about his plot to murder me. And if he hasn’t, I suspect it is because that one ejaculation of idiocy secured him alone to the attention of the masses for those fleeting seconds.
Just like these reality television candidates who continue to prostitute themselves to the media despite having appeared in a prehistoric edition of “Big Brother”, it seems only natural that he should choose to hang onto his single moment of glory.