“The First Day of Boys’ School” by Amilcar Sanatan

1. “Soldier, move from behind me.”
The big moments are brief. Beginnings are not always occasions for celebration.
I think back to the first day of school. It might not have been a Monday or the day I first sat among strangers. The first day of school was the day I saw my world ordered in an open field of dead grass, different from the lush July/August holidays that were relaxed and open and innocent. When school commenced in September, boys had to re-learn the sounds of their surroundings; the alarm of the school bell, the authoritative voices of teachers barking orders, calls to prayer or detention, the gushing sound of water racing from taps where we washed our pock-marked faces, washed hands, washed sneakers, washed mouths to rid the smell of cigarettes smuggled into the locker room.
On the field, a pack of skinny-chest boys with hungry ribs went up against muscular with big biceps and abdomens of steel, big boys who could pump out fifty consecutive push-ups without breaking into a sweat. They ran between goalposts shirtless, in a game of football. In the corner of the field, there was a boy under the tree, who slumped in a daze, whose nickname changed with the imagination of anyone who could command a room with shit talk. Off the football field, in the nets, you would find the twenty-metre run-up of young fast bowlers, shouting a “fuck” or “mudda cunt” on release, and the batsman who swore to tame any threats with the force of Kashmir, swung at bouncers, swung at spin, swung at wide balls, swung without a helmet. There were some who crisscrossed the footballers, cricketers, and idlers and walked casually, and talked about adventures of Goku in the Dragon Ball manga series, and budgets to pay for the latest NVIDIA GeForce FX to install in their built-up computers.
Envious school administrators and parents looking on from the car park or their planned tours glanced at the field. Perhaps they saw it as a constructive use of space, the fulfillment of architectural design, an urban plan come to life, especially for sports, so that boys were neither robbed of their freedom to run in open fields nor denied their physicality amid a rigid academic curriculum. As much as the school needed grades in public exams, it needed batsmen, bowlers, goalkeepers, runners, to compete for the prestige of being, well, a boys’ school. Good schools win scholarships. Good boys’ schools win scholarships and sport trophies.
To watch the other boys on the field at lunch, on the first day of school, was to see how they maximised each minute of play, of performance, of position. I was unable to fall into a group.
I was by myself, leaning against a pillar, observing them, and making up my mind on the ways I would enter the arrangement or be arranged. I remember taking note of the way the wind blew so hard it carried the dust and smell of the space. In front of me, a group of four boys walked and sat on the edge of the sidewalk. After a few minutes of old talk, one turned around.
“Soldier, move from behind me.”
I pretended to ignore what he said. I thought, if I moved on the command of another boy on the first day of school, I would forever be moved around in that place. Another boy chimed in, “If that was me, I wouldn’t take that talk. Stay right there.”
2. To determine my own name
Before me, they discussed the cause and the form of violence they would inflict on my body. They bantered about their authoritative order for me to move, laughing as they repeated their threats. Finally, the aggressor turned around, “You better move. I don’t want a man behind my head. I don’t sit in another man’s shadow.”
I pretended to laugh a bit, wear a side smile as if I too was in on the joke. Hand in pocket, I walked to two pillars lower down. The boys burst into laughter and you would think walking away would mean that their sound faded. Instead, it grew louder
and louder in my head when I assumed my new position.
That day, I did not know that one week later I would be cornered in a class and forced to fend off fourteen chairs thrown as missiles to my head so that I could have a voice, or sit on the bench, or have other students “hail me,” acknowledge me on a daily basis in school or at the mall on Saturdays. I also did not know I would have to fight more than once to determine my own name when others around me were quick to do the naming, fight to earn position instead of being positioned, fight to tear off my uniform that fashioned boys into little men and fight to assert something bigger than that.
The first day of boys’ school is a precious memory. It contained the old fears, rage and wisdom of shadows. It was the day that gave me the deep knowledge of the field I desired to enter, the knuckle and saliva taste and brute currency of exchange, the
“choice” I had to make on where I stood in relation to these boys. No longer would I be the one looking on.

Amílcar Peter Sanatan is a PhD. candidate in Cultural Studies at The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus. His creative writing has appeared in The Caribbean Review of Gender Studies, The Caribbean Writer, Cordite Poetry Review, Gutter, Interviewing the Caribbean, Magma, PREE Lit, Sargasso, and Sinking City. Sanatan is an alumnus of The Cropper Foundation’s 10th Caribbean Creative Writers’ Residential Workshop. For over a decade he has performed spoken word poetry and coordinated open mics in Trinidad and Tobago.