Write about a time when you did something just to impress someone which you later regretted. (2020 O-level English Paper 1, Syllabus 1128)

If anyone ever reads a report on a school bully who was struck by a haunting only days before his examinations, with his bag with all his notes and textbooks set on fire without any explanation, please know that I am utterly sorry for what I did. The only defence I have is that nobody in school really liked Bruce the bully, especially since he made life in school hell for so many people. I am cursed with this knowledge, that I made the life of a friend already suffering even worse.

Stacy and I were spying on him just as a fun thing to do, when we saw that Bruce had to use the toilet again for his stomachache. We were the only two friends that Bruce had, and we used to study in the quietest part of the school because in our little group, none of us had a home quiet enough for us to be left in peace. Out of the three of us, though, Bruce was the most hardworking, and I was just the boy with too many sisters. Stacy, however, was the prettiest girl in the school, by far. I had even seen adult men smile at her for no particular reason. Our study table was in a corner of our school compound, where there is a toilet reputed to be haunted that nobody uses. It is a strange little toilet: even though nobody uses it, and the school cleaner cleans it regularly, there is always a faint smell of rotten fruit coming from it. We have witnessed the school cleaner cleaning it too, since we help him sometimes when we are sick of studying. No one dares to come near it, and that corner of the school is always quiet, but what was the haunted toilet area to our schoolmates was a sacred sanctum for us.

Still, Bruce would never dare to sit in the haunted toilet for too long, so he often had to take the long walk to the other clean toilet in school. Stacy looked at me as Bruce left, her eyes bleary from studying and not having gotten enough sleep. She was bored, and she wanted to do something. What was that something? She was sick of having to defend Bruce, the bully who hit people all the time because that was what Bruce’s parents did to him almost every day. His parents were a special kind of evil: they hit him only where marks would not show up, so he could never get the sympathy he would otherwise have gotten if he had carried obvious bruises. One can punch a hungry boy with a book tucked into his shorts so hard that he vomits. This I learnt from Bruce.

Stacy could not take it anymore with Bruce — both of them were almost equally hated by students and staff, though Stacy would never hurt anyone physically. That day, in a break from our usual spying routine, she pulled me to where the three of us had been studying and started packing Bruce’s things up. Was the something she wanted to do just a little tidying up? I was even more puzzled when Stacy handed a pair of gloves to me, and told me to put them on. To my horror, she pulled the lighter and lighter fluid Bruce always carried with him out from his bag, handed the packed bag to me, and told me to set fire to the bag in the haunted toilet. The thing about Stacy and her pop star looks is that everyone always wants to impress her, no matter how much one hates her, and I was no exception to the rule. She had planned this. Maybe she would kiss me again.

I set fire to the bag and walked away briskly. On the security cameras we knew that we would simply look like two teenagers taking a break from studying — we were in the habit of walking away from the study area even after five minutes of “studying”, and Bruce knew this. We headed back to the study table only after seeing Bruce return to the table. Of course I acted innocent, I was in too much shock to even think about what I had done, and no way was I going to get another beating from Bruce. What I was unprepared for, once I pretended to investigate the toilet to report that it indeed was his bag on fire, was Bruce’s total collapse into tears when he realised what was happening. Good grades were his way out of his abusive household, and his precious notes were gone.

Bruce still got good grades, that year. It is a testament to his iron-clad discipline that he did well in spite of his notes disappearing up in flames. Stacy never spoke to me again, maybe because she lost whatever respect she had for me when I bent so easily to her will. Meanwhile, I failed that year’s examinations so badly I had to transfer out of my school, and maybe I failed because I could not concentrate on anything for months after that for the sheer intensity of the guilt and regret that I felt. Karma is real, I guess.

(874 words)

Further notes:

Rainbows (a short story)

The boy looked at the girl and slowly, seriously, and deliberately said, “I wish I could take all your pain, swallow it, and poop rainbows.”

The girl blinked once, and frowned. She blinked two more times, and stared at him. What he had just said started to filter down into the part of the brain that understood his words, and her frown grew deeper. But there was a smile in her frown, and the contortions her face were attempting made her look as if she were a badly programmed robot.

“You want to poop rainbows?”
“Yes, rainbows. Rainbows made out of pain and suffering.”
“You’re crazy.”
“Colourful little pieces of joy, out of my ass.”

There was a pause. A quiet pause, where the silence was palpably powerful, like the space between the flash of lightning and the tremendous pulse of thunder. There was a pause. And she started giggling and giggling, the utter absurdity of the boy sitting on the toilet bowl with rainbows splashing solidly into the water forming itself into a myriad of ridiculous tableaux in her mind. The boy, twisted in pain while rainbows splashed out of him. The boy, his face a picture of concentration while he systematically dropped perfect rainbow after perfect rainbow. The boy, cleaning up with toilet paper after he finished. Smudged rainbows, solid rainbows, perfect rainbows, toxic oil sludge rainbows.

She giggled out, finally, “no pooping!”
“Constipation, then?”

She cackled, something her mother had told her never to do, and quickly covered her mouth. But the amusement wouldn’t end, and she cackled some more.

“I can’t… can’t breeea-hee-hee-hee-heeth! Shit rainbows! Shit rainbowss-ss-ss-s-s!”

Just like that, a little bit of her suffering melted away. To know that someone would make a poop joke — a scatological joke, her mind corrected her — just to make her feel a bit better was such a comforting thought.

The boy would make little jokes like these, as the years went by. The girl would giggle some more and come back with jokes of her own. In their tender moments, there was always an undercurrent of laughter. And whenever things got too hectic and heated, one would remind the other — rainbows! — and the storm would pass.

(370 words)

This post is a response to this writing challenge, and as an attempt to write more easily-digestible posts. Hope you enjoyed it!