On a scorching morning, when the sun ruled the sky like a stern supervisor, the world was simpler. You could grab a cup of tea, the daily elixir for a schoolboy, for a mere seven cents. Notebooks, the keepers of knowledge and doodles alike, cost forty cents, while the mighty fountain pen, considered more potent than the sword, could be yours for Rupees 2.50.
Amidst this distinctive economic landscape, the school’s bookstore stood tall, a bastion of commerce presided over by Brother Hugo. Ah, Brother Hugo! Once a senior student, even the head prefect in my junior school days. Back then, he delivered notices, laid down rules, and strolled around with the importance of a peacock, sporting a pair of round glasses, clearly on the path to becoming a teacher.
Fast forward to my high school years, and my surprise, Brother Hugo had transformed. Now a clergyman, no longer just a senior student, he wore a white robe as if it were armour against the challenges of teaching in a boys’ school. There he was, running the bookshop with the same zeal he exhibited for school announcements — a shepherd tending to the school’s collection of textbooks, pens, papers, foot rulers, and the occasional eraser.
One day, he took me aside and asked, “How would you like to join and help me in the bookshop?” Let me tell you, snagging a gig at the school bookshop was akin to hitting the jackpot for any school kid. It was the VIP lounge of the academic world. Feeling like a million bucks, I eagerly embraced the opportunity.
For the next few glorious days, I revelled in the glow of my newfound prestige. Perched on the counter that separated the students, mere mortals, from the exalted bookshop crew, I was the king of the castle. With no calculators in a time when they were yet to be invented, I flexed my math muscles, crunching numbers like a human abacus. The spotlight was all mine, and I soaked it up.
Every lad in the school passed through my counter, from the tiniest kid in primary to the towering teens. For that brief, shining moment, I wasn’t just a schoolboy; I was the maestro of the bookshop, the wizard of the workbook aisle. I loved dishing out the stationery items and handing out freshly minted textbooks.
It was everything I’d ever hoped for — a dream spun into reality.
Basking in the glory of those days, I eagerly anticipated the lunch break adventure. I’d practically inhale my lunch — a delightful mix of rice and fiery curries — then dash to the bookshop. Sales soared daily, and I relished my time soaking up the glory of being the anointed assistant in the school’s bookshop. After ringing up the transactions, I’d casually lean on the workbench, the unofficial boundary between the book haven and my school buddies, eagerly awaiting the next young reader to join the literary party.
A sudden twist hit the scene one day. Out of the blue, when no boy customers were around, Bro. Hugo became a beast. He bent down, hugged me, and kissed me on my lips. Fear gripped me, and without a second thought, I wriggled out of his tight grasp, pushing his face away. Swiftly, I ducked and sneaked under the workbench, making a beeline for the safety of the other boys. And with that daring escape, my brief stint at the bookshop ended abruptly.
Never again did I lay eyes on that dreaded bookshop.
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