“First Love,” by Geoffrey Philp
Mark watched Patrick as he entered the showers and wondered how it would feel to have Patrick’s arm around his waist and the ripple of his thighs against his buttocks.
For two weeks now that was all he could think about every time they took the long walk from Manning Cup football practice (at the bottom field of Jamaica College, JC) and past the newly built chemistry and physics lab while the grounds men mowed the grass on “Holy Ground.”
The shadow of Long Mountain fell across the trunks of the Australian pines gathering the amber light dying on the corrugated roofs of Standpipe. They trampled over the grass soaked by an afternoon squall that had drenched the field, but had not stopped their game.
“They were sufferin’, rude boys gave them Bufferin!”
Their raucous hoots seemed to mock the Latin inscription Fervet Opus In Campis over Scott Hall and the austere names of the houses: Cowper, Musgrave, Hardy and Murray-the school’s homage to English boarding school tradition.
Mark had been in top form that afternoon-making impossible saves seem ordinary, orchestrating the attacks from the goal line by lobbing the ball to Patrick, his midfielder, or organizing the defense behind Charles, his sweeper. Although they played for different houses during the school year, they came together for their practice match as if they hadn’t missed a beat.
“Blood claat game,” said Charles. He banged his cleats against the benches with the same ferocity that he showed whenever he was sulking over a lost game. Yet they had won, so Mark was confused.
“Are you going to mash up everything?”
“No, no, something else is on my mind. You made some great saves today, man!”
The rest of the team joined in. For if they had not yet respected Mark’s ability before, his performance that afternoon made them realize why the boys in the lower school had nicknamed him the “football ginigog,” and also proved that he was almost assured of a place on Jamaica’s national football team-something that had been anticipated by all of Mark’s family.
Mark lived and breathed football, and had showed signs from primary school of surpassing his older brother and cousin, both of whom had played for Jamaica during the early sixties. But unlike his brother and cousin (who were both as tall as he was, six feet two inches) he knew how to use his size to intimidate the opposing players.
When Mark let out his blood curdling scream, “My ball!” and left his goal line, there weren’t many strikers who challenged him. He had done that twice this afternoon and he remembered how the striker just curled up “like a pussy” (according to Charles) and allowed Mark to get the ball.
But for now, there were other things on Mark’s mind. He kept going over and over how Patrick’s hands had met his in the dark when they had gone with Patrick’s cousins, Jennifer and Althea, to see Lethal Weapon 2.
Patrick had leaned over, whispered, “Where there’s a will, there’s a weapon”, and touched his hand. It had happened so fast that Mark wasn’t sure if it was the attraction or the danger that excited him.
And it was dangerous. It didn’t matter that he was the best goalie in Kingston. For even though he was the captain of the football team, he still went to JC, and the school, since its founding in 1789 had always had a reputation for harboring gay teachers and students. Two hundred years later, after the government of Michael Manley (himself a JC alumnus) dismantled the entrance rules that had only allowed the sons of the white landed class and the sons of the brown middle class to enter JC’s hallowed halls (which led to Patrick’s father saying that Manley had betrayed his race and class), every JC boy was still suspect.
In fact, a week after JC had beaten the team from Kingston College, KC, while Mark and his teammates were waiting in the bleachers of the National Stadium, for a game against Calabar, the KC boys, who were up in the highest section of the bleachers, were throwing peanuts at them and singing:
Don’t let batty boys invite you to dinner
Or you will become a sinner
Don’t let batty boy give you bread and jelly
It will give you pain in you belly
Batty boy jelly O. Don’t want no batty boy jelly O
Batty boy jelly will give pain in you belly O
And, despite Charles’s advice not to respond to the taunts, Mark jumped out of his seat and screamed. “We beat you six-love! How does it feel to be beaten by batty boys?”
He thought that would have quieted them. And it did for a while, until one the KC boys shouted, “So, you’re admitting that you’re batty boys!”
The stands exploded in laughter and the KC boys began hurling paper cups and peanut shells at them-anything they could get their hands on. Mark and his teammates had to run for cover and waited in the changing rooms for the game to begin.
When the JC team came out to play, Patrick was so angry that he fought for every ball that was near him-something he never did in any other game-and scored three goals against Calabar.
“Not bad for a group of batty boys,” the coach joked.
But it was no joking matter. In third form, they had all heard the story of how some of the prefects had caught and beaten “a Chinee batty boy.” The boy had been injured so badly he had to be rushed to the emergency room. He never came back to the school.
Now as they passed the prefects’ hall, a shudder went through Mark’s body as they entered the changing rooms under the shade of a Bombay mango tree in full bloom. Yet he could only think about Patrick’s muscular thighs as the doors closed behind him
Mark bent over and began loosening the laces of his boots and cleaning the mud from his cleats. Already the smell of sweat and the mildew had spread through the newly built locker and stalls–the quid pro quo arrangement that, along with the chemistry and physics labs, were part of the deal that the government and the Old Boys Association had negotiated for changing the entrance standards.
Glancing over at the stalls, he noticed that Patrick had left the latch open. He was always the first in and the last out. Charles had told him that unlike the rest of the boys, Patrick was circumcised and that he didn’t want to be seen naked and add to the list of the things, like his blond hair and gray eyes that already made him different from the other boys.
How did Charles know this?
As he pulled the top laces on his boots, a bed of sweat fell on the wooden bench where Vivian “Dog head” Samuels had carved his initials into the wood and had embellished them with the shape of a woman’s vulva. Mark traced his finger along the edges of the carving, admiring the handiwork, and wondered if Vivian had used one of the chisels that had been stolen from the art room.
He felt he sting of a wet towel against his buttocks. It had to be Charles.
“Shit, man, how many times I have to tell you don’t do that. It hurts.”
“Had to get you out of your slumber, man. Were you thinking about the girl that “Dog head” used as a model or about Patrick?”
“What do you mean?”
“The way you looked over at the stalls, you look like you wanted to kill Patrick. You must have heard what he’s been saying about you.”
“What’s he been saying?”
“All kind of fuckry. But you know me, I won’t let anybody talk badly about you. Me and you go way back.”
And they had. He and Charles had been friends since primary school, but they had grown apart since they entered JC and Charles was placed in Hardy House and Mark had been placed in Murray. He became the football captain of Murray House and Charles the captain of Hardy House. The friendly rivalry over the years created a slight rift in their relationship made even worse by the separation in lower sixth into arts and sciences.
Mark had realized since fourth form that he had a natural gift for mathematics and breezed through his chemistry and physics classes. Charles, on the other hand, was taking literature, history, and geography.
“Man, I don’t see you anymore. The only time we see each other is at training and then you run off with your little friend, Patrick.”
Charles ran his fingers through his hair and the curled wisps around his ears. Mark wondered if Charles was going to grow dreadlocks as he had said he was going to do once he got to sixth form.
“C’mon man. ” A” levels are coming up. You and I are going to study Hamlet together?”
“I just know I wouldn’t be studying with that white boy. That boy thinks he can say and do anything just because his father is the president of the Old Boys Association.”
“C’mon Charles, stop with the white boy business? He didn’t go to primary school with us, but we’ve all known each other since first form.”
“You wouldn’t know Mark. You’re brown and they don’t say the same things around you.”
“Like when I showed up late for biology class, Patrick’s batty boy uncle, Mr. Silveira, said, ‘Since when do they let the ground man’s son into JC?’ Fuckry, like that.”
“Charles, that was four years ago. I thought you had forgotten about that.”
“You don’t forget about these things. They stay with you. It takes a long time to get over them.”
Mark could never understand how Charles could hold on to grudges like that. Charles always found a way to get even with anyone who slighted him. And if Charles didn’t like someone, or if he felt that they got something that he should have gotten, he would find out something bad about them and when he couldn’t, he would make up something and spread rumors about them. Mark was just glad that Charles didn’t hold it against him that he was named as captain of the Manning Cup team and was now headed for the All Stars team.
“Patrick is not like that.”
“Don’t tell me you’re taking up for him. Not after what he’s been saying”
Charles eyes tightened and he almost looked almost like mother, Miss Chin Loy, whom Charles’s father never married because “it didn’t look right.” Charles had never told anyone, except Mark.
“What’s he been saying about me?”
Mark laughed and shook his head.
“You don’t want to know. He is a little batty boy.”
“If they’re saying he is a batty boy, what are they saying about me?”
“Nobody is saying you are a batty boy. We all know you are a baller-although you do like the white girls.”
“I know about you and his cousins. But we’ve been watching him and how he’s been looking at you.”
So Patrick had been watching him.
“And the way I just saw you looking at him, I know you feel like murdering him yourself.”
Murder was not the word
“Tell me, what did he say?”
“That you let him score on you last week.”
It was true. In the last minutes of the inter-house championship, Patrick got the ball away from one of Mark’s defenders. Their eyes met. Mark purposely dove to his right when he knew that Patrick was going to kick the ball to the left. No one had ever done that before.
“Yeah, man. Yeah.”
He had allowed Patrick to score as sign of his trust, but the way Patrick’s teammates cheered Patrick, it was as if they had won the championship.
“He said that you had given up the goal for him. You are the best goalie this school has seen in a long time.”
Mark could count on one had all the players who had scored on him for the six years he had been at JC and he prided himself with the consolation that all of them had gone on to play for the national team. Patrick was good, but he wasn’t that good.
“Everybody, but you, knows he is batty boy. We can’t prove it, but we know it. We are going trap him.
“Fuck off, Charles. I’m not involved in any batty boy business.”
“You don’t have to do anything man. His own batty boy self will give him away. We’re just going leave the room.”
“No, I don’t want to be involved.”
“It’s already set, Patrick. It’s happening today. I’m telling you this because I am your friend. That white batty boy is going to get a beating tonight.”
“It’s too late. We all know that you are a baller. He is the one who is suspect,” and Charles left the room.
Patrick was still in the showers. The leaves of the Bombay mango tree scraped across the roof of the changing room sending dried pollen through the window.
The showers stopped.
Mark wanted to tell Patrick to stop, not to come out of the showers, but he could only cough.
“Mark, are you all right?”
Patrick came out of the showers with his towel wrapped around his waist. Mark looked at him and turned his back.
“Is anyone here?”
Mark was trembling now. He couldn’t speak and the urge to cough overcame him. He wanted to cough, but didn’t or couldn’t. He wanted to scream, but didn’t.
“Are you okay?”
Patrick was behind him. Mark could hear his own heartbeat. It was louder than the sound of lawnmower that had edged closer to the changing rooms,
Patrick touched him on the shoulder and he shuddered. Yes, it was real despite the danger. He couldn’t turn around. Patrick massaged his shoulders and pulled at the towel, but Mark held the edge.
Mark’s scream echoed through the changing rooms and Charles and the rest of his teammates came running inside.
Patrick tried to escape by climbing out the widow, but Charles and his teammates grabbed Patrick by the arms and dragged him to the ground and began beating him with their fists and kicking him with their boots. Charles grabbed Patrick’s head and began beating it against the concrete floor.
“Mark you don’t want a piece of this?”
Patrick looked up at Mark and their eyes met like the moment when Patrick had the chance to score and Mark allowed him to score. Patrick looked at him for some kind of acknowledgement, as if he would bear this if Mark would give him some sign as he had given him before.
Mark would not. Patrick had caused this and Mark could not give that sign, not now, not ever.
Patrick was his first love, but he would not be his last. Mark kicked Patrick in the groin.
Patrick doubled over and the rest of the boys joined in a frenzy and rained their blows all over Patrick’s body. They beat him until he was unconscious. He lay on the floor, naked and bloody.
One of the boys asked, “Should we cover him or something?”
Charles said, “No, leave him for the grounds men to find him. He got what he deserved. Nasty batty boy.”
“Yeah,” said Mark. “Nasty batty boy.”
© Geoffrey Philp