by Nod Ghosh
Philip Markman’s strangeness often got him into trouble. A cold-looking boy, he sat on the edge of the playground picking the skin around his nails, whilst other children ran in maddening circles, pretending to be astronauts, grazing their knees on asphalt.
Philip packed his enquiring mind into a box every day, and lugged it to school. Teachers shunned him for asking too many questions. Children disliked him for answering too few. Philip’s tin can voice cut in between the teachers’ words, and infected his classmates’ minds. His ideas floated like bubbles around worm-holed wooden desks. They oozed in and out of inkwells, and worked into essays and compositions, as if they’d sprung from the children’s own heads.
Why can’t we feel the earth travelling through space? Philip asked, when Mrs. Trub taught them about gravity in physics.
Concentrate on what you’ll need for the exams, and stop asking silly questions, she’d replied, scratching a formula onto the blackboard with chalk. When Philip said exams were obsolete, Mrs. Trub said he was being too clever. She whacked him on the head with Brian Noble’s wooden ruler for good measure.
Later that week, Dorian Fenby read aloud his story about a man jumping off the world, dizzy from the speed of the earth’s movement. Mr. Foulds, the English teacher, scratched his beard whilst Dorian looked up, eyes pink with anticipation. The teacher said Dorian’s story was implausible, and asked him to rewrite it.
In biology the next day, Philip asked Mr. Turner, Why don’t we grow to become giants? He’d spread his arms, one above his head, and the other below the desk. How do our bodies know when to stop growing?
Can we stick to phototropism? the teacher had replied.
Later, when Noreen Akhtar read an essay in English class about a girl who kept growing, Alice-in-Wonderland style, Tracey Underwood thumped her for being weird.
Weeks passed. Dorian Fenby got sent to the headmaster for kicking Barry Solo’s shins. They’d been arguing about the Prime Minister. Barry insisted Harold Wilson was a werewolf.
Philip managed to keep out of the spotlight for a while. Then Mr. Turner began to teach Darwin and evolution.
Why don’t we have fur like cats and dogs? Philip had asked. The teacher didn’t have an answer. Later he slammed Philip’s homework onto the desk, a big red “C” scrawled next to his diagram of a dogfish.
There’s nothing wrong with this! Philip shouted, his voice seesawing between boy-squeak and manhood. He walked out of class ten minutes before the bell.
That was the last time anyone saw Philip Markman.
Some said his parents moved away. Others said he’d been expelled.
Before school broke up for the summer, though, Barry Solo was heard telling Tracey Underwood that Philip had been seen in the underpass at Queen’s Park. He’d been begging for coins, his face covered in dark greasy fur.
But then Barry liked to tell tall tales, and couldn’t be trusted.
Nod Ghosh completed a creative writing course in 2014 at the Hagley Writers’ Institute, Christchurch, New Zealand. Further details can be found at http://www.nodghosh.com/about/.