BOOK SA presents 12 Days of Xcerpts, featuring the work of BOOK SA writers. Watch out for one a day until Xmas!
SA Partridge is South Africa’s first champion of teenagers – and specifically, the teenage sensibility, which, as she has mentioned in several forums, is a special state of mind.
By the very nature of their transitional status, teenagers are open to a wide range of possibilities – and subject to a wild range of feelings. The corresponding opportunities for fiction are rich; Partridge’s main character, Mark, and the dark places he is destined to explore, make for finely-delineated proof.
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St Matthew’s College
When my parents found out that I had slept with the au pair, Kelly, they were not impressed, especially as it came after the incident with Mr Musgrave’s thirteen-year-old daughter at his Christmas Party. Mr Musgrave is a cultural attaché, and, if I may say so, not a free thinker. To defend myself, I must just say that she did ask for all that champagne and I was a helpless victim of those raging teenage hormones we boys suffer from.
I was never the perfect, well-behaved son that my parents had always hoped for. In my opinion, they had my sister to fill that role. She was the golden-haired, blue-eyed choir singer who brought home the good marks and never put a foot wrong. Seeing as I could never live up to that, I went the other way, and behaved as if I could get away with anything. I couldn’t, of course – my parents are not very understanding. To them, I was their delinquent son who could never do anything right.
I’m not sure if my behaviour contributed to their divorce or if my father’s philandering ways were solely to blame, but when they split up, neither of them seemed to know what to do with their errant son. I think there was a kind of reverse custody battle behind closed doors: neither of them wanted the responsibility of looking after me. My father had always threatened to send me off to boarding school but I never thought he’d actually do it. I mean, fathers are always threatening to do things like that; it’s what growing up in the noughties is all about. But those infamous incidents were the last straw, and send me off to boarding school he did, an all-boy’s school in the middle of Nowheresville, South Africa called St Matthew’s.
I was not impressed, especially after my attempts to dissuade him were ignored. I tried stating my case logically by pointing out that I was just acting out, as do all children whose parents get divorced. When that didn’t work I threatened to tell my mother. Finally, I resorted to pleading but I had pushed my father too far and he wasn’t going to change his mind. I was bundled into the Mercedes and driven to what I can only describe as hell on earth.
After taking one look at the place, I was ready to take my own life, it was that frightening. Our car drove through the front gates towards what looked like a haunted house. A monstrous facebrick building loomed ahead with tall chimneys spewing forth foul black smoke.
The building was seven storeys high with tiny windows dotted across its ugly red walls. It was surrounded by a sea of dry, dead grass which made it stand out all the more horribly against the stark background. I was reminded of a scene in a horror movie I had once watched about a haunted mental asylum where the tortured souls of the mad resided. We drove down an avenue lined by tall leafless trees which stood like dead sentinels guarding a fort.
I had never wanted to be anywhere else so badly in my whole life and was quite astounded to see that my father was smiling broadly as we drove on. It became apparent that this was no joke on my father’s part and I felt the sick pinpricks of panic spread from my stomach to my throat. By the time we reached the front doors and I was ousted from the car without ceremony, I was so weak from fear that I could barely lift my suitcases.
With what I regarded as an unacceptable lack of parental feeling, my father barely glanced over his shoulder as he drove off, spraying gravel as he went. I knew he had an important meeting with the cultural attaché of some obscure African state, but I couldn’t help feeling abandoned on this, surely the most terrible day of my life. His parting words echoed in my head.
“Well, Mark, you got yourself into this. You can deal with it yourself. If you’re old enough for that…” (Here he wrinkled his face in disgust and shame), “carry on, you’re old enough to introduce yourself to the Headmaster. Remember, it’s Mr Crabtree and he has quite a reputation for knocking young men like you into shape.” He thrust a few notes at me. “This is your last chance. Succeed at this school, or…”. He wasn’t sure what to say. “Your last chance,” he repeated. “And don’t forget to call your mother.”
The bleak surroundings seemed to emphasise the severity of my situation. I watched the car drive away like one in the midst of a bad dream. I was later to discover that in the spring months. St Matthew’s looked quite pleasant with lush green lawns and a charming conservatory at the back, but that is neither here nor there.
The gravel crunched loudly under my feet as I walked towards the front door. It was deathly quiet as if the building was deserted. Only the smoke billowing from the chimneys gave any indication that the school was inhabited. It was a miserable looking place, make no mistake. I reached the front door which was a large wooden affair with large bronze hinges. A small plaque announced in gothic script that I was standing on the threshold of St Matthew’s College for Boys. “Brilliant,” I said acidly to myself, thinking of the pretty girls from my last school. I stared at the door for a long time without moving. A small part of me hoped that my father would come back, but looking back at the driveway, I knew that that was not going to happen. This time, I had finally gone too far.
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For more excerpts in this series, click the 12 Days of Xcerpts tag.