By Avani Anil Kumar, age 15, India
Right now, standing wrapped in a crumpled bed sheet, and my school looming gigantically before me, I feel sick to my stomach.
It all happened a few weeks back. Madam Lyndoh had settled at her desk, definitely breathless after lecturing us non-stop on the French revolution.
“Well,” she had said, looking at us, rather happily, “This time instead of turning in a project like you always do, we are going to do some kind of role play.”
At this, all the girls (at once) paid attention; leaning forward to catch Madam Lyndoh’s words; while we, the boys, slumped down further into our seats, trying to get out of the hangover caused by Madam Lyndoh’s lecture.
It turned out to be only this: All you had to do was reenact a character from the French Revolution and present it before the class in a week.
When Madam Lyndoh left the class, and we were moving for lunch, I had the hunch that no one was quite interested in the whole ‘role play’ concept.
I trudged my way through the cafeteria, until I saw Alex, seated around a table, clearly waiting for me. Alex D’Souza, my buddy, was a completely level-headed star student. He was the model student, his blonde hair swept to the side gracefully, and he was wearing a plain Teeshirt.
“Hey, Danny,” he said upon spotting me and then: “Danny, maybe you should really stop spiking your hair, and that shirt…. It’s too loud…”
I self-consciously raised a hand to my hair, and then rolled my eyes before setting my tray down.
“Maybe,” Alex said, when inquiring about the role play, “I don’t think it should take place at all. None of the girls are interested, no boy is serious, and I am not that good at acting…”
“Now that’s a lie,” I raised a hand to prevent him from objecting, “You know it is.”
And that was the end of it. There wasn’t going to be any role play, done deal. Even the next day, there had been conversations about the role play; but then it faded – out of our homeroom, out of our minds, out of my memory.
Then the pale weekend dawned, Sunday, bright and luminous. I spent half of my day in bed – not really sleeping; just enjoying the feel of it – then a quarter of it just loitering around. At around 6 pm, I decided to go to Alex’s. He probably would be studying or doing some experiments, projects…..but maybe I could get him to play some video games….
Mrs. D’Souza opened the door.
“Hello, Danny… Alex? He is practicing something…upstairs…”
I rushed up the flight of stairs, taking two steps at a time. His room’s door was closed. As I approached it, I heard sounds. I slowed my pace.
“Tremble!” loomed a voice. “Tremble, therefore, wicked tyrants of the world! Tremble, before me, the ultimate ruler!” This was followed by whispers; inaudible whispers. Slowly, without making the door creak, I peeped in.
Alex was standing in front of his mirror, doubled over a piece of paper. But what made my jaw drop was this: Alex was decked out in the costume of a knight. He was wearing a plumed helmet and metal shields; a plastic sword hung limp at his side. He pulled out his sword, brandished it theatrically and proclaimed: “I am Napoleon Bonaparte! The Emperor of France, I rule the seas and I….”
He paused. His eyes locked with mine in the mirror.
“Danny?” he said and he turned around.
But I had fled. I ran down the stairs, ignoring Alex’s “Danny wait…” and “Man…. Where are you going?”
Within minutes of running, I was back home. The clock had struck 7 pm.
I switched on my computer and sat in front of it, waiting for it to boot up.
Napoleon Bonaparte – he’s a French Revolution character guy. I was pretty sure of that. And so, Alex was learning in secret. He didn’t even give a hint!
A welcome message appeared on the screen. And then it was pitch black. I could not see anything.
Dad went to inspect and found out that it was a fuse meltdown. Nothing could be done until the next day.
I referred to my text under the faint light of a candle but there was not many details about any one character. I scrolled through the list of people involved….until a certain Louis caught my eye. There was only one sentence regarding him, that he was the king of France up until the revolution.
I developed my ideas, letting my mind run wild. And I formulated a dialogue plan based on imagination rather than facts and got ready to face the next day. Exhausted, I went to bed.
Now, standing in a crumpled bed sheet outside my classroom, my knees are shaking as I realize how unprepared I am.
Someone taps me on my shoulder. It is my cousin, Sam. She is wearing a gown.
“Danny, who are you? Some French Revolution beggar?”
I poke her in the ribs.
“Well, who are you?”
“Queen Marie Antoinette.”
“You are Louis’s wife?” I ask, glad to get a new piece of information.
Sam nods vigorously. She tugs at my bed sheet.
“What are you wearing?”
I lean over and whisper in her ear. “I am doing Louis, the king. This is a toga – king’s costume.”
Sam giggles. “You fool; toga was worn by Romans, not French.”
My head begins to spin….
“The French,” says Sam, more soberly, wore long tailed coats and culottes which were knee breeches. The king especially had fine clothes, and always wore rich jewelry though his country was poor. But you…..you look like you’re rolled in a bed sheet.”
Which I am…. I think desperately.
“What am I to do?” I say.
“Adjust,” says Sam, “Make your reenactment so good that no one recognizes the drawback of your costume.”
When the students begin to enter the classroom, she smiles at me reassuringly and she moves over and joins her group of girls. I wait at the door.
A few minutes more pass and Madam Lyndoh walks down the corridor.
I tackle her with my pleas for more time.
“I am really sorry, Walnut. It seems fair, as I have given you the same time as the others….”
She always calls me Walnut, though my surname is Walter, but I don’t care.
“Maybe Ma’am, because I didn’t get the costume….”
“You had time.”
“I couldn’t practice…”
“You had time.”
“I couldn’t pull together information.”
“You had time.”
I officially give up. And I do tell that to Madam Lyndoh.
“No, kid, something’s better than nothing. You can go last. There is nothing else I can do.”
Something is definitely no better than nothing. What good is a Ferrari if it has got no engine?
I go up to my seat and watch others present their roles.
Alex presents his Napoleon; Sam, her Antoinette and then finally….
The homeroom roars into laughter. I get up, rather shabbily and walk up to face the class. I clear my throat. Oh, well. Fine. Better to say something, than flunk History. I take a deep breath and rattle off. “I am Louis Ex- Vi- I.”
“Ex-Vi- I?” Alex interrupts. “Did you mean the car? SUV?”
I shoot him a nasty look. He is not making things easier. Sam whispers something. I follow her lipping.
“XVI. Sixteen, but not like one and six, but the roman numerals…” I do some quick talking. “Well, I had figured that you would understand, Napoleon!”
Small, faint smiles from the class.
“Well, where are your royal garments?” someone else shouts.
“Actually, Voltaire, laundry takes time in prerevolutionary France. My culottes will be back by tomorrow, hopefully. Until then, I’ve just got to adjust!”
Laughter. A smile tugs at Madam Lyndoh’s mouth.
Well, I have to admit, the whole thing was turning into an interesting interview.
“My queen, Marie Antoinette, introduced herself to you before….” I say, gesturing graciously towards Sam. “So there is no need to explain more……”
Sam buries her face. More laughter. Madam Lyndoh joins in.
“Do you remember the day you died and the circumstances surrounding that event?”
“How can I, Rousseau? Will I be peering at the dates or praying for some miracle? It’s better to ask me the day I was born!”
Believe it or not, some fool catches the bait.
“When were you born then?”
I do some quick thinking.
“Oh, Robespierre, it was just a metaphor….There wasn’t a modern calendar in those days. If there was, I sure would have told you….”
And this nonsense went on, but everyone seemed to be enjoying it. I look out as the clock indicates the ending of the period, and everyone is rubbing their aching tummies from laughter.
The bell rings and Madam Lyndoh calls me to stay after class.
“You did well, Walnut. I am not considering detaining you. But I hope you learned something from this experience…..”
Well, I did.
I learned three things:
- Never, ever, trust a friend that studies all the time. He may be saying one thing, but mean the other.
- Do one’s homework on time. Consequences may not always be humorous.
- Something, is definitely not better than nothing!