When I was thirteen I made it onto the all stars debating team. I was not good enough to be one of the four debaters, instead I was in a back up role. What they called the trust. If one of the debaters was sick I would step in, but my main role was to look up things in the dictionary and help write debates. I was on the bench.
The team was traveling to a nearby city to debate another school. I lived in Wagga Wagga, (a very small city) and we were going to Albury, (a comparably sized city) to debate their best team. We piled into the tiny bus and headed away.
The head of the debate team was someone I held in great respect. I thought he was astonishingly intelligent. I knew he was terrible at sports, I knew he was not popular with girls but, where I knew Shakespeare was a literary god, he knew and had read the actual plays, where I was aware of the world of Charles Dickens, he knew the characters intimately. It was like I was a boy in a blacking factory peering out into the cold London street of literature through a foggy pane, while he was in the globe theatre itself writing and performing the plays.
He was sixteen years old, he was over six feet tall, he commanded the debate team with a sure and decisive hand. If we were to win the debate it would be down to him.
We sat up the back of the bus, we owned the highway. The leader, I will call him Tom, began to speak.
“Lets play a game,” he said. “I will ask questions and see if you guys can get them right. First question to you Michael.”
Michael was a nice guy, same age as me. He is now a surgeon.
“What year heralded the beginning of the French Revolution?” Tom asked.
Michael thought for a moment. “1789?” he said.
“Yep.” Tom went through the players and they all answered correctly. He came to me.
“Easy one for you,” he said, “What is the capital of France?”
I knew the answer, but I was so nervous I could not get it. I just could not get the word out.
“Don’t you know?” he asked, leering at me with disdain.
“Uhh,” was all I could say.
“Anyone?” He finally said.
“Paris,” they all shouted.
Tom looked at me in disgust.
The actual debate did not go too well for me either. In the class room where it was held the teacher asked us why there were five of us.
“He’s the trust,” we answered her.
“No, we don’t do that here, that’s cheating.”
I answered quickly, “I’ll just sit and watch then.”
“No you won’t!” she bellowed. “You’ll sit outside, keep quiet and don’t wander off anywhere.”
So for the debate I sat outside and waited. Anger welling up inside me. One time I moved away and she came rushing out and telling me to stay where I was, sitting on the ground.
When the debate was finished I was so angry I did not even ask how it went. I think we lost. That teacher was a real son of a bitch.
A few months later, before Tom graduated to Senior high, we held a writers group after school where all the kids wanting to be writers came together to talk about our work.
It was held in Mr. Hall’s English classroom. (Mr. Hall being the greatest English teacher at our school).
After the last bell, we rushed down to a corner store next to the school, loaded our pockets with candy and sugary lollies, and came back to class.
Tom called every one around and took out a huge folder.
“This is my novel,” he said, “It is almost finished.”
He opened the folder and there were hundreds of pages of writing, thousands and thousands of words, a real novel. No one could have guessed he had such a treasure. Where we were writing poems about motorbikes and army men he had written a real book.
He let us read the first lines. The penmanship was neat easy to read. It began something like:
“On the planet Grossmorss something moved about the craters. It oozed like slime, but was hard enough to move huge rocks aside like pebbles. Captain Tom Draft sat at the controls of the Space-Eagle trying to charge the batteries for lift off when he heard a noise like tearing metal coming form the base of the ship…”
“That’s enough,” he said and slapped the folder shut.
“That was great Tom,” I said.
He looked at me, I could not tell if he recognized me or not.
“I want to be a writer one day,” I said.
“What do you want to write, verse or prose?”
I was unsure, “books,” I said.
“I don’t think any one would read your stuff,” he declared. “If you ever write a book it will never be as good as this.” he slapped his hand on his folder.
Those words still haunt me. I think he is still writing, I know he is an English teacher now. I keep expecting to see his name announced in the new releases, I still expect to see his book about Captain Tom Draft in the book stores and it worries me that it will be a better book than mine.
THE BOMBER is out 24th of June with Pen Name Publishing.
The main character is not Capt. Tom Draft but someone somewhat similar.