It was my first day of school in New Zealand.
Mr Hamilton, the assistant headmaster, and I walked to his office.
It was my third trip to the assistant headmaster’s office that day, and it was still the first day..
“A school record,” the assistant headmaster had said, “for a new boy on his first day.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said, not intending to be cheeky. He took it as cheeky anyway and put me down as a troublemaker. He was very proud of his school and its records, but I don’t think he was very proud of me. We walked in silence, our footsteps on the wooden floorboards echoing in the musty hallways of Avondale College.
“Wait here, boy,” said he.
I took my place outside Mr Hamilton’s office as he went inside. I had stood there before, earlier in the day. Then, it had been busy in the hallway with pupils and teachers going past, most of whom had slowed to ogle the new, foreign boy waiting to be caned. I had already been caned twice that day, for disrupting assembly and smoking in the toilets. Neither of which I was guilty of, let me hasten to add. Honest, it wasn’t me. Being the new boy and unsure of how things worked, I had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But you know what they say. Justice is blind.
And, at Avondale College, it was swift and cruel.
Now, late in the afternoon with final classes underway, it was much quieter in the hallways. No one passed by. I stood there and pondered my day so far.
It seemed like a century since I had left home that morning wearing the drab, depressing school uniform and dreading my first day of school in this strange new land.
“Be yourself, honey,” my mother had said as I stood at the door before leaving for school. She could see into my heart that morning, (as she could anytime) and saw how nervous I was. She had wanted (as she did all the time) to encourage me.
Be myself. Where was that boy now, I wondered? Since arriving in New Zealand I wasn’t sure who I was. Everything was so different. At school in California I’d been popular and successful. Here I was the gawky foreigner with the funny accent, a thing to be ridiculed.
Yes, it was an unjust universe, I said to myself as I awaited my punishment. Why had Wilkens, the school bully who had taunted me, insulted me, beaten me, escaped while I, an innocent bystander caught up in mindless schoolboy malevolence, was to be punished? If there was any justice, Wilkens would be inside Mr Hamilton’s office right now, getting what I was soon to get more of.
Perhaps this universal justice in which I wanted to believe needed a little more time to catch up with Wilkens. I had always enjoyed Science class, a thousand years ago it seemed back at school in California, and the astronomical concept of infinity had particularly fascinated me. No ending? Going on forever? I found it impossible to comprehend or imagine with conviction. Perhaps my brain wasn’t big enough to think of something so big.
I found it easier to imagine a just universe where everything worked out fair, than I did to conceive of an endless, infinite one that went on forever. Yes, I wanted to believe that Wilkens would get his comeuppance eventually, given enough time.
Given enough time. What was a little time, even a human being’s lifetime, or a civilization’s lifetime, compared to the one-hundred-thousand year cycle of a photon’s journey from the center of the sun to it’s surface whence it escapes blasted into the solar system as visible light? Or the ghostly, beautiful residue that we see from the exploding death of a supernova two-hundred-million light years away?
The door beside me opened and out stepped Mr Hamilton. He stood for a moment and eyed me sternly, then beckoned me inside.