Saint or Sinner? by Ian Thomas

This story begins in far away India in the late forties. It concerns an English couple, the Greens, who have lived and worked there for years; he as an engineer in the tramways, she as a reporter for an English language newspaper. Their only child, Chad, has long since been shipped off to an English run boarding school in Darjeeling, high in the healthful mountain air and far from the teeming city.

But then along came Gandhi and Indian Independence, and life in India became increasingly uncomfortable for the Greens. They decided to migrate to Australia in mid 1950. There they enrolled their son in a boarding school called Nudgee College in the suburbs of Brisbane. Never mind that the first term was well under way. There was a locker, bed, desk and hundreds of potential friends waiting for him to arrive.

The other part of the story begins in Cooroy where two boys, Bobby and Ian, have been best friends and neighbors since their earliest school days. Bobby proves himself an instigator and Ian a follower as they grow up and often find themselves in trouble at school and at home. Their parents are unanimous in their belief that a few years away at a boarding school such as Nudgee, with its reputation for strict discipline and academic rigor, will straighten them both out. All the Nudgee folks know is that their grades are passable and that their parish priest has given them the thumbs up.

So off they go to Nudgee, become locker mates and sleep in adjacent beds in the eighty bed dormitory. The brother in charge of their dormitory, an ogre nicknamed Slam, addresses them in the dormitory on their first night there and warns them of the severe consequences that will follow the least disturbance or disruption in the dormitory after lights out. His own bedroom and office are just outside one of the dormitory doors and he makes sure that everybody gets a good look at his two foot long flashlight and can clearly discern the outline of his thick multilayered leather strap tucked just under his religious garb at his chest.

Except for Bobby locking the locker with both keys inside, and returning from the playground reeking of cigarettes now and then, the first couple of months at Nudgee pass without incident.

Then Chad Green shows up late and is assigned a bed in the dormitory that backs up to Bobby’s. He seems like a nice boy despite his thick English accent but Bobby decides he needs to be initiated and that the initiation needs to take place in the dormitory that very night. He persuades Ian that it will be great fun to jump out of bed and pound Chad with their pillows as soon as Slam is safely out of sight.

A stilly silence has settled on the dormitory as Bobby prods Ian awake and whispers that it is time to attack. They jump out of their beds and subject poor Chad Green to an unexpected and vicious assault.

Even as they raise their pillows for a second round, an intense beam of light freezes them in place and Slam’s voice comes ominously down that beam and orders them to stand on the veranda outside his room. He then proceeds to scan the rest of the dormitory to assure himself that this insurrection is not more widespread.

Meanwhile out on the cold verandah Bobby and Ian tremble more from fear than from frost. True to form, Bobby persuades Ian to tell Slam that it was Chad Green, the new kid, who was the aggressor and that they were just defending themselves. Ian tells Bobby OK just as Slam approaches and calls him into his room, leaving Bobby to contemplate his fate out there in the cold.

Ever the faithful one, Ian repeats Bobby’s lies to Slam who of course knows that this is preposterous nonsense. He scornfully orders him back out into the cold and calls Bobby in for his interrogation.

Minutes pass and then Bobby emerges, a smug smile on his face, and announces with feigned sincerity, “I decided to tell the truth.”

The story goes steeply downhill from here for Ian. His faithfulness to Bobby costs him four across the bottom while Bobby gets off with a few on the hand.

Bobby became a lot more cunning after that, especially where Slam was concerned, and managed to pull off numerous pranks. Ian decided that a partner in crime who goes and tells the truth is nothing more than a dirty rotter.

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