Theme #1: Free Will
When I completed my primary level education, I was enrolled at the secondary school located nearest to us, at Mordialloc. A friend of mine, Adrian, would also be attending this school, and on school days his mother Julie would pick me up in her car.
The only misgiving that I had, was for the past two years I’d been attending Chelsea primary, and had made more friends than I had ath Edithvale, where I’d met Adrian – and many of these friends from Chelsea weren’t enrolled at Mordialloc, but at Patterson River, located further out.
In retrospect I should’ve made clearer my desire to attend Patterson River Secondary, but I can guess why I would repress my true wishes – Adrian had been away in Adelaide for a couple of years as his father had business there, but having returned, he was free to exert his more dominant personality over my submissive one.
So I find myself enrolled at Mordialloc, and it’s not a happy place to be. Adrian was the only kid I knew, but he acted like I was a stranger. Everything about high school I hate, the uniforms, the lockers, eventually I miss one day of school which stretches into two, three, a week, two weeks, a month, they ring my home and ask what’s going on? I’m not coming back. Why? It’s something I haven’t been able to answer easily, or properly, to this day, but I suppose as I’m just weak, unable to face up to the realities of day to day life.
Next comes DECV, home schooling. I screw this up as well. Sporadically I submit good pieces of work, but over the years it’s never enough.
One particular memory stands out. Occasionally your teacher will call if you’re not submitting enough work. Since that was often the case with me, I’d feel utterly petrified whenever the phone rang. “I’m not here!” I’d cry out pathetically to my mother whenever I heard the phone.
I forget who the teacher was, or what she had to say, but on this occasion I couldn’t escape. But her tone was like acid, especially to a weak hearted, spineless individual like myself. I was shattered when the call was mercifully done with.
I know she was only looking out for me. She was trying to set me on the right path. But I was too lazy and I failed.
My memories of Edithvale Primary aren’t so great, I suppose. I had this one teacher, who’d make fun of me, as I wasn’t the brightest student in class. He even coined this song for me: “here’s Uncle Joe, moving kinda slow, at the junction.” Decades later that’s still seared into my brain.
I hung out with a few kids, but they were dweebs like myself, at least that’s how we were perceived. You know how things are at school – there’s the cool kids, and the not so cool kids. I was definitely outside the circle.
My attendance records were never the best. I’d wake up and if anything felt amiss, I’d tell my mother I wasn’t going to school that day. Most often due to the dreaded cold. It was all bullshit, though. I couldn’t really be bothered facing up sometimes. I was so weak.
Eventually, in my fifth grade, I transferred to Chelsea Primary, reason being, it was located closer to our house at the time. Strangely though, not long after, we moved house back to Edithvale.
Still, I felt happier at my new school. I made some good friends and none of the teachers were psychotics. At this school I developed my first crush on this girl, Alison. I have this vivid memory of us walking home together, Alison is turning into her home street and I wave goodbye to her. In my mind she reciprocates my gesture.
So within myself I’m feeling more confident, and upon completing my primary level education I tell my parents that I’d like to enrol at Patterson River Secondary School. I’m very determined and although they’d prefer me to attend Mordialloc, as it’s closer, I convince them as they see how happy I am at Chelsea, and they know many of the friends I’ve met will likewise be attending Patterson.
So I start my first year at Patterson, and adjusting to high school life is difficult, which can be expected, I suppose. For me it’s intimidating as you go from being at the top of the tree at primary school, to suddenly being at the bottom in high school, surrounded by much larger kids, some on the brink of adulthood, really.
What helps me adjust, is having my friends by my side; if I was alone in such an environment, coping would’ve been so much more difficult, particularly as I’m quite thin skinned, not resilient at all.
In Australia, unlike other countries, there’s not as much importance placed on learning another language, which is unfortunate, really. In my first year at Patterson, I had the choice of a few languages, and I picked French. It was probably my favourite part of the school year, helped in no small part by our teacher, who I developed I huge crush on. I progressed well and my grasp of the language was surprisingly decent. I was thrilled.
I thought if I could take my knowledge any further, in the future, perhaps I could translate works of French into English. All sorts of options were available to me. It didn’t just have to be books – one day, perhaps I could join the SBS subtitle division and help them subtitle French films.
When I talked to my friends, they had no idea what they wanted to do with their future. Personally I couldn’t wait until I finished high school and stepped out into the wide world, as an adult. I was feeling impatient, excited to explore all the possibilities available to me. The world was my oyster, as they say. One day, perhaps I’d translate the work of a world famous French novelist. The thought sent my nerves tingling.
Theme #2: Religion, God, Creation etc.
Nagasaki, Japan – 1945.
Leaving the classroom, I overhear some of my classmates chattering excitedly nearby. This is odd as lately the mood has been subdued around here, I suppose due to our failing war effort.
They’re excited about the approaching Kunchi, or Festival, at the Suwa Shrine next week. I can’t blame them really. It’ll give them an excuse to dress up and fool around a bit, take their minds off everything that’s been going on.
They notice me preparing to leave and one of the kids, Yuya, asks me, “hey Ogasawara, you coming to the Shrine next week?”
“Ah, no,” I tell him.
This sets them back. They seem surprised.
“Yeah? Why not?” Yuya asks in a challenging tone of voice.
“I guess I’m busy right now. Behind on homework,” I tell him.
Yuya turns back to his friends and they resume chattering away. I grab my bag and breathe a sigh of relief.
Walking back home, the streets were somewhat quiet. A young man rode along on his bicycle, but after a short while I arrived at our house and slid open the front door.
“I’m home,” I announce quietly.
“Hiroshi?” my mother called from what sounded like the kitchen. Stepping inside I find her chopping a daikon radish in her usual efficient manner.
“Whatcha making?” I ask her casually.
“Salad, mizuna with daikon on top,” she responds.
Nice. I’m quite partial to mizuna. And we hadn’t had it for some time.
I find my father in the parlour out back, reading his Bible. I could tell he was totally engrossed in it, so I don’t intrude upon him with my presence.
Both my parents are Christians. They had a trip to Europe around 30 years ago and while in Portugal met some people who introduced them to Jesus Christ. They don’t make a big thing of it, though. Aside from me I don’t know if anyone here realizes they’re Christian. They told me people might get upset if they found out.
I’m pretty interested myself, to be honest. Father is very protective of his Bible, so when I can, I read passages from Mother’s Holy Book.
That’s why I wasn’t interested in attending that Shinto Festival at the Suwa Shrine. I already have my religion. But my classmates didn’t have to know that.
As both my parents were busy in the kitchen and parlour, I retired to my bedroom and from my bag retrieved Natsume Soseki’s “Botchan.” We were supposed to read it and write a report on it. I was sure it’d be a tedious read, but I was wrong, it was very enjoyable. The Botchan character himself was endearing and an easy one for the reader to support through his journey, despite his rough edges he had an integrity about him that unfortunately only that maidservant seemed to pick up on.
While waiting for Mother to prepare our dinner, I read the latest chapter of Botchan. Botchan has just graduated from Tokyo University, and decides to teach at a school in Matsuyama, out in the country. It’s difficult for Botchan at this school as his temper and arrogance sees him clash frequently with students and staff alike.
Just as I’m finishing up the chapter, my door slides open. It’s my mother.
“The salad’s ready,” she informs me.
“Great, thanks,” I reply. I was pretty hungry.
My father was already sitting around the dining table as I entered the room.
“Hello Father,” I said to him.
“Hiroshi,” he nodded courteously. That’s about as much as you’d get out of him.
Thus we proceeded to eat our salad.
“This is a delicious salad, mother,” I complimented her.
“The market around here has excellent mizuna,” she remarked.
For some minutes after that, we ate in silence.
Unusually it was my father who broke this silence.
“Hiroshi, I have a favor to ask of you,’ he said.
I was surprised. “What is it, father?”
“The bindings in my Bible have come loose. I was wondering if you could take it to your Headmaster to get it repaired. He’s quite good at that sort of thing, you see.”
My surprise hadn’t lessened. If anything, it had increased.
“Konagaya is a Christian?” I exclaim.
“Headmaster Konagaya is a Christian, yes,” the first note of sternness appearing in father’s voice.
I wondered why father wanted me to do this myself. Perhaps as it would look odd if he showed up at my school. I also wondered how my father knew the Headmaster was a Christian.
I felt nervous the following morning, lugging my father’s Bible in my backpack. I felt like I was carrying a dead body in the back seat of a car. Still, I reassured myself, my classmates would have no reason to look through my bag.
I left earlier than usual to avoid a crowd, but anyway in recent times not as many kids have been attending classes. Quite a few children have been mobilized for work in factories, you see. I could say I’m relieved to have escaped this duty, but school isn’t exactly a picnic for those of us left over. Days are often reduced to exhaustive military drills to prepare us should the need arise. In the classroom our teachers give lengthy sermons claiming our Emperor was an arahitogami, or a divine being in human form. On my part I did my best to listen and look interested.
I knocked on the Headmaster’s door and after a brief pause I heard Konagaya call out “come in, come in.”
Stepping in, I find Konagaya standing above a fish tank, giving some goldfish their morning feed.
Turning around, Konagaya says, “ah, it’s you, Ogasawara. What did you want?”
Suddenly feeling apprehensive, I drew out the Bible from my backpack, and showed it to Konagaya. Tentatively I said to him, “Father said the bindings have come loose, and well, he said you’re good at repairing it,” I explained lamely.
Taking the Bible in his hands, he seemed to examine it thoughtfully. “Yes, I see…” he muttered to himself.
Konagaya seemed lost in thought, but despite this, I was keen to ask how my father knew he was a Christian.
“Ah, Sir? I was wondering how well you knew my father, as last night he mentioned…”
Konagaya broke from his reverie. He understood.
“Ogasawara, I met both your parents a while ago, I’m sure they’ve told you all about their sojourn to Europe, it wasn’t planned but I was on the same ship as them, we really enjoyed each other’s company and in Portugal, you know that’s where your parents converted, it happened there for me, too.”
I wasn’t sure how to process this. “Ah, I see…”
Konagaya smiled. “I’ll make sure to rebind your father’s Holy Book. When I’m done I’ll call you to my office.”
“Thank you very much, sir.”
And with that I was dismissed from his office. As I slid the door behind me, I noticed Konagaya standing once more over his fish tank.
The day proceeded like usual. The military drills were as arduous as ever, and the Emperor was as glorious as he ever was, if not greater. Yuya and his gang seemed to be in a foul mood, however. I noticed the instructors giving them a rough time throughout the day.
“Ogasawara? What’s your problem?” Yuya asked me. I guess he noticed me staring in his direction.
“Ah, nothing…” I stammered. Suddenly they’d backed me into a corner.
“I noticed you went to see Konagaya this morning. What’d he want with you?” he asked.
“Ah, just to check up on my school work,” I lied.
“But wouldn’t your teacher be the one to talk to you about that? And you’re such an excellent student, Ogasawara. This doesn’t make sense to me.”
Not sure what to say to this, I try to back away from them, but I’m unable to move. Suddenly a voice pipes up, “what’s this?” It’s Konagaya.
“Is something the problem?” he asks, his voice mild.
“Ah, nothing at all, sir,” Yuya responds, somewhat scornfully. He and his gang saunter away. I don’t need a second invitation, and make for home. Once again the streets are very quiet.
That evening at dinnertime, father asks if I’d given his Bible to Konagaya.
“Ah, yes, Father,” I tell him.
Father nods, but says no more. I’m somewhat tempted to ask him or mother about what happened on their trip to Portugal, but I desist.
That night I finish Botchan, then begin writing my report, before retiring for bed.
The next morning, I didn’t bother leaving for school early, as Yuya mentioned the other day he’d seen me leaving Konagaya’s office. Instead when the school day had passed and everyone is leaving for the day, once more I approach his office, somehow feeling like I was violating some law, or like a spotlight had been placed upon me.
I knock on his door, tentatively, but I hope with enough firmness that will alert him to my presence. Fortunately I hear him call out, “come in, come in,” sounding tired.
Entering his room, once more I see him standing over his fish tank.
“Ah, it’s you, Ogasawara. I suppose this is about your father’s Bible? Not to worry, it’s all patched up.”
“Thank you very much, sir,” I tell him, receiving the book, and I bow to him.
“How are your parents doing? I haven’t seen them lately.”
“Well enough. I guess we’re fortunate compared to other families.”
Suddenly Konagaya looks concerned and moves toward the door. Bewildered, I wonder what the matter could be; then Konagaya flings open the door to his office and I see some kids running away at great speed. I easily make out Yuya as one of the kids. As Konagaya closes the door to his office, a sweat begins to run down my brow.
“Were those kids eavesdropping?” I demand to Konagaya.
“Calm down, Ogasawara.” But for the first time Konagaya’s voice had lost its sense of calm.
“Ogasawara, if those kids make any trouble for you, come to me.”
I nod, my mind suddenly blank.
“You should go home now. Your father will be glad to receive his Bible.”
I nod again, and leave his office. But on this occasion the streets aren’t so deserted on the way home.
About halfway there, I run into Yuya and his cronies. Remembering Yuya as one of the kids outside Konagaya’s office, I wonder what they’ve got in store for me.
“We heard everything, Ogasawara,” Yuya said in a menacing tone of voice. “This why you won’t come to the Festival? Huh, Jesus Boy?”
Jesus Boy? What a fool, I thought to myself. But to him I kept silent. This wasn’t getting me out of trouble, however.
“I’m quite interested, actually,” Yuya’s tone suddenly quite different. “Ogasawara, why don’t you share that Bible with us, show us what makes Christianity so great?”
I froze. There was no way I’d willingly give them the Bible, my Father’s Bible. And now I could no longer rely on the protection of Konagaya. So with no little amount of panic…
“GET HIM!” Yuya screams as I bolt away.
Unfortunately, while Yuya’s gang weren’t exactly the smartest, they were far stronger and more athletic than myself, so they soon caught up with me. I’m not sure why I bothered to run in the first place; panic must’ve clouded my judgement.
Listlessly I stood there as they retrieved the bible from my bag. Obediently they gave it to their leader for his perusal.
Yuya looks thoughtful as he goes through each page. Eventually he turns to me. “Ogasawara, what made you turn to this faith, anyway? Was it just you blindly followinb your parents?”
His question actually made me pause. Why had I taken up Christendom? And if he had done it just to follow his parents, was there anything so wrong with that? Once you take up the faith, you’re loyal to it, and everything it stood for, surely that was most important? But as he stood there contemplating this, in the corner of his eye, Yuya was saying something.
“Do you really need this if your belief is so fragile?” And with that, he tossed the Bible as hard as he could, and it landed in a nearby ditch.
It was not easy, returning my father’s Bible in its ruined state to him later that day. He took it, looked at it, didn’t say anything, just retreated to the sanctuary of his room. It could’ve been worse, I tell myself.
The next day, Nagasaki got hit by the second atomic bomb, Fat Man. At the time I was out shopping with mother in the outskirts of the city, looking for some mizuna in the marketplace. It was a mysterious thing because all of a sudden a blinding light came from above, and I felt a terrific stinging in my eyes that wouldn’t stop; “wah!” I cried out. Where was mother? I couldn’t see her. Darkness and confusion reigned. I suddenly realized my clothes were in shreds, and I’d collapsed on to the pavement; with rubbery legs, I climbed on to my feet and tried to search for mother. But all I saw was a scene right out of Hell.
Buildings that were once recognizable were now engulfed by flames, and people staggered out of their houses begged in desperate tones for water. I noticed they had severe black marks etched across their back. Stumbling around the marketplace, or what used to be the marketplace, I found a young man resting on a barrel.
“What happened here?” I managed to gasp.
He stared up to me, his expression vacant.
I tried probing him for anything, but he remained slumped on the barrel, seemingly exhausted. Staring at him, I noticed he’d been badly burnt all over; the heels of his feet were peeling and red muscle was exposed.
I continued searching for my mother. This wasn’t easy as amid the destruction were numerous charred corpses littering the streets; surely I had to wake up from this? I kept thinking. But that rotten smell of flesh… I don’t think that will ever leave me.
In the days that followed, we were relocated to makeshift shelters. There were food shortages and the nights were bitterly cold. Worst of all I hadn’t seen my family for days.
People would be ushered into the shelter, and the following day, they’d be dead. Before passing away they’d had some of the meagre scraps going around, and vomited it up, and all I could think after they’d died was, I should’ve had that food. I’m becoming a monster, I thought.
At night, when it was particularly cold, or if I couldn’t sleep, I turned to prayer; I prayed that my mother and father were alright, and would come through this disaster. I also prayed for Konagaya, wondering where he was at this moment. My mind even slipped to Yuya – I thought of those corpses laying in the street, was that to be his fate?
In the coming days, Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender from the war, but I found I cared very little about this; conditions inside the camp were still deplorable, and people were dying every day. For myself I had bouts of nausea, diarrhea and lightheadedness.
News about what had taken place in Hiroshima and Nagasaki gradually filtered through. It seemed the Americans had used atomic weapons on the two cities, but I couldn’t muster any sense of outrage as my body was entirely drained of strength.
Months passed and some survivors were taken to shelters in nearby towns, meanwhile I was admitted to Sasebo General Hospital. I was told by doctors that I’d contracted radiation poisoning. I was bathed and given fresh clothes as my old rags would’ve contained excess radiation. The doctors were also concerned about my weakening bones so they introduced a new protein drug to counteract my white blood cell count.
I stayed in that hospital for months, and I prayed for my parents every night, and for Konagaya, and even for Yuya, but I never saw a familiar face. The loneliness was even more crushing than the pain I felt.
It took longer for reconstruction to start in Nagasaki than it did in Hiroshima. When I was finally granted permission to leave, walking around town, I saw only the beginnings of construction work taking place.
The neighborhood in which I’d lived had been totally levelled, and in the back of my mind I’d accepted that my parents had in all likelihood died.
More than any other city in Japan, Nagasaki has strong Christian history laying claim to the oldest Church in the country, the Basilica of the Twenty-Six Holy Martyrs of Japan. These martyrs were executed by crucifixion in a time when Christianity was being suppressed by the local government; initially there had been some success with convertions amongst the Japanese, but by the end of the 16th century, those who remained were driven underground.
I visited the Basilica regularly to pray, often after leaving the hospital. The sickness I was experiencing from the radiation could be treated somewhat, but I wondered if it would always stay with me in some way.
It happened on one day, a Thursday I think it was, I was approaching the Basilica when someone familiar popped into view. As I got nearer, my suspicions were confirmed: it was Yuya.
It was Yuya but it was almost like coming into contact with a different person. No longer surrounded by his friends, he appeared frail, a shell of himself, all of his swagger and confidence lost.
He seemed to notice me for the first time. “Oh, it’s you,” he said. Then he walked past. I continued walking onwards towards the Basilica.
The next time I saw Yuya was in 1951, again I was receiving treatment at the hospital. It seemed Yuya had also come down with radiation sickness as they were administering the same treatments to him as they had with me. I could hear him muttering something about ‘Yankee bastards,’ which actually made me smile. I hope he was feeling a bit better than on the last occasion we met.
We saw each other pottering around the hospital ward, and I nodded to him. He’d always been a pain in the ass but frankly I was just glad to have a familiar face around.
A few days after that, he tells me about this girl he’s met, Setsuko, and they’d fallen in love. They intended to marry but her family are against this because they found out about Yuya’s condition; the radiation sickness. The family is worried this could lead to birth defects should Setsuko have a child. Or perhaps Setsuko will contract some of the residue sickness from Yuya? I’ve never seen Yuya in such an anguished state as this.
There’s a term for those who’ve been affected by the atomic blast, yet survived – the hibakusha. I could relate somewhat to the discrimination Yuya had been facing as lately I’d been going around in search of work but every time I’d been refused. It was strange because as we discussed some of these experiences, we found our ire directed towards our fellow Japanese rather than the Americans.
Three years later, in 1954, I’d managed to find work in a factory, mostly sewing buttons on to clothes and other assorted jobs like that. It was tedious work and the pay was miniscule as you’d imagine, but it was all I could find.
Six months after I began working there, at the day’s end, a couple of my colleagues ushered me across with serious expressions on their faces. One of the men was Daisuke, someone I now considered a friend, yet I couldn’t bring myself to tell him I was a hibakusha. He was married as well with four children. Despite knowing he was a decent man, my distrust of society had grown to the extent that I feared Daisuke would suspect me of infecting his family with radiation sickness.
Theme #3: The Soul
The night my grandmother passed away, is a night I’ll always recall in vivid detail. Back then we lived down in Melbourne, and my grandmother and aunt lived together in a flat in the suburb of Glenhuntly, right near Caulfield. It must’ve been the paramedics who rang to tell us what’d happened, and when we got there Gran was sitting peacefully in her armchair.
Her daughter, Ellen, was sitting in her bedroom and she must’ve been in shock, because she kept asking if her mother would be alright. Some years later, I remember being told, my grandmother was worried about what would happen to Ellen once she’d died, as she’d always taken care of her.
The funeral was arranged by Mulqueen and Sons, a company based in Bendigo. We’re not a wealthy family so only a modest funeral could be arranged. During the service my aunt kept asking if her mother was sleeping. I don’t know if we said anything in response to this.
Ellen couldn’t handle living down in Melbourne anymore, so she relocated up to Eaglehawk, a suburb near Bendigo, where she and my mother were born. Here she found a housing estate just opposite Lake Neangar.
My grandmother’s fears that Ellen would struggle to live independently sadly didn’t prove unfounded. We went back to our lives in Melbourne, and while my mother exchanged letters with her sister, Ellen grew increasingly lonely over the years.
During Easter and Christmas holidays we’d frequently travel up to Bendigo and pay her a visit, and we found the living conditions of her flat were atrocious – there was rubbish everywhere, and the whole place stunk. Ellen had let herself go, too – when she was younger, she had beautiful blond hair, but now it was washed out and stringy.
I forget what year it was exactly, but it was during my teenage years. Once more we’d drove up to Bendigo for Easter and were going to take Ellen out for lunch. Speaking to her this time, she had a few things going for her – she’d adopted a black and white cat, Connor, who she adored, and she was regularly attending a Catholic Church nearby.
This surprised me a bit as I never knew my aunt to be religious. As lunch progressed, she spoke about some of the people she’d met at the Church, so I was really glad she wasn’t as isolated as she once was.
But then as lunch died down, Ellen started talking about how one day she’d be reunited with her mother, and a sort of uncomfortable lurch leapt through my stomach, and I had no idea what to say, and I think all my mother could manage was something like ‘that’s nice, El.’ And so it seemed with her newfound faith my aunt had found some way of coping with her grief.
But aside from that, our Easter Weekend up in Bendigo passed as it always did, full of relaxation and merriment.
Our next visit to Bendigo would be during Christmas, and the weather was getting considerably warmer. Ellen really disliked the summer, more than any other season. Sometimes she would escape from the oppression of her flat – which had no fan or air conditioning – to go for a walk around Lake Neangar.
Once more we arranged to have lunch with her. She looked very pale and told us she was unable to sleep last night. To get some relief, she decided to take a stroll around the lake, and maybe give the pelicans a feed, which often relaxed her.
That night was quite foggy, Ellen told us, so she just sat on a bench, tearing up pieces of bread and throwing them into the lake for the pelicans. When all the bread was gone, she began strolling along the path, enjoying the peace and quiet…
But now, Ellen is telling us, someone appeared out of the fog. “It was mum,” she said, seeming to address my mother in particular. There was a silence that stretched on for far too long. “That’s amazing,” someone said. I forget who. Then Ellen went on with her story.
“She spoke to me… told me to get on with my life… I told her how much I love her, but she ignored me, and she was gone!” At this point she was sobbing, tears streaming down her face. My mother comforted her as the rest of us looked on.
Theme #4: Good and evil (virtue and vice?)
EXT. HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL FIELD – DAY
A group of fifteen-year-old boys boisterously kicking a ball around.
Alone by himself, jogging casually on the right wing, can be seen CONNOR MCGREGOR (15), year nine student.
His classmates ignore him, but his teacher, MR HOBBS (51), eyes him with a look of dislike on his face.
Hearing the voice of his teacher, Connor comes to an abrupt halt, and walks across to Mr Hobbs.
(tentatively) Yes, sir?
Pull your shorts up, everyone can see your butt crack!
The other students overhear this, and they laugh riotously.
The BELL CHIMES ring, signalling LUNCH.
INT. HIGH SCHOOL CAFETERIA – DAY
It’s bedlam inside, kids yelling and screaming, prefects trying halfheartedly to restore order.
Connor is lining up with tray in hand, contemplating his lunchtime options. Ultimately he opts for the lasagna.
Glancing around, Connor manages to find a bench where he can eat alone to himself.
However, he’s only just begun to eat when he finds his face firmly planted in his steaming hot tray of lasagna. Connor tries to free himself, but someone has a tight grip on him. His face sears in agony.
Once more, the students nearby burst into laughter. The prefects, too, refuse to offer help. At last Connor’s torturer yields his grip, and Connor is able to see the guilty party. It’s ANDY STEVENSON (15), from the same class as he.
Andy walks away with his friends, chatting excitedly, while Connor grabs a wad of napkins, doing his best to wipe the excess sauce away from his face.
The BELL CHIMES ring once more, signalling the end of lunch.
INT. HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOM – DAY
As soon as Connor enters the classroom, the previously raucous scenes subside immediately, and everyone takes their seats.
Wearily, Connor heads towards his desk, but once there, he realizes his chair is missing. As he stands there, the class erupts into laughter.
At this point, the youthful looking class homeroom teacher, MR PHILLIPS (34), enters the room. He calls for calm, and after a moment or two, the class quietens.
(frowning) Connor, what happened to your chair?
A few snickers can be heard throughout the classroom.
I don’t know, sir.
Mr Phillips glances around at his students. He doesn’t fail to miss the amused expressions etched on some of their faces.
Right, until someone owns up to this, we won’t be moving on with today’s class. So, what’ll it be?
The class sits before him in silence.
So it’s going to be like this… disappointing. (perches himself on his desk) On the other hand, you, Connor, are free to go home. (Mr Phillips smiles at him)
Connor grabs his bag and makes a hasty retreat from the classroom, taking care not to trip over the outstretched leg in his way.
INT. CONNOR’S HOME – LATE AFTERNOON
Connor steps inside the foyer and slings his jacket on the coathanger.
I’m home. (almost to himself)
No response comes. Sounds can be heard from within the residence, however; Connor isn’t surprised to find his father screaming at his mother, CYNTHIA MCGREGOR (38).
Entering the living room, Connor finds the scene of destruction – his mother in tears, enduring a torrent of abuse from her husband, FRANK MCGREGOR (36), who was demanding she buy him some booze. He was all out of cash and he needed her salary to feed his habit, but this time Cynthia refused to yield.
(turning towards Connor) What do you want?
Well, fuck off.
Don’t speak to him like that.
Shut up you stupid bitch.
(his voice pleading) Please, stop!
Before anything more can be said, Connor storms off to his bedroom. The furious exchange in the living room continues to go on for some time.
INT. CONNOR’S BEDROOM – NIGHT
Connor sits at his desk, working on his math homework. After what he’d just witnessed, he’s finding it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand.
Suddenly, he hears footsteps approaching his bedroom door. In a rush, he dives under his bedding sheets, and pretends to be asleep.
EXT. CONNOR’S BEDROOM – HALLWAY – NIGHT
Cynthia knocks timidly on her son’s door.
Connor? Con? I’d like to talk to you.
There’s silence from within Connor’s bedroom.
I know you’re awake, son. I heard you studying in there. I just wanted to apologize for what you had to witness earlier. (at this point tears begin to stream down her face)
There was still no response from Connor, and Cynthia left.
INT. CONNOR’S HOUSE – KITCHEN – MORNING
Connor steps slowly into the kitchen and sees his mother buttering some toast.
Cynthia turns around, and seeing Connor, she smiles.
Your father left earlier to see one of his friends.
Connor plants himself at the dining room table and begins to mechanically eat the toast his mother had prepared for him. Cynthia sits down on the opposite chair.
How’s school going?
Cynthia isn’t convinced at all with this noncommittal response, but she’s not the type to press her son on matters such as these.
(standing up) Well, I have to go now. Goodbye.
Have a good day. (smiling)
Connor closes the door.
EXT. HIGH SCHOOL COURTYARD – MORNING
It’s the beginning of another school day. Friends meeting up with friends, cliques forming, molding into one another. And then there’s the unfortunate strays, left to be cast aside.
Connor is one of those, of course. He enters the courtyard, trying to remain as conspicuous as possible. He’s about to enter the school’s main entrance, when he’s surrounded by four students – he recognizes them from his class – Andy Stevenson, KYLE DOWREY (16), VANESSA HUGHES (16), and BRAD LAMBERT (15).
What the fuck, man?
You just bailed on us in class yesterday? Do you know how tedious that was?
(listlessly, knowing it will do him no good) But, Mr Phillips…
Oh, shut up, already!
Kyle connects his right fist with Connor’s midsection. Connor groans while Kyle rubs his knuckles.
Brad, you want a crack?
Andy and Vanessa hold Connor in place by the shoulders while Brad delivers blows with both his right and left fists to his midsection. Afterwards, Connor collapses into a heap.
Oh, no, I’m not letting you off that easily.
Andy, when are you gonna let me join in on the fun?
But you’re girl. What damage can you do?
(rolls eyes) Stand him up and I’ll show you.
Reluctantly, Andy signals to Brad and Kyle to drag Connor to his feet. Vanessa walks across to him, and pulls down his pants.
(laughing) What the fuck are you doing?
Ignoring him, Vanessa sizes up her target, and kicks Connor directly in the crotch with her right boot.
Connor crumples to the pavement like a bag of wet cement. His four tormentors run away, laughing amongst themselves; Connor is barely aware of anything at this point. He tries to move, but, feeling nauseous, he vomits all over the asphalt.
INT. HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOM – DAY
Kids chat to nearby classmates, or alternatively use their smartphones or tablets while waiting for their teacher to arrive, who’s slightly late.
Soon, however, Mr Phillips arrives, holding a cup of coffee in his right hand.
Sorry I’m late.
The class seats itself before him. Then Mr Phillips takes attendance; everyone is there, except for Connor.
Does anyone know why Connor isn’t here today?
A few students offer halfhearted shrugs.
He just got carted away by paramedics.
No one here would know anything about that, would they?
The silence becomes heavier, almost suffocating inside the classroom.
INT. MERCY HOSPITAL – EVENING
Cynthia sat at her son’s bedside, looking at him with concern on her eyes. Connor had been sleeping for the previous two or so hours, and the doctors had given him painkillers, which made him drowsy.
Suddenly he began to rouse, and Cynthia rushed out to the hallway to inform the nurses in charge that Connor was waking up.
They stepped into his room and checked his vital signs. Everything seemed OK. Previously he’d been examined, and while the bruises to his midsection and groin were nasty, there were no fractured or broken bones to speak of.
Connor? (her voice urgent)
Connor lay back in his bed, and closed his eyes. He had a feeling he knew what was coming.
Whoever did this to you, you must tell me. Action will be taken against them. They’ll be expelled.
For a moment he stared at her, then laid back in his bed, and closed his eyes.
INT. HIGH SCHOOL GYMNASIUM – MORNING
Groups of high school students line up, taking shots from the three point line. It’s been a couple weeks since Connor was released from Mercy Hospital.
Mr Hobbs enters the gymnasium, whistle in hand.
Right, Andy, you’ll be Captain of Team One, Brad, you’re captain of Team Two. Take it in turns to decide who makes your team.
Predictably, everyone ended up making the cut, except for Connor.
What? No one wants McGregor?
A few students chuckled amongst themselves.
McGregor, you weren’t selected, so you don’t play. Hit the showers. Everyone else, let’s shoot some hoops.
Everyone lines up to play while Connor walks off towards the showers. A stray basketball dribbles past as he walks towards the locker rooms.
INT. GARAGE (OUTSIDE CONNOR’S HOUSE) – AFTERNOON
When Connor arrives home that afternoon, he finds his Dad in the garage, sifting through some items of his. As always with his father, watching him makes him feel intensely nervous.
Right then his father notices Connor standing there.
Hey Son! Come over here, let me show you something.
Feeling like he’d rather be almost anywhere else [except perhaps his school], Connor approaches the garage to see what his father had to show him. It certainly didn’t make him feel any better.
Aren’t they beautiful? This one’s a 9mm carbine. And that’s a sawed-off Savage pump-action Shotgun, real beast of a gun there. And finally we have the Stevens 311D.
There was a pride in his voice that Connor had never heard before.
Frank now shifted his focus to Connor.
How about we head down to the local firing range?
At this, Connor started to panic; the consequences of saying no to his father were dire, he had seen his father in a violent mood on multiple occasions. He didn’t want to be in his company, either, and he had no interest in going to the firing range. But Frank continued to stare.
INT. SHOOTING RANGE – NIGHT
Stepping inside, Connor and his father are greeted by the intermittent sounds of gunfire. Frank walks across to a man standing behind a counter, and hands him his membership card; briefly, they chat affably with one another, while Connor stands awkwardly, alone to himself. Soon enough, Frank beckons Connor over to him.
Obediently, Connor falls into step behind his father. He tries not to jump at the intimidating rattle of a submachine gun. Eventually, they reach the compartment they’ve been allotted.
Stepping inside the cube, Connor immediately locks eyes on the gun. It’s a pistol, but he’s not sure what kind. As if reading his
This is a Glock 19. Very popular for home defense. Pretty standard firearm, really. But it has decent stopping power all the same.
Frank loads a clip into the Glock, then shifts back to his son.
Cover your ears, otherwise you’ll go deaf.
Hastily, Connor grabs one of the sets of earmuffs sitting on the table and plants them firmly over his ears. Frank does likewise, then shifts his focus towards the range, and steadies his Glock as best he possibly can; after pausing five seconds or so, he unloads the clip, and the target speeds towards them on a sort of conveyor, and reaching them, they’re able to see how accurate Frank’s shooting was.
(grumbles) Guess I’m rusty…
A line of bullets across the target’s shoulder indicate Frank’s aim has gone awry.
He then turns to Connor and hands him the Glock.
Right, now it’s your turn. (smiling)
Feeling trapped, Connor begins to sweat and itch. But he doesn’t see what choice he has. And the truth is, maybe he was so desperate for some respect from his father. But this man? This alcoholic who abused his mother? Why should he care if he loved him, respected him?
Connor was surprised at the heavyness of the Glock. At a glance it had appeared slight, but the firearm was very firm in his hands. He took the necessary seconds to steady himself, then fired off his first shot. He calmed his breathing then emptied the remainder of the clip.
Connor and Frank waited for the target to reveal its results. As it got closer, both seemed surprised – all of Connor’s shots had pierced the head and neck region.
Suddenly, Frank seemed to lose his calm demeanor.
Right, let’s go.
EXT. CAR PARK – NIGHT
Frank seemed to bolt from their cubicle, and the firing range itself, and Connor made haste, just to keep up with him. They soon arrived at Frank’s car, a Toyota Camry, and they got in. Connor felt more comfortable sitting in the back seat, but nevertheless his nerves wouldn’t have been soothed when his father revved up the Camry’s engine and flew out of the parking lot at a considerable rate of knots.
INT. TOYOTA CAMRY – NIGHT
Various thoughts were running through Connor’s mind, as they drove through the streets that night. Was his father actually childish enough to be mad at him for performing better at the firing range? It wouldn’t surprise him, given the nature of the man, and how much he valued the weapons. He also thought of his mother and how much she’d be worried for him at this moment. Hopefully not too much. She suffered enough in life.
EXT. BAR – NIGHT
They ended up outside a dingy old tavern called The Dead Rabbit. Frank had started to get out of the car, but Connor remained seated.
What are you waiting for?
INT. BAR – NIGHT
Reluctantly, Connor followed his father inside the tavern. It was heavy with the stench of cigarettes. Frank plonked himself down at the bar, and Connor sat beside him. At this point the bartender noticed them, and came over to attend them.
The usual, Frank?
Frank nodded and the bartender poured a clear looking liquid into a shot glass. Connor had no idea if it was vodka, gin, or whatever. He just feared another extended drinking session and the consequences this would entail.
The bartender shifted his glance to Connor now.
What’ll it be for you, young man?
Do you serve Cola here?
The bartender smiled.
He walked off to get him a glass, and he returned shortly to pour Connor’s glass of Coke.
Observing this exchange, Frank snorted to himself. Connor’s mind begins to whirl, as it so often does when he’s around his father. Does he somehow think he’s superior to his son because he can drink hard liquor and Connor cannot? In any case, predictably, after an hour and a half at that bar, Frank has drank himself into a stupor.
The booze has the unfortunate effect of loosening Frank’s tongue which results in Connor sitting beside his father for that 90 minutes, listening to Frank speak obscenities about himself and his mother in front of the bartender and the other bar patrons. Evidently the bartender can judge how much Connor is suffering in that moment, as he decides to intervene.
Frank, I think you’ve had too much to drank.
It’s not your job to think, arsehole, it’s your job to pour me a drink.
Listen, shithead, I’ll call the cops if you don’t get the fuck out of here.
All the while Connor stood there watching this spectacle. The other patrons were doing likewise. Connor had begun to feel nauseous as his father grew red in the face, locked in a standoff with the bartender.
The bartender had one final concern he wanted to address to Frank.
Frank, you’re in no condition to drive your boy home. Let me call you a cab, alright?
Connor began to entertain thoughts of being driven home by his highly intoxicated father. They’d both end up dead, a flaming wreck on the highway. It wouldn’t be all bad, Connor mused to himself. His father would no longer be able to abuse his Mum, and he’d be free of that school and his classmates – and Mr Hobbs.
Connor was removed from this line of thought rather forcefully, his father grabbing him by the arm and moving towards the exit of The Dead Rabbit.
EXT. STREET OUTSIDE THE BAR – NIGHT
Once outside, they headed straight towards Frank’s parked car. Or rather, Frank did so, and Connor followed reluctantly in his step.
Did the bartender call for a cab?
Frank ignored him, and sat in the drivers seat, waiting for him. Feeling defeated as he so often did, Connor got into the car.
Connor sat listlessly in the backseat. He dreaded the moment they arrived home, assuming they made it. His father shows up, stinking of booze; his mother is furious, which sparks another of their rows, which is always made all the worse when alcohol is thrown into the mix. Feeling enraged about everything that’s gone against him that night, Frank will throw his fists in the direction of his mother with no regard for the consequences…
INT. TOYOTA CAMRY – NIGHT
For some time Frank drove through the black streets. Connor held his eyes closed, lost in his thoughts. He was at last interrupted by a noise, coming up from behind – a police car’s siren.
He pulled over to the curb and slumped into his driver’s seat. It was difficult for Connor to feel any sympathy for his father.
A female police office stepped up alongside Frank’s window, and tapped it, indicating he should lower it. He obliged, and suddenly feeling like he could charm the young officer, his face wore a crooked grin.
What seems to be the problem, officer? (smiling)
Sir, you were exceeding the speed limit in this zone, and considerably so, I might add. I’ll just get you to take a breathalyzer test if you don’t mind.
Frank did mind but he didn’t have much of an alternative really. He breathed into the instrument and the lady officer examined the readings.
Sir, I’m afraid you’re above the legal limit. I think you’d better come with me.
Connor looked on as his father trailed in the wake of the police officer. He looked so pathetic. Eventually the officer returned to Frank’s Camry, looking at Connor with a pitying expression on her face.
Come on, kid. Let me drive you home.
As Connor followed the police officer towards her car, he saw his father sitting in the backseat of the car. He prayed she would let him ride up front with her.
INT. CONNOR’S HOUSE – THE FOLLOWING MORNING
Connor stirs from what’s been a restless nights sleep. His sheets are a mess. With a heavyness in his chest, he recalls the events from last night, as he walks towards the kitchen.
Once there, however, he finds nobody. At least his mother is usually present around this time. Connor begins to explore the other areas of their house, starting with his mother’s bedroom.
Inside he finds his father violently thrusting his penis inside his mother’s mouth, over and over again. Her face is bright red and she appears to be in great pain. Frank is muttering obscenities to her as he continues to thrust.
INT. FRANK’S GARAGE – MORNING
Connor appears to be in a daze after what he’d just witnessed. But something inside of him just snapped the moment he saw his parents during that act, and he had no doubts about what he was about to do.
He had seen his father use the safe on many occasions, and had memorized the combination. Two turns to
the right, one to the left, another to the left, and three to the right, finally, two to the left.
INT. CONNOR’S HOUSE – MORNING
Deciding to take his father’s beloved pump action shotgun from the safe, he proceeds once more for his parents bedroom, where he can still hear his father uttering those nonsensical obscenities.
Under other circumstances, Cynthia may ordinarily have asked her son what he was doing in her room with Frank’s shotgun, but at that moment her mouth was full of his cock, so she was incapable of speech. As such, Connor walked up to his father and blew his brains out.
There was a faint buzzing noise inside Connor’s head as he left his parent’s room. He barely heard his mother, who was wailing uncontrollably, like a banshee. As he left his house for school for the last time, he packed his father’s shotgun inside his backpack, and headed off.
This story is dedicated to everyone who’s suffered at the hands of bullies, and whose school’s haven’t done enough for them when they needed them. My brother was badly bullied in high school and no one at his school – no teachers etc. came to his aid, which lead to depression, agoraphobia, but by his own strength, he overcame it to become the wonderful person he is today.
Theme #5: Oppression
PC Bangs are places you can find everywhere in South Korea. Large rooms filled with computers, they’re especially popular amongst young males, be it teenagers or men in their 20s. Socially, PC Bangs have been praised for bringing people together, as it’s common for friends to meet up and play games here – MMORPG, or the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, is especially popular amongst gamers. The most popular game of all is Starcraft, though I’ve never played it myself, so I can’t tell you much about it.
There was an incident some years ago where a man got so addicted to Starcraft, he failed to take any breaks at all, and eventually his corpse was discovered where he’d been playing. He neglected to eat, to drink, just kept playing until his eventual passing.
Then there was this married couple who got so consumed taking care of their virtual baby, they neglected their real life equivalent to the extent that it starved to death.
These stories raised the alarm bells Korea faced with gaming addiction, and new regulations were put in place to ensure such tragedies wouldn’t occur again. One of those implemented was people aged 16 and below couldn’t use the Bangs after 11pm.
I’m not a fan of these games, though. For the most part I hang out at the community forum XT or Xtratime, where people meet up online and discuss all sorts of things, from sports, to literature, politics, films, and music. I’ve been a member since 2004 and I’ve met some wonderful people during that time. The people on this board I consider true friends, and really the only friends I’ve got in my life.
My name is Sol Ki-hyeon, but you can call me Bixente. It’s the moniker or handle I go by online. I’m a fan of the French footballer and winner of the 1998 World Cup winner Bixente Lizarazu, and aside that, I just like his name. It’s funky. I think it’s Basque.
I’m 22 now, and I’ve had social phobia since I was a teenager, really. My family’s house feels like a sanctuary, but I recognize it’s also a prison, and I can’t live like this forever. I leave the house when I must, such as for doctor’s appointments, but I even try to avoid those and try to arrange house visits when possible.
I don’t have any particular reason to feel anxious around people, or about going out in general; but what always floats around in my mind before I leave the house is “what if something bad happens”… what that “if” could possibly be, I have no idea, but there’s no way it could be anything positive, of course.
My closest online friend is Ana – at least that’s her moniker, as she resides in Suwon, a satellite town near Seoul. We share many things in common, such as a love of silent films – we make it a habit to recommend our favorites to each other. My personal favorite is the 1930 production by F.W. Murnau “City Girl” starring Charles Farrell and Mary Duncan. It’s a movie that’s lived in the shadow of his other work like Sunrise, but it’s my personal favorite of his. Unfortunately Ana hasn’t gotten around to seeing it yet. I often fantasize about us watching it together, all alone.
Ana is aware of my social phobia, but recently she’s expressed an interest in meeting up outside the digital world. Such a prospect does excite me, but at the same time it terrifies me. I might try to kiss her. I’m not sure if I’d have the nerve to show that kind of affection, really. I regard myself as quite an ugly person. I’ve seen her picture and she is somewhat plain. All sorts of fantasies have run through my mind – as we watch a movie together, I’ll hold her hand as the credits roll.
Today I’m talking to Ana on Facebook, and she is very tired. She tells me about her new job. It’s very stressful office work, and her boss is a “total bitch”. We don’t get to talk for as long as we usually do, as she starts work early the following day. Our chat leaves me feeling dispirited.
Sure enough, over the coming weeks, I had little opportunity to talk to Ana as more and more she gets weighed down by work. Like a fine mist, a sense of gloom seemed to envelop right over me. But at last I caught her online, the green light beside her name indicating her presence to me.
I missed her, I said, and I was desperate to see her, even if it meant leaving these walls that enclosed me. My words were met with an extended silence on Ana’s end, but at last she told me there was a window the following Sunday, for us to meet.
I was about ready to burst with the emotions welling up inside of me. Excitement. Nerves. Tension. Giddyness. Panic.
Maybe you’re wondering why Ana didn’t just come to me, instead? Then I wouldn’t have to suffer from my anxiety. Well, she knew the only way I could improve was to leave the house, and be around people. Nothing would change if she met me at my house.
My parents were taken aback that morning when I announced I was going to meet a friend, given my propensity to be a hermit and all. In any case, I hope they were pleased for me.
I planned to share another silent film with Ana, the Harold Lloyd comedy “Speedy” – it was a very funny movie with some romantic elements thrown in. It seemed perfect. Speedy can’t hold down a job but when his girlfriend’s grandfather’s rail car business comes under threat from a rival businessman, Speedy finds his true calling as the driver of pop’s rail business. Described as a “love letter to New York City” and featuring a memorable cameo by Babe Ruth, the soundtrack by Carl Davis was really infectious too. I hoped Ana thought as much, too.
Getting to Suwon was very simple – catch the Gyeonbu line and after a couple stops, you’re there. The biggest obstacle I faced, as was always the case, was my mind.
Like the parasite I was, I asked my parents for some money. They didn’t object; I think they were just glad to see me out of the house.
Upon leaving the house, I was met with a gang of laughing teenagers. At this moment I was severely tempted to return home, but I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths. Once composed I walked onwards towards my destination.
At the train station I was fortunate, it being a Sunday, the platform wasn’t as busy as other days would likely be. I checked the timetable – still 25 minutes until my train departed. This was one of the unfortunate aspects about Sunday, trains leaving more infrequently compared to other days.
I got my ticket and sat down, thinking to myself that I should’ve had a better breakfast. Feeling slightly lightheaded, I breathed in and out, and took a couple sips of water. I felt a little better. Glancing at the clock nearby, there was still 18 minutes until departure.
At last my train pulled up to the station platform, and somewhat lurching towards the nearest carriage, thankfully there were plenty of empty seats, so I grabbed my desired window seat. Here I lost myself in thought about Ana, watching Speedy with her, and what would happen afterwards… what would happen afterwards? I jerked upright as the station loudspeaker intoned that Suwon was to be our next station.
Trying my best to remain composed, I departed the carriage then headed straight for the taxi rank nearby. I told the driver Ana’s address – she lived in an apartment complex, I knew – and in the driver’s backseat, I closed my eyes. There were really too many bumps along the way; more than once I feared I’d be sick and the driver would be furious with me, and kick me out of his car. Fortunately I contained myself, and eventually we arrived at the apartments in question.
I paid the driver his fee and gave him a small tip. Hesitantly I approached the apartments. I knew Ana was in Room #4. As I neared, I could see a dim orange light in her room. There was no point holding back, so I knocked her door.
There was a wait of a few seconds, then some rustling from inside, then the door opened. Sure enough, it was Ana. She was smiling at me. I smiled back.
My first reaction was to be impressed, not with her apartment, but with herself, as she was one of the advanced Geminoid model of robots, one of the most sophisticated designs to come from Japan’s famous Osaka Laboratories.
She asked me if I’d like a drink, and feeling parched, I accepted her proposal, asking if she had any cider in the fridge. Thankfully she did so, and just the brand I favoured, Somerby’s. I figured she’d got some in anticipation of my visit.
So we sat down and talked. I was relieved that our conversation flowed easily with no awkward breaks or silences; I knew I could function with her online, but in this situation, face to face, I was less sure of myself.
She was planning a brief trip to Japan. She could only afford a stop over for three days or so, as her job didn’t pay a lot, but she’d worked hard and saved all she could, and she was keen to meet her creator in Osaka and catch up with him. His name was Nakamura.
At last we watched Speedy. We enjoyed it tremendously, though I didn’t have the nerve to hold her hand.
The movie complete, we had a meal, some traditional Korean dishes which Ana served for me – she is a splendid cook. Spread out on the table were bi bim bap, bulgogi and kimchi, amongst others. There was also peach rice wine, which was absolutely delicious.
We hugged once I was done with my meal. It was time for me to leave then. I wished her well on her Japanese sojourn, then left her apartment, feeling like I could’ve stayed there longer, but my legs kept pulling me further and further away, and closer and closer to the sanctuary, or the prison, that was my home.