In which the boy Jonah relates the current states of affairs in his life at the beginning of our story.
That morning, I arrived to the classroom early, and as always, settled down quietly, even meekly, as had become my custom in the last couple of years. I heard muffled laughter and murmurs, noticed the quick glances - even some glares- and then more laughter here and there. I was in no way conceited, but I knew it all had to do with me; it just felt that way. I looked up to the blackboard and there it was, the reason for the general entertainment. In big bold letters was written: "Jonah Aickman is going to hell!" When my classmates realized I had seen it, laughter bursted.
"A-men , brother!", somebody said aloud and the others thought it hilarious. I saw amongst the crowd a few sympathetic faces, but no one came after me when I just picked up my books and lunch and left the classroom, blushing, embarrassed. I would wait outside until class started. I wondered, if I were a different person, what would I had done? Go firmly up front and erase it, or pick a fight? Then again, if I were a different person, none of this would had happened. Hypocrites, more than half of them had been with their families to my house, to see the "marvels" and "make contact", as it was called. Well, damn them to hell. They were only a clique, but that little fraction that delighted in tormenting me made themselves felt like a quake. The others were a silent, or indifferent, majority.
Most kids at school treated me fairly, were even nice, but generally they wouldn't get close to me, I could feel their discomfort around me, because they didn't know how to treat me. Some were even fearful, as if I could read their minds and curse them if I were displeased or just burst into a malevolent spree and kill them all with my stare. But to be fair, I didn't reach out to anyone either. I was naturally shy, but that wasn't the matter; I had the notion on my head that I couldn't have friends. Even with all this, after the bell rang and the teacher had come into the classroom, I made myself go back inside and sit at my desk. I heard a whisper coming from my left side.
"Hey, Aickman...", I heard my neighbor from the desk in the next line calling. "Don't mind 'em, these shits-for-brains; they're just a bunch of apes!" I nodded in agreement stupidly, half stunned at the unexpected show of support, with a lopsided grin.
The "Jonah Aickman is going to hell!" thing was a very stupid prank, but it was another drop of water hitting the rock. I was tired of all that. That evening at the kitchen table, during dinner, Ramsay Aickman noticed my aloofness and gloom, not that I was usually cheerful around him,but he noticed I wasn't been a good audience to his talking.
"Son, what's the matter?", he asked in a tone that sounded more business-like than concerned. Every time he called me "son", I wished he bited his tongue.
"It's...it's school sir."
"Trouble with your studies, your teachers?", he asked dutifully.
"Then what is it?"
"Someone wrote on the board that I was going to hell..."
"And you worry about that? Pay no mind...", he easily dismissed my worries.
"Besides", he interrupted me (why would I think I could share my troubles with Ramsay Aickman?), "this it's going to be your last semester at school."
Well, that was news to me, I had another year before graduating; he must have had it wrong.
"I graduate next year, sir."
"You don't need anymore schooling if you're going to be my apprentice full time," Ramsay Aickman informed me.
The back of my mouth dried, the air from my lungs coming up hot, and I could feel the blood draining from my face. Not that I would miss the pranks, the tauntings and the name calling, but school was an outlet and a ticket out of this house, this life. Until now, I still clung to the thin hope that I would be going to college. It didn't had to be Yale; actually, any other place than here, the better for me. But Ramsay Aickman had already decided my future; I was going to become a mortician. And in this house, his one-way, conceited, stubborn decisions were law. Just like that...
I was seventeen, almost a grown man, but wanted to cry like a child. I felt my future slipping from my fingers like grains of sand. Nonetheless, I kept my mouth shut and stuffed myself enough with food so that it would be convincing when I excused myself from the table because I was full. There was no point in arguing, I always lost, but I had enough pride left in me to not beg and plead.
"Something you want to say, Jonah?", he said with a stone face, but I saw the glint of relish in overpowering me in his eyes.
"No, sir, I'm good", I answered with all the dignity I could muster.
"Good; that's what I thought.", he casually dismissed my answer.
I rose from the table with the excuse of getting ready for that night's session, scraped the left overs to the trash can, left the dish on the sink, and made a beeline for my bedroom.
I let the warm water fill the bathtub until about half its capacity, and after undressing, climbed into it. With my hands, I scooped some water and poured it over my head, trying to disperse that feeling of impending doom I felt. My stare was fixed blankly on the water, without really seeing it, and the droplets of water rushed from my hair down to my face. I felt their warmth down my cheeks, my sight blurred, and I couldn't tell where the water droplets had ended and my quiet tears had begun.