The lunch bell rang. The din of chairs screeching, student chatter and books slamming closed echoed in the classroom.
‘Peter Mason, I’d like a word with you in my office over lunch.’
Peter had only been at this school for six months. His father’s job regularly moved them from state to state. This was his second school in three years, making it difficult to make friends and to be accepted by his peers.
‘Hey Mason, what’s Olsen want to see you for this time?’ Jeremy Spears sniggered.
Jason shrugged and kept walking.
‘Mason,’ Spears shouted after him. ‘See you after school … usual place.’
The gym was his favourite place. Oddly enough, it was the only class he didn’t share with Jeremy. He entered the locker room and quickly changed into his gym gear.
One of the team’s pole-vaulters came over while Peter was placing a sweatband around his head. ‘Mason, I didn’t think you were going to show. Good to see you.’ He snickered and slapped Peter’s back.
Peter turned but the guy was gone. What’s he on? Peter pushed open the swinging doors, entered the gym and did his usual warm-up routine. His favourite apparatus were the rings, and he was grateful he had them to himself for the next hour.
‘Mason,’ the coach shouted. ‘Didn’t you hear the bell? Go shower. Principal Olsen is waiting.’
He showered quickly, dressed and was running his fingers through his matted hair when the coach entered the locker room.
‘Mason, you have an ability that will get you to the 2024 Olympic Games. Don’t waste your time painting walls in your spare time.’
‘Coach, I …’ But the coach had already left.
What is it with these jerks? He stormed off to the administration block, notified the secretary he had arrived and plopped in a chair to wait.
‘Come in, Mr. Mason. Take a seat.’
Principal Olsen didn’t even look up when he stepped behind his desk and sat down on his swivel chair. He picked up a newspaper and started reading.
They both sat in silence for a few moments before Principal Olsen spoke. ‘It’s come to my attention … again, that you were seen immediately following the latest graffiti incident here at the school. Somehow your picture and story made front page news.’ He emphasized his last words by tossing the folded newspaper across the table for Peter to read.
Peter stared at the photo, obviously taken by a security video camera, and the caption below. ‘Graffiti King Identified on Camera.’ In the hood of his jacket was a pressure-pack can.
‘How? Spears, it had to be Spears. Sir …’
‘I’d like to believe you, I really would. However, Spears is seen … here.’ He pointed to a gate, to the left of what appeared to be Peter. ‘He may have avoided the ‘camera rotation but …’
‘Why would I carry a spray can in my hoodie, Sir?’ Peter felt his pulse racing.
‘I’m sorry, Peter. This time I have to issue a suspension. Your father has been notified. You can collect your things now before classes resume. Return to the office to collect your suspension letter for your father and leave while everyone’s in class … to save face.’
Peter left in a daze. He couldn’t believe it.
He emptied the contents of his locker into his backpack and shut the door. He made his way back to the gym and wandered over to the rings. He was overcome with disappointment. He took one last look and turned to see the coach standing nearby.
‘It’s only for the remainder of the term, Peter, and unfortunately, Olsen won’t let you use the school gym after school hours either. I tried, but he won’t budge.’
‘Coach, I didn’t do it. Honest.’
His coach sighed. He placed his hand on Peter’s shoulder and spoke with compassion. ‘Look, stay away from Spears. He’s bad news. If you can keep out of trouble, I’ll talk to Principal Olsen about a summer training program.’
Peter smiled weakly. ‘Thanks Coach.’
With regrets, Peter returned to the administration block, collected the letter and headed home determined to hold on to the hint of hope that his coach had given him.
© Chrissy Siggee