by Rudy Otter
Edgar White, the sports master at
He was furious about the letter from St. Anthony’s sports master, that cunning, low-down rattlesnake Tom Munroe, Mr. Senior Cambridge himself, who was up to no good again. Time Munroe grew up! Fancy keeping alive a typical Anglo-Indian feud that had erupted between them when they were teenaged pupils all those years ago at St. Mark’s High School in Channanagar. They were both 44 now, for heaven’s sake!
Munroe had written a sarcastic letter to White
saying he wanted to end the annual boxing tournament between their two Methipur boarding schools after tomorrow’s event. He knew
this would upset White, whose school always won 5-0, because it would deprive
The rules stated that if a school didn’t stage
boxing contests with other schools from January 1948, it couldn’t qualify for
entry. This meant Munroe had sabotaged
The slimy Munroe had tried to upset White ever since he’d succeeded in relieving Munroe of his pretty girl friend, the slender, hip-swaying Louise, when they were all 14-year-old pupils at St. Mark’s.
He and Munroe had clashed over green-eyed Louise in the school’s playground and White quickly got the better of Munroe, punching him viciously to the ground. Louise loved to watch a fist fight, especially when boys battled over her, a frequent spectacle at St. Mark’s. She was so thin, fragile and vulnerable-looking that all the boys wanted to protect her, hug her, smother her with kisses, and treat her like a delicate piece of porcelain.
She’d given the victorious White one of her twinkling smiles and flicked her long blonde hair out of her demure face to focus more admiringly on his. Munroe saw her doing that and it made him seethe. He’d kept up the animosity ever since, even though White had lost her soon afterwards to another boy after a massive punch-up, with Louise watching…
Tomorrow, then, would see the fifth and final
boxing tournament between
White scratched his bald head and glared at Munroe’s pathetic, hand-delivered letter again:
“My Dear Edgar, we have decided to cease participation in the annual boxing tournament between our two schools after tomorrow’s event because our students are keen to maintain St. Anthony’s proud 100 per cent pass record in the Senior Cambridge examination and need all the available time to devote to their studies, unlike some schools one can name. Yours sincerely, Tom.”
White snorted his contempt for Munroe and that
blatant dig the son-of-a-bitch just had to get in about
He pondered the implications of the tournament’s demise as he looked out of the window at the playground. A game of Seven Tiles was in progress, with both teams shouting, sprinting in various directions, flinging the rubber ball here and there, scrambling on the ground, and attempting to build up the column of fallen tiles without being hit...
The young Punjabi office assistant appeared at White’s door, shaking him out of his reverie. “Sir, sorry, there is phone call for you in headmaster’s office. Transfer button is not working.”
White swore. “Who the hell could that be now?”
“Sir, he say Mr. Munroe.”
“Munroe? Right! Just the job!”
Eager to give the swine a piece of his mind, White hurried down the staircase and was running through the corridor when he tripped over something and fell to his knees. He shot a backward glance to see that gangling drip, Donny Arkwright, scrambling to his feet, dropping the book he had been reading.
“You stupid idiot!” White barked, righting himself. “Reading in the ruddy corridor!” He threw a glance at the book’s title. “Lateral thinking? What’s that rubbish?”
“Er, ad-ad-adventurous thinking, sir, to f-f-find solutions to impossible prob...”
“Oh, shut up, you great big oaf!” White
snapped. “You’re a complete misfit in
White ran on to the headmaster’s office, which was unoccupied. An appetising aroma filled the room. He sat at the desk and shifted a plate of freshly prepared samosas and bowl of chilli sauce out of the way.
“Yes?” he snapped into the receiver. “Got your letter. Not happy about it. What do you want now?”
The oily voice on the line said: “Edgar, my dear fellow, how are you? I just wanted to wish you the best of luck in the main boxing bout tomorrow, the last bout. Or perhaps I should be wishing Harry Heron, your star bantamweight, the best of luck?” He chuckled softly, maliciously.
Heron, a supremely confident dancing, flicking, weaving wizard had always chalked up massive points victories over his St. Anthony’s opponents. There was never any doubt that the referee would raise Heron’s hand after each fight.
White snarled, “Heron always beats your chaps. You know that. Now what ...?”
“Except tomorrow, dear boy—as you, and Heron, are about to find out.”
Munroe chuckled again, antagonising White even more. He replied: “Balderdash! Heron is unbeatable, no matter who you put in with him. Now look, if that’s all you telephoned me for ...”
Munroe cleared his throat. “Your chap Heron won’t be fighting any of our usual bantamweights. Oh no. He’ll be facing someone you’ve probably read about in the Schools’ Sports Review. Fellow named Joe D’Souza.”
White’s voice faltered. “W-w-what do you mean? THE Joe D’Souza?”
“Yes, D’Souza the destroyer. He’s joined us from St. Mark’s, our old school in Channanagar, where I passed my Senior Cambridge and you failed yours, remember?” The soft chuckle steadily became more menacing.
White gulped. Joe D’Souza was a muscular bantamweight, a fierce body-puncher and knockout specialist. He strode around the ring, trapping his opponents, thumping those big fists into their ribs and felling them to the canvas, in squirming agony, to be counted out.
White slammed down the receiver. This was terrible news.
Although Heron was fast, and used to winning on points, he had never fought anyone of D’Souza’s calibre. White immediately broke the startling news to Heron. Heron shrugged, unperturbed. “Mr. White, I’ve read about D’Souza. Like me, he’s never lost a fight. Okay. He’s good. But I’m not scared of him. I’ll take him on. I can beat him. I can beat anybody.”
“That’s the spirit!” White said, giving him a hearty back-slap but still a bit worried that a defeat, especially of their star boxer, would be too humiliating to contemplate. Because this would be the defeat everyone would remember and gloat about, Munroe particularly.
Oh yes, Munroe, Mr. ruddy Senior Cambridge, would love that to happen, the sneaky, slimy, low-down snake who in the past even tried unsuccessfully to bribe some of St. Joseph’s boxers to lose in order to make his boys look good. He was nearly caught but managed to cover his tracks before he could be nailed. Ruddy creep!
The geography master was next to hear the news about Joe D’Souza. “So what?” he told White. “Heron dances. He swerves. He ducks and dives out of trouble. And his left hand will never be out of D’Souza’s face. Heron’s a joy to watch, a real king of the ring. I say Heron will score a good points win. As usual.”
The maths master, however, thought differently. “Crikey!” he shrieked. “D’Souza will prove to be too good, too strong, too canny for Heron. I’ve read accounts of him. He stuns his opponents with his body-punching. He knocks everyone out. Heron can’t punch. His fists are like feather-dusters.”
“Ah, but Heron glides away from trouble,” the geography master pointed out. “He scores points all the time. He shoots in and out. Bang-bang-bang! His left hand is so fast D’Souza will not see it coming. Heron’s left jab will bamboozle D’Souza, spoil his rhythm.”
White went back to his office and looked out of the window. He could see Donny Arkwright sitting alone on the assembly hall steps, reading his book. Suddenly an idea sprang into White’s head. He summoned Arkwright with a shout across the noisy school playground.
A nervous Arkwright entered. White beckoned him to sit down. “I need your help. This is completely confidential. Do you understand?”
Arkwright blinked. “W-w-what is it, sir?”
“I want to make sure one of our boxers wins his fight tomorrow evening. Er, your lateral thinking stuff ... ?”
“Oh yes, I-I’d love to help! What is it sir?”
When White had explained his dilemma fully, Arkwright asked to see recent copies of the Schools’ Sports Review. He read all the reports on D’Souza’s knockout victories, all mentioning his fearsome body-punching power. Arkwright made quick notes after perusing each report, then his eyes fell on one headline: “D’Souza the destroyer has a soft heart.” The report related how, during a bag-punching session some years ago, D’Souza’s elbow had struck the mouth of a young boy who had accidentally stepped up from behind, making it bleed. D’Souza stopped his training and screamed for help. “He went berserk,” the report said, “and couldn’t stop apologising to the boy until a first-aider took over. D’Souza is obviously a boxer with his heart in the right place.”
Arkwright also read other reports, studied photographs of D’Souza’s body-punching style, and an hour later had formulated a plan.
White pouted at it. “Seems a bit far-fetched. I can’t imagine it working but we’ll see what Heron thinks.”
“Okay, leave it with me,” White said. “And remember, don’t tell anyone about this. Do I make myself clear? We’ll get together with Heron tonight at here in my office. Not a word to anyone, got that?”
The three of them met and discussed the plan, which Heron too thought ridiculous. But he agreed to try it if it made White happy.
Arkwright, looking pleased, asked White if he could invite a relative of his to attend the tournament and White said: “Fine. Try to grab a good seat if you can.”
The following evening, in
White, standing outside the ring, noticed a commotion among the spectators. An enormous woman with short hair, sprawling in a front row seat, was blocking the view of those behind her. They were telling her off and she was objecting, waving a fist at them.
Annoyed at the side show, White called Arkwright over. “Get rid of that great big lump of ghee from the front row, will you? Shove her at the back somewhere, in those spare seats.”
Arkwright, looking apprehensive, went over and spoke to the woman, who at first protested,
gesticulating at him, then reluctantly obliged. White
climbed into the
Heron was the first to jump into the ring. He
pranced around, acknowledging the applause from
D’Souza arrived, banging his gloves together and displaying his biceps, antics that unleashed a roar of cheers and whistles from St. Anthony’s supporters.
Arkwright returned and took his seat in the front row. He gave White a thumbs-up sign. White flashed him a smile.
The bell signalled the start of round one and
Heron came out dancing. His left jab found D’Souza’s
face immediately and it moved in and out so fast that D’Souza,
who liked to dictate the pace of his fights, was taken by surprise. An insect
blundered into D’Souza’s face and he impatiently
brushed it away. Each time D’Souza threw a
body-punch, Heron was just out of reach.
Round two. D’Souza barged into Heron and threw savage body punches which Heron blocked while retreating. D’Souza continued to advance and again threw clusters of body punches, all successfully blocked. Heron, tiring, dropped his guard. D’Souza caught him with a right in the stomach. Heron wobbled. St. Anthony’s supporters urged D’Souza to “finish him off”. The maths master shook his head, expecting a quick D’Souza win, but Heron, back-pedalling and desperately scoring points with his left jab, managed to survive the round.
Third and last round. D’Souza strode out, moving to the left and right, cutting off Heron’s escape routes, backing him into a corner. Heron ducked and bobbed, arms protecting his body from vicious punches and all the while poking his lightning left jab into D’Souza’s face. D’Souza landed a big right into Heron’s ribs. Heron winced but carried on throwing straight lefts at D’Souza’s face. A spot of blood appeared on D’Souza’s lip. Heron focused his left jab on that spot, increasing the blood flow. Heron danced backwards. D’Souza caught him with a savage right to the stomach. Heron wobbled, gritting his teeth.
Just then an insect flew into Heron’s face. Heron quickly brushed it away with his left glove and was about to move forward again when D’Souza gave him a horrified look. Heron moved in, peppering him with lefts and the occasional right, but D’Souza crouched, covering up, failing to fight back. After thirty seconds of inaction from D’Souza, the referee halted the fight and declared Heron the winner by a technical knockout. A roar of applause followed and the geography master danced a little jig. D’Souza, avoiding eye contact with anyone, left the ring quickly to a chorus of boos from his supporters.
Arkwright gave White a jubilant thumbs-up but White was looking elsewhere. He noticed Munroe attempting to slink away from the ringside and caught up with him. Grudgingly, an embarrassed Munroe congratulated him on Heron’s win but they were empty words. White knew that. It was so obvious.
Arkwright interrupted them. “Ex-ex-excuse me, sir, but my aunt says she knows you. Both of you.”
They turned simultaneously to see an enormous woman with short fair hair; the same one, White realized, who’d earlier caused a fracas in the front row.
Slowly she stepped forward on stout legs to greet them. White thought the woman looked around 20 stone (280 lb).
“Hullo!” she chuckled, her double chins sporting three long black hairs. “Remember me?”
Puzzled, White and Munroe looked at each other and shook their heads in unison.
“Well you should! All the boys used to fight over me in St. Mark’s, Channanagar. Including you two!”
Both men exchanged alarmed glances. Munroe spoke first. “You mean you’re Louise? LOUISE LAMBERT?”
“That’s me, chaps! Not
Lambert any more but
Munroe’s jaw sank so low that it nearly hit the ground. White knew they shared the same thoughts, the same shock. He just couldn't imagine—and he guessed Munroe felt the same way— how a beautiful, slender, delicate girl like Louise could grow into such an overweight, far-from-attractive woman.
Their astonishment was not picked up by Louise, who recounted their school days together with great relish, particularly the way all the boys fought over her.
“Well,” she said, “there’s no boxing where
She peered at Munroe. “Hey! You’ve put on a bit of weight, haven’t you?” And to White she commented: “As for you, you’ve lost all your nice brown hair. By the way, have I changed much, would you say?”
Munroe tried to disguise the pained expression on his face. “Ah, no, well, not much.”
White pensively shook his head. “I would never have recognised you.”
It was time to part company. Louise leaned forward with closed eyes and puckered lips, expecting a full-scale kiss from each man but only received a couple of pecks on each cheek.
“We must keep in touch,” she said, waving goodbye with a heavy hand. “You must come and visit us in Kulfibad. We live in the railway quarters, number F. 84, right next door to Babujee’s sweetmeat emporium. They sell the best laddoos, jilabees, gulab jamuns and halva.”
Both men nodded politely and gave each other knowing looks as Louise waddled away, accompanied by Arkwright. It was also time for White and Munroe to bid each other goodbye.
Munroe extended his right hand and as White took it he pulled White towards him in a long, tight, mutually back-patting embrace. “Edgar I’d like to keep in touch,” Munroe said, and White happily agreed.
The following day, White summoned Heron and Arkwright to his office. “I’m sorry to have said those rude things about your aunt Louise,” he told Arkwright, “but I would never have recognized her. The Louise I knew was quite different. Anyway it was good to meet her after all these years.”
He asked Heron how it felt to beat a boxer of D’Souza’s fearsome reputation. Heron pointed to Arkwright. “All thanks to Donny.”
White shook his head. “Not exactly. You did it by yourself.”
Heron’s eyebrows shot up. “How? I bit hard on my gum shield when I got hurt. To make the beetroot juice come out, as Donny advised, because D’Souza hates the sight of blood.”
White shook his head. “I didn’t put the beetroot slice in.”
Heron and Arkwright exchanged bewildered glances. “Why not?” Heron queried.
“Well, I decided to play it fair and square. Besides, I wanted to find out if you could take a punch. I now know you can. Some of the punches stunned you but you didn’t go down. That’s useful to know. Congratulations!”.
He poured out three glasses of iced mango juice from the glass jug. Heron sipped the juice thoughtfully. “So if no red juice came out of my mouth, what made D’Souza freeze up and stop fighting?”
White smiled. “An insect.” He explained: “Your left glove drew blood from D’Souza’s mouth. You went for the cut, the right thing to do. Then an insect flew into your face and you brushed it away with your left glove, leaving a trace of D’Souza’s blood on your cheek. He saw the blood and reacted just the way Arkwright predicted he would. He panicked, stopped fighting, you were declared winner.”
Heron brightened. “On my own. I did it on my own.”
“With a little help from an insect,” White corrected, smiling.
He turned to Arkwright. “Your theory about D’Souza’s fear of blood was spot-on. Well done! I’d like to borrow that lateral thinking book sometime. Seems an interesting way of looking at things...”
Later that month, a letter arrived on White’s
desk. It was from the chairman of the India-wide Schools’ Boxing Championship
committee. It said that because of a “highly persuasive plea” from Mr. Tom
Munroe, sports master of St. Anthony’s High School, Methipur,
it was decided to amend the rules and allow
The chairman concluded: “We are, therefore,
delighted to extend a warm welcome to
White picked up the telephone and rang Munroe. “Tom, what can I say? Thank you for getting us into the championships. They’ve changed the rules because of your intervention. I’ve just had a wonderful letter from the chairman, who quoted some of the nice things you said about us.”
The two men arranged to have lunch at Narayan’s restaurant. They enjoyed the get-together so much that they decided to make it a regular weekly event.
What’s more, Munroe fell for a sweet-natured
Arkwright broke the news to his aunt Louise, who told him she liked to attend weddings as well fights, and Munroe and White said she and her husband would definitely be on their guest lists if their respective courtships ever led to marriage.
Which they did, as a joint wedding, six months later.
** Rudy Otter is a retired Anglo-Indian journalist. His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
* Rudy Otter is an Anglo-Indian freelance journalist, travel columnist and short story writer.