Da na na, na na na. Neeeeooooo.
The lunchbox – green – is on the desk. Just a bit off-centre. They’re focused on the lunchbox and most pairs of arms are crossed over chests. White shirt, white shirt, blue shirt, red shirt, grey shirt, black shirt, in a ring around the desk in the back corner. Chatter from the rest of the classroom bounces off their backs and fades as they stare.
Rob: running his palm tight down the side of his head, shhhckk, “Well, you’ve gotta open it.”
All eyes on Yves, who swallows hard. Kou unfolds his arms and one hand goes to the windowsill in preparation. Yves tries to think of something to say, but they are all watching him gravely. His shoulders droop and he nods.
He steps forward. They shuffle to cover the gap he leaves in their circle. He reaches out slowly to touch, just touch, the lid, and they all wince.
Eshwar: “Three weeks?”
Yves: barely above a whisper, “More than that.”
Yves: “Maybe we should just throw it –”
But they’re all caught up in sick fascination, and Yves shuts himself up.
Rob: “Got to get it over with.”
Fixed stares. Yves is flushed and he feels like the lid of the lunchbox is getting hot under his fingertips. In his head things looks something like this; there’s a spotlight intensifying on the pale wood of the desk and the green of the lunchbox, which stand out while everything else seems to darken and waver and melt into obscurity. The circle of t-shirts is still there, though. White, white, blue, red, black. Things are momentarily quiet but there’s an inevitable pressure, which tells him that they’re being patient – but it can’t be put off –
He cracks the lid.
In the hallway outside a passing girl hears the eruption, and she yelps as the classroom doors shake and bulge out toward her. There’s the screech of voices and the screech of desks and the screech of chairs, the air bursting with red stars, and dripping purple swirls, and exclamation points.
The two classroom doors – one at the back, one at the front – shoot open only seconds apart. The girl, who had frozen in alarm, stays long enough for her nose to twitch once.
She goes white, she goes green, she flees with her hand over her nose and mouth.
In the classroom Kou has flung the window wide and is hanging his head outside. Yves is on the floor below the desk, prostrate, tears streaming from his eyes. The other members of their circle have fallen back, stunned, petrified, mortally wounded. Rob’s clenched fists hit the floor as he falls to one knee. Their classmates are stampeding for the doors, although Lana stops long enough to whip around, her hair seeming to writhe on end, long enough to say:
Lana: “Goddammit you guys! Goddammit! I told you so!”
What happens next happens in slow motion. Lana turns and the spring in her calves sends her soaring forward, for the closest doorway, and her words echo in Rob’s ears. He manages to reopen his eyes. The world tilts, drunkenly, his olfactory sensors on fire blocking out thought or action, but somehow there’s still Lana’s thunderous yell, yell, yell. Rob’s knuckles whiten.
He pushes against the ground and the ground pushes him away. The classroom spins but he’s on his feet, he sees the lunchbox. He moves his limbs as if swimming through heavy water and he hears in choppy snatches the sounds of his classmates’ retreat.
Rob reaches for the lunchbox. He has eyes only for it. It’s in slow-mo that he stumbles over Yves, whose body protrudes from under the desk, and loses his footing. But as he falls he desperately reaches again. By stretching out his whole body he manages to make contact. He sends the lunchbox flying in one clumsy sweep, straight out the window over Kou’s head.
He thuds to the floor in a bellyflop.
A while later, they’re sitting in a row against the back wall of the classroom.
Eshwar: “Did anyone get a look at it?”
Yves’ head is between his knees. He makes an inarticulate sound.
Hiroki: “I think I saw a corner… Green, white, yellow?” His hair, glossy black, is flung forward from its side part, currently obscuring one pane of his glasses. He makes no move to brush it aside.
They are OHKO’d. The only movement comes from Terrence, who laboriously raises his arm to clap Rob on the shoulder. In the distance they can hear the teachers converging. The boys raise their eyes to the ceiling in a philosophical manner – except for Yves, who simply can’t. A breeze comes in through the window, stirring their hair the tiniest bit, and bringing a few notes of birdsong.
Terrence: “Geez, that ham.”