The Strongest Man

I used to wonder whether Mr. Mathew is the strongest man on earth. I mean, I KNOW he is the strongest man in my school. I am just not sure whether he is stronger than Batman. It wouldn’t be fair to compare him to Superman. There are no super powers. I am old enough to know that. I am 9 years old. On my next birthday, I will have two digits in my age. That’s the same number of digits that the grownups have.

9 years old and in an all-boys school. I am happy. It is great being in an all-boys school. There are no pesky girls around. But I hate it when our physical education instructor Mr. Mathew starts telling me that I throw like a girl. There is no way to show him that he is wrong. I am going to go home today and ask Dad to tape my sister and me playing the game. I don’t throw like my sister. I am stronger than my sister and all girls. If only I knew someone stronger than Mr. Mathew.

But that would have to wait as I am now standing with my best friend David and the other worst performers in the game, waiting for our punishment from Mr. Mathew. The good thing is, Mr. Mathew is so strong that he cannot punish us himself like the other teachers do. He is too strong for that. Just like Superman, Mr. Mathew has to control his strength and so he cannot use the cane himself to punish us. It is said that once Mr. Mathew struck a kid using a cane and the kid could never walk again. That is why they have that parking lot with the picture of the wheelchair. That is where people who have received beatings from Mr. Mathew and cannot walk normally like us are allowed to park. David told me this. David tells me everything he knows.

So, as I was saying, since Mr. Mathew cannot punish us himself, he tells us to punish ourselves. Today, we have to run around the playground 5 times and do 10 pull ups. But Mr. Mathew is not all sports. He values studies. Which is why the punishment is that we should carry our school backpacks and run 5 times around the playground. We are not supposed to wear the backpack, we have to hold it over our heads with our arms outstretched. David tells me that Mr. Mathew learnt this punishment when he was in the Army. They used to make them hold his gun over his head and run around the ground.  Mr. Mathew was too strong for his gun so he used to carry his tank over his head and run. David told me this. David tells me everything he knows. But I don’t believe the tank bit. It is not a good idea to believe everything David says.

So we started running. We finished one round around the ground and came to the starting point where Mr. Mathew was standing. As we ran past him he shouted “Faster, run faster you little girls”. He happened to shout just when was I passing him and the force of his words hit me on the side of my face like an explosion. I found myself running faster because of the force of his words. He continued to shout “Faster, faster”, his voice now sounding like explosions in the distance.

When we were furthest away from Mr. Mathew, we heard him shout “I can see you slowing down there. Pick up the pace, don’t make me come down there”. His voice sounded very clear from across the field. It was as if he were standing right next to us and shouting at us.

“Mr. Mathew can see us slow down because no light escapes him, he is like a black hole” said David in between his breaths. I thought about it. Mr. Mathew was dark. I think that the only thing darker than Mr. Mathew is his moustache. Of course, that is how he manages to see everything that happens on the sports field. He manages to see what each one of us does at the same time. No light escapes him. Some of David’s explanations make sense.

We approached Mr. Mathew after our second round and he shouted at me again as I ran past him. “Faster you little girls”. The force of the wind in his words at such close range blew away the sweat beads from my cheek. I found myself running faster. The force of Mr. Mathew’s words pushed us to finish the 5 rounds.

The walks back home after the punishment are long and slow and that is where David tells me most of his stories. I don’t know how long David knew this or why he chose to tell me this today. But David told me this secret today.

“You know something, Mr. Mathew is not the strongest man in the city” said David.

“What do you mean not the strongest?. Who is stronger than him?” I asked.

“You know Mr. Mathew lives down the street of my home. Yesterday evening, I was playing in the street outside Mathew’s sir’s house and our ball went into his yard. The lights were off so I thought he is not at home. When I went into his yard to pick up the ball I heard a sound. Mr. Mathew was saying – please stop” said David.

“Stop shitting me David. Mr. Mathew never says please.” I said.

David said: “I didn’t believe it when heard it. He did not sound the way he usually sounds. There was something different about his voice. It was like his voice was trembling.”

Now I began to doubt David. If there was one thing about Mr. Mathew, it was that he never trembled. Even the hair on his head never moved. No matter how windy it got, nothing about Mr. Mathew would tremble. I cannot imagine what Mr. Mathew’s voice would sound like when trembling.

“I don’t believe you” I said

But David kept talking, “Then I heard Mr. Mathew go aaahh. Not the kind of aaahh, you hear when the principal uses the cane on us. There was something different about this aaahh. You know, it was like, longer. It was like aaaaahhhhh”

“You mean there is someone stronger than Mr. Mathew? Someone who can beat him?” I asked.

“Yes, I waited outside his house that day to find out who that could be. Then I saw her come out.” said David

“Her? It’s a girl?” I asked.

“No, not a girl, she is a grown up. She must have superpowers” said David.

“Don’t be stupid. You should know there is no such thing like superpowers. Do you think Mr. Mathew is stronger than Batman?” I asked.

“Why do you ask about Batman?” said David

“She must be like Batman, she has gadgets that make her stronger than Mr. Mathew. Gadgets can make Batman stronger than Superman” I said.

“I thought you said there is no Superman and no superpowers” said David

“There isn’t” I explained

“We should get that gadget. We will no longer be the worst performers in the game and Mr. Mathew will not be able to punish us ever again.” said David.

“Didn’t you see if she had any gadgets that day?” I asked.

“I tried but his window is too high. If you come with me, I can climb on your back and we can look into his window and see what gadgets she has that make her stronger than Mr. Mathew” said David.

“I don’t think we should be entering Mr. Mathew’s house. Don’t you think we see enough of him in school already?” I said.

“This is a different Mr. Mathew. He is weaker here, his voice trembles” said David.

I had to think. I would have to lie at home, the chance of getting caught at home, the chance of getting caught by Mr. Mathew. So maybe two punishments. But if it worked we would know Mr. Mathew’s weakness and avoid any more punishments. I thought and agreed with David and we decided to do this the next night.

It is not a good idea to believe David right away. But I had thought about it and then believed him. It is ok to think and then believe David.

The next day, I told mom and dad that I am having a sleep over at David’s place. Once we were both at his place, David and I snuck out his window around 10 pm. We went over to Mr. Mathew’s house. We climbed over Mr. Mathew’s yard fence as noiselessly as we could. We stood under the window where David said he heard the noises the other day. We waited for almost 10 minutes and I did not believe a word David had said. I was about to give up. Then I heard it myself.

“Please stop”  

It sounded nothing like Mr. Mathew, but still there was something about the voice told me that it is him. It is like a different Mr. Mathew. A Mr. Mathew that he never was in school. But I had my doubts. “Where is the long aaahh that you were telling me about? I don’t think it is Mr. Mathew” I said. It is never a good idea to agree completely with David.

“Get down and let me climb up. We have to see through the window.” said David.

What was making Mr. Mathew say stop? The man who never let us stop on the playground was saying stop. This had to be some awesome gadget. So I agreed. David climbed on my back and looked into the window.

“What do you see?” I said.

“It is dark inside, I am cannot see everything. But looks like Mr. Mathew is on the bed. The lady is standing over him.” said David.

“Standing on the bed?” I said.

“Yes on the bed” said David.

“I don’t believe you. My mom says no one is allowed to stand on the bed.” I said.

“Shut up, you will give us away.” said David.

“Get off you fatso, I want to look.” I said as my shoulders began to ache.

“Just stay still so that I can find the gadgets.” said David.

David tried to stand on his toes to get a better view. My shoulders were aching and with David now trying to stand on his toes, I had enough. I pulled back from the wall and David landed on the grass with a soft thump and a hard scream. I felt something move up my leg in the grass and I screamed too. Then David sat up and screamed again. Then I stood up and did not feel the thing on my leg so I did not scream and tried to make David stop screaming. But now the lights turned on in Mr. Mathew’s room. So we both screamed again. David stood up and we rushed around the house hoping to make it to the fence gate before Mr. Mathew could catch us.

We made it till the porch but then I collided against a wall. No, it is not a wall, it is Mr. Mathew. I felt his arm wrap itself around my stomach. The ground disappeared from beneath my feet and I realized that Mr. Mathew is picking up both of us. One in each arm.

“What do you kids think you are doing here at this time?” he said in the same voice he uses at school. His voice did not tremble any more. I felt the grip tightening around my stomach and I felt like I was going to puke. Then, I saw David bite Mr. Mathew’s arm and I heard Mr. Mathew scream in pain as he let us go. We landed on the ground. We picked ourselves up from the ground and ran as fast as we could.

“That’s the aaahh I was telling you about, that’s the aaahh I was telling you about.” shouted David as we clambered over the fence and ran for our lives.

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