My friend RC had posted this on her Facebook this afternoon:
I lost some time once. It’s always in the last place you look for it.
It’s apparently a quote from Neil Gaiman. Mr. Gaiman’s famous already, so of course everbody loves his moments of levity. However, I remember the time I used this line, thinking it a piece of original wit. Unlike Mr. Gaiman, I was conspicuously without fame, and, some would argue, much common sense.
My subconscious still bears the scars of the aftermath.
It happened a very long time ago, when I was a tortured highschooler — literally — hiding helplessness and anger behind cynical witticisms.
What happened, if memory serves, was that our hawk-eyed English teacher ‘caught’ me sharing my text with a classmate who had forgotten hers at home. Ms. Teach was furious at this transgression. She needed only the slightest pretext to take off like a firecracker, and she put in a sterling performance then, equating the act of sharing textbooks with open contempt for an aged pedagogue. She upbraided my classmate for insincerity and irresponsibility, and me for the low cunning of concealing her grave misdemeanour.
Towards the end of this tirade came an artful touch of divide-and-rule.
Forgetting books at home, she informed the rest of the class, was part of our sinister plot to bring down their test-prep, and shoot their academic performance in the knee. “I can promise you that these two girls — friends of yours — have private tutors waiting at home”, she thundered. “They will make up for the time lost here. But you won’t. So don’t be surprised if these troublemakers do far, far better than the rest of you in your ICSEs [O-levels]. Instead of smiling like idiots, like this incident is one big joke, think what has just been stolen from you by these two.”
The class stared at her in fearful fascination. Something had just been stolen from them? By two people standing metres away? What magic was this? The girl in front of me absently patted her pocket.
“Time!” exploded Ms. T, making the whole class jump. “Those two have stolen precious, valuable time! I am certainly not going to make up for it. Let’s just hope your friends tell you where they’ve hidden it, so you can put them to good use and pass your finals!” And with that final flourish, she snatched up her bag, her copy of the text, the attendance register, and marched briskly out of the classroom.
Several heads swivelled at me. Pairs of eyes shot dagger-sharp accusation. “Oh, don’t listen to her”, I said with forced lightness, waving my hands dismissively. “Just look for your lost time in the last place you can think of. That’s where us thieves always stash the precious loot”. And I forced out a nervous laugh, for good measure. Heeh heeh.
It worked. All around me, hostile looks began to melt into open grins. Everyone loves a winking rebel. At this very moment of sweet relief, however, the hair at the back of my neck started bristling. (Always a good radar, neck hair.) Turning slowly, I saw Ms. T, presumed absent, standing a little beyond the doorway. Her eyes looked at me with cold fury.
There is no insult more insulting, I suppose, than the mocking smiles of one’s usual preys. The jackal, I imagine, takes the giggling of rabbits very personally.
I’d rather not go into what happened next. Suffice to say that it will make a very colourful entry in my memoir, should I write it.
But to write a memoir, of course, I would have to be famous first.
Which brings us to the entire point of this story. Fame makes cheek cool. Everyone else, shut up.