I am not sure how I ended up doing this, or why I even agreed to, but for some reason the fact that I vaguely spoke English reassured a bunch of parents that they could leave their 5-year-old offspring with me, a total stranger who spoke very little of the native tongue. Never mind that my previous work experience entailed a cycle of mopping toilets and bookmaking. Never mind that I drank two litres of bargain wine-in-a-carton last night. You are the teacher now.
By my logic if we could get through the hour without any of the kids going missing or dying then it would have been an unbridled success.
How you are supposed to teach a language to a group of people that:
Don’t understand that there is a place called Britain.
Even if they do understand that there is a freezing island parked in the North Sea, they couldn’t possibly speak another language, could they?
The only hole in the logic was the toilet issue. Kids piss and shit all the time. Charming little units of never-ending urine and faeces. What’s more, when they’re bored, as they are now, the shitter is a great option to leave the pointless task of learning a foreign language. Within 5 minutes of trying to explain how to pronounce my name my fears were realized, as one of them kept tugging away at his crotch, the universal language of desperation. Right, all for one and one for all. He pisses, everyone pisses.
The convoy left for the toilet and made good time, forming an orderly queue as and when they finished. However we were one short and I heard from deep within the cubicle the unmistakable sound of solid hitting water. One of them had taken a shit. This was all well and good until I heard a phrase echoing over the marble halls. A second later, the same phrase as clear as a bell. My Spanish is far from good but it doesn’t take a genius to assess the possible situations that could have unfolded. None of them are positive. Again came the cry and this time I caught some of it.
“I don’t know how, clean me.”
The sympathetic amongst you may feel a pang of sadness for his ineptitude, but fuck you, you weren’t there. I had a hangover and I get paid next to nothing. This was way beyond my remit.
I ventured into the cubicle to provide what assistance I could and was greeted by the boy. Dethroned and mobile, his t-shirt held high above a bottom that showed the visible signs of recent activity. Walking as only pants round ankles will allow, he approached me. I probably could have done more to help but I didn’t. What I did do was show him the toilet roll and gesture in a wiping motion to the action he should take.
His face was a picture of confusion as he held the roll in his left hand and watched me demonstrate again. Then he had a go. Paper firmly in his left hand, his right hand reached down deep into the crevice of his backside and wiped, just as I had demonstrated. The paper gleamed pristine and white, still safe in the left. What was left on his right, he smeared on his t-shirt and waddled back to class. A job well done.
After the last incident you can imagine my reluctance when the child, now known as “shit-hand”, tentatively ventured forward and informed me in no uncertain terms that he needed to have a crap. I looked at the clock. Five minutes left until home time. Fuck it, he could wait. He repeated the question and received a similar answer. He was standing now and for a brief minute I felt some empathy with the lad. It wasn’t his fault that he had been marooned here without the know-how to wipe his own arse. What a prick I was, denying him the inalienably human right to void one’s bowels regardless of consequence or aftermath.
The I saw his face twist slowly into a smile. That wicked smile.
Time seemed to stand still as he reached down, down, unhinging his elasticated jeans and plunging his hand deep into their recesses. I sort of knew what would happen next but nothing can really prepare you to see it in the flesh. It’s the same grim surprise every time.
Possessing the deranged look usually reserved for vagrants and really pissed people, his digits slowly materialized, liberally caked in freshly produced human shit. What next? After a shitting incident, the accused can follow two courses of action. The first, on seeing the teacher’s revulsion, the turd can become a liberating weapon, one which will certainly stop the learning process if, indeed, you try to chase the teacher with it. The second is the standard children’s response. Tears. Hoping for waterworks, I braced for either eventually, but neither came.
Prosaically he studied his creation before bringing it up to his nose and inhaling harder than a seasoned pro in the Fabric bogs. It was at this point that I realized that he had done this before. He leered at me before an inquisitive twitch came over his maniacal sneer. I could see the logic at work.
People become primary teachers because they find the process of watching kids work things out rewarding. Well here it was in the flesh, the warm feeling at the end of a process of deduction. “If it smells good…”.
Then he ate it.
The bigger particles he munched much like a bear would honey in a cartoon. That which was buried under his overly long fingernails he slurped at like a Frenchman with a snail. What was stuck to his clothes proved to difficult for his young tongue to dislodge, and there it would stay. A reminder of the incident.
Animals eating their own faeces is often viewed as a comic aside. The amusing dividing line between man and beast. But those who have laughed at endless memes or cringed, jokingly at the blatantly staged “2 chicks” video don’t know how fucking close we all are. Dog, chimp, goat and man alike.
He had eaten most of it by the time his dad arrived and had, ironically, made a fairly thorough job of self cleansing. But his dad knew. Even without the stale tang of an infant’s shit, he knew. He could see it in my eyes. We looked at each other and I gazed into the soul of a truly broken man. No words were spoken. Father took son by the hand and away they went, a night of Persil and explanations ahead of them.
The first thing that struck me was the silence. In a class of 5-year-olds, a quiet moment is a precious commodity. Throughout the incident I had completely forgotten about the rest of his class. Yet they were all still here, wide eyed and staring. You could hear a pin drop. Now kids are the first to mock any act of banal toilet humour, but interestingly things had clearly gone too far as they all sat awestruck. After weeks of “shhh-ing”, shouting and empty threats, it was this incident that finally shut them up. There is clearly something so severely shocking in the act of human coprophagia that even the innocent, unpolluted mind is unsettled. As “shit-hand” waddled slowly into the distance one of the other little boys slowly, but surely started to cry. A fitting end to a terrible week.
Cover image courtesy of Roadside Images via Flickr