Uncle Song’s visit will be the highlight of Religious Emphasis Week. The school always brings in a speaker who talks about how Christ saved him from continuing down the wrong path. The upper-class boys still talk about the speaker two years ago, a former drug addict who told the school that before he discovered Christ, his only use for the Bible was its fine pages which were perfect for rolling into joints. They take turns demonstrating the look on Principal Chock’s face when the auditorium exploded in laughter.
The boys are dismissed from attending their last lesson of the day. In single file lines, they walk to the auditorium. Simon is walking behind Patrick Loh, who ducks his head when they pass Mr. Sim, the Science teacher who turned him in for fighting. Patrick said something about Gideon Chee’s family and when Gideon told him off, Patrick picked up chair and hit him across the back with it.
For his public punishment, Patrick was called to the stage and ordered to bend over a piano stool. Principal Chock adjusted his hips so his bum was high in the air like an animal’s and then he disappeared backstage. It was a funny sight, Patrick alone on stage and frozen in position like he was waiting for a cue to begin a performance, but just as the boys began to titter, Principal Chock returned with a long, thin cane. Silence fell over the auditorium. He went to Patrick, adjusted his hips again and then stepped away slowly. The air became tauter the farther back he went, as if an invisible rubber band was being stretched between them. Then he lunged forward and gave Patrick a series of whippings so hard his knees buckled and he fell to the floor with a shriek.
On the stage, two prefects are adjusting the podium microphone. A teacher calls Patrick out of the line and makes him adjust his school tie. Simon takes the first seat in his class row and cranes his neck to see if he can locate Uncle Song backstage.
“Move in. That teacher says I have to sit here.” Simon looks up to see Patrick standing over him. He scoots down one seat.
“Thanks,” says Patrick, giving him a pat on the head. “Good Simone.” He’s been calling him that since primary school when another boy told Simon that his name was almost like his sister’s. Simon ignores him.
“Religious Emphasis Week is so retarded,” Patrick says, catching the attention of the teacher, who looks sharply at both of them. “Sorry ma’am,” he says, smiling. “Joking only.”
“It’s not so bad,” Simon says, hoping the teacher hears him and doesn’t think he’s like Patrick.
“You know Lee Ghim Song?”
“No,” he says. He tries to sound casual although his heart just skipped a beat. “Why would I know him?”
“He speaks to Christian Youth Groups. My father makes me go to all these talks. They’re so retarded.”
“I don’t go to Youth Group,” Simon says.
“You know what he did right?”
“No,” Simon says. He looks away from the stage.
“Filthy faggot stuff,” Patrick says.
The words jab Simon hard in his throat. He wants to be merciful towards Patrick because this is what Christ would want and he has made a decision to accept Him into his heart today. What enters his mind instead is the memory of Patrick crumpled in a heap on the stage and sobbing.
“You cry like a faggot,” he tells him.
Patrick grabs Simon’s sleeve and twists it. “What did you say?” he asks. His cheeks are flushed. But Simon doesn’t deny it; he glares back at Patrick, challenging him. He doesn’t recognize this sudden rage that makes him feel like he’s no longer in his body. Patrick looks taken aback. He doesn’t say anything else.