“So class, you see? Qui goes before a verb and Que before a sujet, i.e, a subject… and what do you call them?”
The teacher turned around from the blackboard where she had been creating a pretty mind map on the Pronoms Relatifs. It was the class after snack break and the students were still licking the salt off their fingers from eating too many chips during the break.
“Let’s do the exercise on page 56 for more clarity, shall we?” she announced. Sid looked around to see the sincere ones in his class quickly getting on to the task assigned. He always wondered why teachers said “we” when they actually meant “you”! Sigh, French grammar was so difficult to begin with and this teacher with her “we”and her “mind maps”! He fiddled with his pencil, trying to figure out the answer to the first question of Exercise A on Page 56, on pronoms relatifs. Of course.
Varun, who sat across him, looked equally disinterested. He was chewing off the ends of the pencil, in an effort to make the class go by faster. Sid gave him a wink and Varun smiled back. A wicked idea began to form in Sid’s mind. He put Varun’s pencil over his, the two pencils arranged perpendicular to each other, such that one pencil stood precariously over the other, shaking gently in the fan’s breeze.
Charlie… charlie … are you there?
Varun looked at him, surprised. What was Sid trying to do? He tried hard to concentrate, but his eyes and mind went back to Sid. He saw that he had slid a sheet of paper under the pencils now, with four squares on it. Two squares had “YES” written on them, the other two had “NO”.
“Is this a new game?” he whispered under his breath. Sid shook his head. “No, the pencils are possessed.”
“Have you gone mad, “ Varun hissed, “That is my pencil!”
“Yes, but it is possessed now. Go on, ask Charlie a Yes/No question.”
Varun was the kind who would do anything to get away from the French on hand. He whispered his questions slowly.
Charlie, charlie, are you there?
A pregnant pause later, the pencil on top moved gently and settled upon YES.
Varun was intrigued. He wanted more.
Charlie, charlie, do you like French grammar?
No response. And then suddenly, a flicker of movement, before it landed on NO.
“Me too! I hate French grammar!”he blurted out aloud. He could feel eyes upon him. Especially the teacher’s.
“Varun, if you hate French grammar so much, you may leave! “ she bellowed.
“No miss, I was talking to um….um..”
“Who?? Have you now found yet another person to chat away with? OUT! “ said Ms. Meenakshi.
Sid popped in, being the more daring one.
“Miss, we think these two pencils are possessed. So Varun is a bit scared.”
“Possessed, what nonsense!” Miss. Meenakshi walked up to their desk to confiscate the ‘possessed’ pencils. Varun pounced on them and grabbed them before she could get to them.
“Miss, “he said, “why don’t you try it? They are really possessed.”
By now, the whole class was around their desk, wanting to get to know this Charlie guy better. Arpita went first with her question.
Does Abhay like me?
Arpita quietly went back to her place, thinking it was probably a hoax anyway.
Keertana played it safe.
Do we have a math test today?
Yaayyy! They were all hooked. Miss. Meenakshi was annoyed now. She decided to end it once and for all. She decided to beat them at their own game.
Stupid Charlie, can you please leave my room?
The pencils did not move. The whole class watched with bated breath, as Miss prattled away, “See, children? I told you! They were just moving in the breeze. Back to …”
“Miss, look! Charlie says NO! “ the whole class screamed. The teacher was now at her wits’ end. She took the pencils to another desk and asked Sid to prove that they were still ‘possessed’ so far away from the fan.
Sid was thrilled to be challenged. He asked Mayur to ask the question, at the new desk.
Charlie, charlie, am I a good student?
Of course, Charlie had to say that. Mayur was one of the toppers in Grade 7. By now, the entire class had set up mini Charlie stations at each of their desks, with their own pencils. Miss. Meenakshi was strict, but she also knew kids. She let them play, just for the day. By the next day, she was sure, this Charlie would have died a natural death.
Miss. Meenakshi had, however, underestimated the power of childhood pranks. By the next day, many pencils were being tortured by Charlie, across all grades. All sorts of questions were being asked. Charlie is in deep trouble, thought Miss. Meenakshi. She decided to try it out herself.
She closed the door to the classroom and arranged her pencils. Quietly, she posed her first question.
Am I a good teacher?
Will I get a raise this year?
As if she didn’t know that! She saw the fan above her, whirring at full speed. She switched it off, and tried again.
Will I get a raise this year?
Such a difficult question, eh? She tried again. And again. No replies came forth from Charlie. She switched on the fan again and tried again. This time, Charlie said YES.
She heard someone knock at the door. She cleared her desk of the pencils in a hurry and opened the door. It was Sid.
“If it is about that stupid Charlie thing, I don’t want to hear about it!” she cried.
“No Miss, I just wanted to tell you something.. About Charlie…” Sid looked at the two pencils peeking out from under her hand bag and wondered what Miss had been upto.
“Have you been talking to Charlie too, Miss?”
“Of course not, you think I am an idiot?” Miss. Meenakshi was quite flustered.
“I am glad you didn’t, Miss. Because I am Charlie. I blow on those pencils”, replied Sid sheepishly. Miss. Meenakshi felt like a true idiot. But she managed to grin when Sid asked her,
“You won’t tell anyone right, Miss?”
“No”, she said, still grinning.
Charlie lived on in the school for many months after this. He made many students frustrated and the juniors were frightened to call upon Charlie. But whenever Sid sat down for one of these seances, Charlie seemed to outdo himself. It didn’t take long for the smarter ones to realise what was happening.
What happened after that, you ask? Let’s just say, there were as many “Sids” in the school as there were pencils!