AS A PLACE, it didn’t even deserve a name. Not a formal one anyway, but given how Jesuits like to give names to everything, it was called Murphy’s Walk.
It was really nothing more than concrete steps that led down to a small recessed area that was part dumping ground for abandoned desks and other classroom equipment, and part overgrown forest. A very short and slippery walk lined with various undetermined plants that nobody had bothered to trim regularly.
Inexplicably, there was a concrete barbecue grill on one side of the square, probably used by the Murphy who has ceased to exist except by name, damp and overgrown with moss. What would have been the barbecue pit was filled with sediments of cigarette butts and gum wrappers from generations of high school boys sneaking down there for an illicit cigarette.
The rough concrete steps were also covered with moss, but there were certain spots where the moss wouldn’t grow, the friction of innumerable pant seats rubbing against them discouraging any further growth. This was where we squatted during the lunch break and after school, a loose fraternity of young men whose only bond was the shared hassles of high school life, and the defiance of smoking on campus.
There was an old monobloc chair, not as old as the place itself, but stained and chipped by sun and rain. This was where someone would keep watch in case a teacher or a guard came along, perched precariously on the old chair, praying that the legs wouldn’t give out from under him.
The ground crawled with the large red ants that rarely bit people but were really mean about it when they did–ant bites stung like fire and picking them off would sometimes leave the head still clamped to your skin. There were mosquitoes and other flying insects that flitted about, not bothered in the least by the smoke. Conversations would often be cut abruptly by someone swatting at one, or scurrying away from the bigger bugs.
It was an uncomfortable place, but for some reason, we kept coming back. This was where problems like failing a test or flunking the year were talked about, dissected and then in the manner of carefree teenagers, trivialized. Acceptance to and rejection from the top colleges were commemorated with a smoke–full of congratulatory remarks if it was good news and silent sympathy if it was bad.
Tales of exploits with girls were told and retold, becoming more incredible each time, and yet accepted and sometimes adopted by the other boys until nobody knew who it really happened to. Nothing was taboo at Murphy’s, everything from rumors about the faculty, to leakage for exams, inside scoops on fistfights to who in school was supposedly gay—it’s surprising how gossipy teenage males are when there isn’t anyone else around.
This was where, while pondering on the untimely deaths of two freshmen in a freak accident and the cruelty of a world that killed children at random, I stepped on a snail, and promptly learned a lesson on the randomness of things.
It was along those steps that, as a senior, I was caught smoking by a teacher. Rather than run away, I puffed nonchalantly on my cigarette, put it out and walked over without even trying to deny anything–and created a legend that was whispered about at least until my brother discovered Murphy’s Walk.
As most of stories told at Murphy’s Walk, the legend varies, in some versions, I had supposedly even offered the teacher a smoke, in others, I had engaged him in debate. In other versions, the student ws variably a jock, a nerd, the student council chairman, and the ilegitimate son of a former principal.
It will probably change even more, as new layers of cigarette butts and gum wrappers are added to the ones we threw in and new stories become part of the oral history of the tribe of illicit smokers.
04 May 2004, for a creative writing class that I got no grade for. That was my fault.