We were poor. The only reason why we were at a private Catholic School, was that even though the holy brothers constantly reminded us that we were poor, they didn’t throw us out because fees weren’t paid.
They let us know in public. At the end of each school year, all 800 boys were lined up in assembly in the quadrangle, and only those whose feed were paid were given the school magazine. After the first five years, I got immune to it. We used to talk about it a lot, and fantasised how we could get the money to pay our school fees, just at that part of the year. The rest of the time didn’t matter. It was just that time of the year, the looks from the other 799 boys all at once.
But, the best studies were outside the classroom.
Classroom studies also included staring our of the window at half past two in the afternoon and seeing the clouds darken for the quarter to three cloudburst that always seemed to last until three o’clock. After all, this was Johannesburg. Things were different then. Predictable. Little change. Unless we made it happen.
We experimented a lot. Controlled studies, which were conducted with planning, forethought and discipline.
Like when Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” was showing at the Plaza Cinema. It was the year Dionne Warwick was singing, “Anyone who had a heart”. And the year even the brothers at school encouraged us to listen to the Hit Parade because top of the charts was The Singing Nun with “Dominique”.
“The Birds” was a spectacular horror movie. The pièce de résistance was when these rogue birds dropped down from the sky and pecked our Tippi Hedren’s eyes. These shrilling feathered monsters dive-bombing to leave this gorgeous chick in bloody blindness.
We knew that most of the school girls were sitting in the stalls. They didn’t like the front row, as it was too near the screen. They also didn’t like the back row, as the boys sat there, smoking Lexington and coughing.
In those days, there were ashtrays on the backs of seats so that you could smoke. They were circular, and there was a little window at the top you could close to stop the smoke getting out after you had dumped you stompie in there. To empty the ashtrays, the cleaners would come around, the swivel them right over so that all the stompies and ash fell out. We would do that as were leaving the rows after a movie. – let the ashes and stompies fall to the floor. Well it gave the cleaners something to do.
We figured it was easier for the cleaners to sweep it all off the floor instead of going to all the trouble of turning over each and every ashtray.
We were only thinking of them.
The girls sat in the middle, just under the edge of the circle, which was a good 20 feet above their heads. The seats were just right. Not too close to the screen, nor to far. Exactly right for the best horror effect.
We had found a live chicken. Not difficult in the area where we lived. As I say, we were poor.
We put it inside a paper bag to keep it quiet.
Then we took our seats in the front row of the circle.
These were pricy seats, but we knew where the fire escape was, and there was always only one usherette upstairs.
They wore uniforms like the Salvation Army, and carried a tray in front of them, with choccies and sweet we could never afford. And some melting Eskimo Pies. The nice one, Gertie, always let us in. We gave her cigarettes so that she too could sit in the back row and smoke with the other guys.
However that day, we were in the front row of the circle. We had seen “The Birds” a week before, and we knew exactly when the part came for the birds to dive out of the sky and de-eye little Tippi.
Just at that moment we emptied the chicken out of the paper bag and let it drop to the stalls below.
Squawking, onto the girl’s heads. We leant over the circle and studied the behaviour patterns. They seemed to be random. Fright, panic, hysteria, distress, laxativic. They scattered in all directions, regardless of the chairs, they seemed to be walking, not on water, but on the backs of the seats. The screams weren’t like Tippi Hedren’s, which sort of rose up the scale. Morgan, on of us, thought that Tippi’s screams were in a major key. He should know, he was learning piano. The girls’ screams were erratic, sort of all over the place. No musical sense at all, Morgan concluded.