It was before German or geography, something beginning with G anyway, probably German, as it was a noisier class than geography, and I remember there being a lot of noise.
You said to me, go on, it’ll be funny, she’ll never believe you’re in there, you convinced me that it’d be cool and I’d be cool if I did it. I’d be one of your group, and not teased or called dog rapist because of my dog’s hair getting on my school uniform, and even though I was suspicious, and should have known you didn’t mean it, I so wanted to be in your group that I did it, I got in the cupboard. I only thought I was going to be in there for a little while, after all. The teacher would do the register, and I’d pop out like a rabbit from a hat and say ta-da!
But it didn’t end up like that. You locked the door or put a ruler between the handles or something so I couldn’t get out. So I just sat there, knees almost up to my ears, all in the dark, the only light the thin lines around the edges of the doors.
At first I thought it was okay, probably because I thought I wasn’t going to be in there long. It was warm and sort of comfortable – I could understand how a mouse could live in a dark hole. My head hit the top, but I didn’t have to bend too much, and I could move my arms, wrap them round my legs or scratch an itch. It was only after fifteen minutes or so that I started to panic a little. My back was arched and the wood of the cupboard pushed hard against my spine. I could feel it ache or stiffen, and I began to wonder, stupidly I know, whether my back would remain arched like that forever, like that old story about a change of wind direction fixing your face in a horrible expression for the rest of your life.
I tried to move, to readjust, but I couldn’t. My legs were fixed up, my head stuck against the cupboard’s ceiling or whatever it’s called, my back stooped. I could move my arms, like I said, but I couldn’t really do anything substantial with them, my shoulders were trapped against the door and the back, and itches became less and less of a distraction. Eventually, though I didn’t want to – I wanted to be in your group – I knocked on the door. I thought, good joke, guys, now let me out. You’d already told the teacher then that I was in the cupboard, and she hadn’t believed you. Now let me out. Show her you weren’t lying and that she should’ve believed you. She can’t tell you off for telling the truth. It was her fault.
But when I knocked, you just began speaking louder to drown me out. Then you kicked or hit the door to tell me to stop. Not too hard, but not softly either, and I thought it meant, not now, that’s not part of the plan, stay in there longer and you’ll be part of the group, not: stay in there, you dog rapist, you’ll never be in my group, and we’re never letting you out.
So I tried to calm myself down. I took deep breaths, closed my eyes and tried to think of peaceful scenes, calm oceans, open expanses. But the more I tried to picture these scenes the smaller the cupboard seemed to become. I moved my weight from one arse-cheek to the other and back again, but when I resettled I felt my head was bending even more, like the ceiling was crushing down on me, and my knees seemed closer to my chest. What felt like pins and needles began to spread up from my feet to my calves and my arse felt numb. I began to feel hot, and when I looked at the lines of light around the door I imagined them sucking the air out of the cupboard like a kind of fiery vacuum.
I gave in. For an instant, it didn’t matter whether I wanted to be in your group, I was dying, so I banged against the door. You kicked back and said, shut up, but I didn’t care. Or did, but only a little, I wanted to get out, but I didn’t want to scream, so with as much bravado as I could, I said, come on, guys, let me out, good joke, you’ve made your point. I thought I’d done enough.
Then, suddenly, I thought you did too. You said, Miss, to the teacher, I think there’s someone in the cupboard or something like that, followed by a snicker. The doors are moving. And I’d never felt so relieved. I’d be out, be in the in-group. You’d ended the joke, not me. But when you finished speaking, the teacher just told you to be quiet, get on with your work, if you were as interested in geography or German as you are in cupboards then maybe you’d get better grades.
I couldn’t believe she didn’t believe you, so I thought, fuck it, you’ve opened the door, so to speak, by saying that, and I began to rattle the doors some more and stamp my feet till, eventually, the teacher came over, saying, what’s this, and pulled the doors open.
I remember light flooding the cupboard then and piercing my eyes and me squinting. Then, as casually as I could, I climbed out of the cupboard and said, morning, Miss, how are you? I thought if I acted like nothing was wrong then you’d like me more.
The teacher said, Evans, what on earth are you doing, but I didn’t answer. I smiled and looked at the class. Everyone was laughing, and I felt proud, like I’d achieved something great and everything was going to change. I was going to be in your group, the in-group. But then you said it, and I knew no one was laughing with me. They were laughing at me. And even if I said it was my idea and that you had nothing to do with it, I would never be in your group. I was just me: Good one, you said, good one, you dog rapist.