The floor is cold under my bare feet. I shiver. The wooden bench bites into my bony arse through the towel wrapped around me. A couple of lads on the bench opposite are whispering. Colin the one directly in front of me tries to hold back a laugh but it explodes out of him sounding more like a fart. A couple of the others snigger at that.
‘Shut up out there!’
All giddiness is dispelled at once. I cast a tentative sideways glance down my bench. None of the other five lads are looking in my direction, mostly staring at their feet. Colin and the lads across from us are examining their toes too. We can hear the water from the showers splashing away. These are old style showers; tall, cold porcelain with the shower head up high, no curtains or screens. Br. ‘Benny’ Reilly resumes his patrolling of the cubicles.
The older lads had told us his nickname, but being younger it meant little to us. Our naivete must have been written across our faces as one of them felt the need to elaborate.
‘He’s bent, he is.’
‘That’s why we call him Benny,’ another confided.
‘Watch out for his hands,’ a third boy chimed in.
I smiled and nodded, letting on I knew what they meant. A couple of days later I saw Br. Reilly lightly patting another first year boy on the bum, telling him to move along the corridor. The penny dropped.
‘Benny’ is limping up and down the shower corridor, making sure all towels are left on the bench. It’s essential we let the water bathe our sweaty nether regions after our physical exertions on the football pitch, and Br. Reilly was making sure we were all ‘as naked as the day God made us.’ We can’t see the showers from our benches in the waiting area but we can hear everything that happens in there crystal clear. The tramping boots come to a halt.
‘You!’ the Brother bellows. ‘What are you doing wearing your shorts in the shower?’
We don’t know who he’s directing this at, but all of us cringe.
‘Remove them at once. And turn and face me when I’m talking to you. I was perfectly clear earlier when I told you the rules for the shower room.’ He’s roaring now, the words bouncing off the tiled walls assaulting our ears. We exchange nervous glances. My stomach feels empty and sick.
‘Right. Enough!’ The boots start up again. ‘Next lot.’
My bench is next. We stand up and wait as six dripping boys shuffle past us in single file, towels wrapped around their bodies. Derek is last in the line. Tears are welling up in his eyes and he’s biting his bottom lip to try to stop them flowing. We enter the shower room and leave our towels on the bench under the watchful eye of ‘Benny’. One of the lads, blushing, removes the shorts he’s been wearing under the towel and we all enter the white porcelain cubicles. I face into the water and listen for the patrolling boots, hoping they don’t stop in front of my shower.
copyright © Francis Long 2010
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