Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Survival of the Fittest

on April 7, 2014

Now that I think about it, I also met with other mishaps at the CES Noyer-Durant. Strange how little anecdotes stay buried away for years and suddenly bubble up to the surface, unbidden.

The yard was really a wild jungle where older boys kicked ball while girls talked in small groups and some mixed groups whiled away their time in various manners. There was an older girl, probably in 8th or 9th grade, who was taller than most, and had already quite a figure. The rumor was that she modeled bras in her spare time. She was quite the target of the older boys’ attention, and she basked in and thoroughly enjoyed that attention.  During the break right after lunch, she was often walking backward around the yard, laughing and throwing her long loose orange hair around, and chatting with the boys who walked forward. I always wondered about this walking backwards thing.  I mean, why couldn’t she walk side by side with them?

Malfoy and Goyle

The most popular boy was also an older one in maybe 9th grade, who was tall and blond. I have been racking my brain, and it is possible his name was Patrick. He was also supposed to be very handsome, with a golden mop of a fringe on his forehead. It’s eerie how this looks like a typical movie (think Malfoy and Crabbe or Goyle), but he really had a big fat sidekick who always followed him around wherever he went. Now I absolutely cannot remember the sidekick’s name. All the girls had a crush on Patrick, which I couldn’t understand, because he looked nothing like someone I would have a crush on. No poise, no sophistication, no classical profile, you know, the type you see described in classical novels, a Greek god or demi-god. Actually, I believe he was quite silly and had not much intellect, because one day he and his sidekick walked over to me, as I happened to be on my own, and asked me, “Do you like watching Popeye (the sailor man)?” while Goyle giggled dumbly. I replied, “No.”  And then the two of them just strode away. Pascale and Brigitte scrambled over from wherever they were, and asked me breathlessly what Patrick had said to me.  I nearly rolled my eyes. A couple of other times, the two of them would stroll over and tell a stupid joke out of the blue, and I would say, “Oh.” And they would walk away. Now, I wonder whether they were trying to make my acquaintance, but that was certainly the furthest thing from my mind at the time. Kids stuck with their own kind, I mean their own grade and class. It was not done to consort with students in other grades, especially older ones.


Especially when they lacked manners and did horrendously naughty things. Once, the older boys locked a girl in the bathroom and she didn’t manage to get out until the teacher noticed she was late to class. Another time, Goyle and Patrick got hold of a needle somehow. I would like to say it was a hypodermic one, but I truly think it was an intra-muscular one. I mean: a large and long one. And the idiotic prank they came up with was to walk around the yard, pretending nothing was happening, and Goyle would jab that needle into the rear end of anyone who had their back turned. They roared with laughter when one after another, unsuspecting students would jump up with a scream and hold their butt, though too late, for the culprit had pulled out the needle as fast as he had plunged it. Unfortunately, I also fell victim to this inane game. This was ages before the era of AIDS, or I’m sure someone would have reported them, and some parent or other would have sued them.


I suppose students were forbidden to bring balls to school. Because the boys used to make their own ball out of layers and layers of scotch tape until it became a sphere the size of a tennis ball. This they would kick around at break time in what I assume were soccer matches. How do I know so much about what those balls were like? Because one day one of them flew right onto my right eye. I saw stars. Real ones. Now I knew that those multi-colored stars in comics were for real. I wavered then tottered around a bit, pain seeping into my eye socket and brain. Pascale rushed over, took one look at me, and said, “oh, you have an eye with black butter!”  In French, if you have never heard the term before, it sounds like “an-nuh-yo-ber-nwar”! A what? I asked… “Un oeil au beurre noir!” she repeated, “a black eye!”; and tried to drag me to the infirmary.

It was that year that my debilitating phobia of boys was at its worst. One day, it must have been a Saturday morning, for the train was quite empty, a group of raucous boys shouted and laughed the way teen boys do when they get together. Saadia and I were scared enough to seek refuge in a different car, nearer the front so we could reach the conductor quickly, just in case. Another day, when strangely I was alone without Saadia, I thought someone was following me up the stairs out of the metro station. As I turned into the Avenue Jean Jaures, I heard the footsteps following me. My heart beat so loudly I thought it would burst out of my chest. But I pretended nothing was happening and kept my normal pace. The same footsteps still followed me at the same distance. I turned into our apartment building and stepped as fast as I could into the elevator, which, thankfully, happened to be waiting on the ground floor. Then I pressed the button of the floor above us, just in case the follower tried to find out which floor I lived on. When I got there, I tried to tiptoe out of the elevator so as not to alert anyone to my presence, and softly sneaked back onto our own floor.

drain pipe

I seemed to live forever in the dread of something terrible about to happen. At home, I had worked out an escape route, in case we were ever besieged by robbers or bandits. Outside the kitchen window, there was a rather thick square pipe, probably for rainwater, that ran down all the way to the ground. I calculated that I could step out of the window and reach it with one foot while holding onto the window edge with one hand, and then grab it with both hands and climb my way down, the way we did in gymnastique on the knotted rope (finally, a use for that skill!)  The only thing I couldn’t be sure of was whether the pipe could sustain my weight. Although I never got to test that escape route, I believe it could have worked. Just like the way I had worked out how to get a slab of chocolate back in Ankara (see The Famous Chocolate Story), and when the time came, I was able to climb up and grab a slab in a few seconds!

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