In my final year of high school, I realized that I hated kids.
I can pinpoint the exact day of my epiphany. I had been dreading lunch break all morning—not because of the perpetual crowdedness of the cafeteria, not because of the lazy kitchen staff and their notoriously unwashed cutlery, not even because I would almost certainly contract salmonella from the undercooked steak dish that I had found a family of insects nesting in the week before—but because I had just been assigned to oversee the junior school playground as a prefect.
I had never been around children for a particularly extended period of time, but they irked me. It seemed to me that there was some quality of extreme stupidity about them, a sense of dumbfounding naivety that bordered on the primitive. I had never tried to hide these feelings, so how exactly playground duty ended up with me was unclear. It couldn’t have been a plot amongst the faculty—I didn’t personally know the teacher in charge of delegating prefect assignments, but I knew that she liked pottery and listening to mainstream pop music, so clearly she was intellectually incapable of anything as complicated as a calculated act of malice.
But, determined to prove her wrong, I marched myself down to the playground ten minutes before the appointed time and scoped out a strategic position near the swings before the lunch crowd arrived. It was from here that I watched the carnage unfold.
At half past one a crush of children broke past the classroom doors and charged onto the playground with the force of an elephant stampede, leaving a comedic plume of dust in their wake. The chaos was indescribable—they were all screaming, or crying, or in varying stages of undress, the smarter ones swerving past me but the majority crashing at full speed into my legs. One of the smaller creatures had a trail of half-congealed snot running from her nose all the way down her chest like a grotesque elongated necktie—she was holding a water gun, and as she neared the centre of the throng she pumped the nozzle and, uttering a scream like the shriek of a train whistle, sprayed a two-metre jet of water into the air. The nearest children were immediately drenched and started to wail and flail their arms like hideous marionettes. Buoyed as if by the current of this incoherent noise, the rest of the children attempted to jostle their way out of the mob and the throng fanned outwards, nearly bowling me off my feet.
“Calm—!” I yelled reflexively, although my voice was easily drowned out by the sound of the stampede. “Calm down!”
Now several of the children had suffered bruises and—to my disgust—bites, and nearly all of them were making some sort of disjointed screeching noise like a nest of dying pterodactyls. Upon hearing my exclamation, several of them dropped down on their knuckles and scampered, aptly ape-like, towards me.
“Who are you?”
“Do you have a Band-Aid?”
“My nose is runny!”
The latter of these creatures blew her nose loudly into her hand. The girl with the water gun was now running around the playground dousing everyone she came near and laughing in a pitch high enough to upset the neighbourhood cats.
“I’m Richard,” I shouted over the din. “Your new prefect.”
“That’s a dumb name!”
“What are you doing on the playground?”
“What’s prefect mean?”
“Well, it means I’m your supervisor and—oh!” The girl with the fistful of snot had grabbed onto my blazer sleeve. “And that is a very expensive jacket!”
She grinned, showing a mouthful of sharp fangs. “Richard loves his jacket!”
“Do not talk to me that—hey!” One of the more daring of the kids had snatched my notebook from my backpack and was streaking through the crowd with it held triumphantly above his head. Furious and trying to ignore the fact that I had just been upstaged by a boy with an IQ lower than that of an average Chihuahua, I gave chase.
I didn’t notice the girl with the water gun until it was too late.
From head to toe a triumphant stream of water soaked me wet. My shoes, my trousers, my already snot-spotted jacket—all of it was doused in a matter of seconds. As I cried out and tried to clean myself off I noticed something fluttering down past my head—the boy, now perched victoriously on top of the jungle gym, was shredding my notebook page by page.
Thinking back, I can now pinpoint that distinct moment as the second when my dislike of children began, when my boredom and annoyance and vague condescension were pushed beyond some critical threshold into loathing. I hated being forced to stand here, serving as a glorified babysitter to a band of miniature thugs. I hated their blank, stupid faces belied by expressions of calculating evil. I hated myself for willingly submitting to this assignment, this humiliating theatre, this exercise in tolerance that had clearly crushed me in mortifying defeat.
I seized the water gun. The girl shrieked and swiped desperately at the air, trying to snatch it back, but I was holding it too far above her head for her to reach.
“You have to give it back!” Already her face was pink with effort. She bit her lip, clearly fighting back petulant tears.
“Who says that I have to do anything?”
“It’s my water gun, it’s mine, I need it, so you have to give it back to me!” Her chubby cheeks creased into an expectant pout.
I felt a smile breaking across my face.
“You need it, do you? Well maybe you should have thought of that before you drenched me like a little moron.”
She gave up the pout and jabbed her finger into my sternum with surprising force. “What’s moron mean?”
I leant down, so that her scarlet face, contorted with malice, dripped with rage inches from mine.
“It means that you’re stupid.”
I flung the gun to the ground and stamped it to bits. I was wearing tailor-made Italian loafers—the water ruined them.