I studied Latin right through secondary school. The longer I studied it, the fewer pupils there were. By the final year, I was the only one. Australia, cemetery of ancient tongues.
The man who taught me came from England, like the name of the college, and its architecture. Freaky was an old-style Classics master. He put MA (Oxon) after his name, which already had a hyphen, and now looked even longer. The word before the hyphen rhymed with freak, so we called him Freaky, with affection, but with accuracy. He stood out from the other staff. He must have taught Greek when there were pupils, but those days were gone. It would have helped my writing, my poetry of ridicule. He rhymed with Greek, too.
I knew Freaky for five years. At the start, he didn’t notice me, but, by the end, he looked dissatisfied. I was too quiet. You’d think that, with the help of puberty, I could make a noise, eventually. But I couldn’t. As a classicist, he valued public speaking. Public noise came first. He advised me to go somewhere deserted and shout at the top of my voice. I had a mentor now. Karate Kid II, in Roman numerals.
Let it out! Somewhere deserted. It was classic Freaky. I could have given him his own advice: Go on, Freaky, shout! He wasn’t the most assertive Latinist.
What did he care if I didn’t make a noise? The other teachers weren’t too bothered. I think, when he looked at me, he saw a version of himself when he was younger. A shiny, little Freaky. I had his bent shoulders, the same, dopey eyes, without the bushy thing below the nose. But there was hope for me. I could still avoid his life-in-diffidence. From my point of view, I saw a baby in a crib, silent, immobile, with a jacket and moustache.
There are advantages in being the only pupil. You come top, for a start. I had a rival on just one occasion. The State Latin-speaking Competition. Don’t laugh. There was one other entrant, a pupil from a different school, who, strangely, was not as good as me. Move on, you’re saying, but let’s stop a moment and grapple with my excellence at speaking. Freaky entered me, in the contest, I mean, to help me be assertive. He didn’t think I’d win.
How could someone who hardly spoke win a prize for speaking? Apparently, despite myself, I excel at pointless things. As for the Latin-speaking, it wasn’t conversation. We recited verse. I culled a few lines from Virgil’s Aeneid, the second book. Imagine that, a second book.
A teacher told me that Freaky was generous giving up his time for a single pupil. I was meant to feel grateful. For a few hours of Latin! Four, long years I had picked through that faultless skeleton.
Freaky’s disappointment was annoying. His lessons were nothing to shout in, or about. I took revenge and wrote my own verse. I put flesh on bone, in other words, then showed it to my friends.
Freaky want a tweaky up his little cock?
Does he want his scrotum strangled by a sock?
Does he want bananas up his smelly arse?
Does he want a fucking from an eager class?
Freaky could have said all this in Latin. He might have liked it, too. In places, the ancients are obscene. There was no word for banana. There were no bananas, not in Rome. Banana, bananae, first declension. Feminine. Not the ones I had in mind.
Freaky: Decline banana for me. Spaid: Just say no.