Sanjiva Wijesinha -writer and physician

Short stories, Travel and Health Information

A Friend in Need

 Looking back on my primary school days, I often remember my old friend Anton Achilles.

Now Anton and I were not particularly close friends – we did not share the same interests or play the same sports for College or even attend the same place of religious worship. But Anton was my never-to-be-forgotten friend because ….

Let me tell you the story.

As pupils in the first form, when we would have been 7 or 8 years old, we had one of the most frightening Maths teachers one could imagine. When our kind class teacher Miss Agnes Bay first related to us small boys a story about an Ogre (which was a new word for most of us) I realized that it was just the appropriate word to describe this man – a fierce swarthy individual whose standard mode of dress was an old-fashioned homespun cotton safari suit. He was such a frightening personality that his very stare used to make us want to wet our pants.

The man had such a fierce demeanour that when in class he asked any of us a question (such as “How much is eight times eight?”) we were so scared that we might give the wrong answer, that invariably we would stammer out an incorrect answer. In those days teachers were allowed – nay they were EXPECTED – to administer corporal punishment to their pupils, even to boys as small as seven years old, so nary a day would pass without one of us getting a clout with the ruler from him. If we did not receive a physical blow, we were subject to the humiliation of having to “stand on the form” – being made to stand up on our seats until the class was over.

Our Maths class was usually held in the first period after lunch – and one day, after we had trooped back to class after spending the lunch interval playing, I was mortified to discover that I did not have my pencil with me.  Looking frantically in my pockets, to my horror I discovered a hole in my pocket – a small hole, but nevertheless one through which a schoolboy’s pencil could have slipped out. There was no time to go looking for the missing pencil because the master was coming in – so with a quick prayer that he would spend the period teaching rather than getting us to do some sums in our exercise books, I sat as quietly as I could in my place.

Luck seemed to be with me, because after we all stood up and dutifully chanted “Good afternoon Sir,” he turned to the blackboard, took up a piece of calk and started explaining some new work to us. After a short while, I started breathing more easily, and even managed to correctly answer one of the questions that he suddenly barked at me.

Unfortunately, just as I was beginning to think that I was safe, he finished explaining and turning round to us said “Now take out your exercise books and write down these sums – and complete them before the bell rings.”

What could I do? While all my classmates began opening their bags and taking out their books, I gingerly put up my hand – and when the Ogre’s gaze rested on me, I hesitantly said, “Sir, I think I have lost my pencil”.

“You have WHAT, I say?” he barked.

This was when I started to feel what Oliver Twist must have felt like.

“I’m sorry, sir, but I have lost my pencil.”

 Turning my pocket inside out, I showed him the hole (which I had managed to enlarge with my finger for added effect). “See, Sir, there is a hole in my pocket and the pencil must have fallen out.”

The master glared at me. “You have five minutes to go and get yourself another pencil” he snarled “otherwise you be careful!” and he made to shoo me out of the class.

It was at this point that Anton stood up. At a moment like this it required considerable courage to stand up, let alone to open one’s mouth. “YES, Achilles” thundered the master, his bulging eyes staring daggers at Anton.

“Sir” said Anton, “I have got two pencils. I can lend Wijesinha one.”

The old man stared at Anton, then at me, then at Anton again. “Wijesinha” he barked “you must thank this boy for his generosity. If not for him, you would have suffered a SEVERE thrashing from me for being careless!”

I gratefully walked up to Anton and accepted his extra pencil, and was able to complete the sums that we had been set. I don’t know if the sadistic old man was disappointed that he could not use the ruler on me.

But from that day onwards Anton was my friend – a friend from the days of my childhood whom I have never forgotten, even though he has now passed on and is no longer with us . He is someone who I will always remember with affection.

Isn’t that what is meant by having ‘A Friend in Need” – someone who sticks his neck out to help you when you are in need of help?

If you liked reading this tale from my childhood in Sri Lanka, more such stories can be found in my book Tales From my Island – available as an e-book from or from

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This entry was posted on July 18, 2020 by in Opinion, Short stories and tagged , , , , , .

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