Yesterday's Magazette

9 – Boy Scout’s Honor

Boy Scout’s Honor

Art and Story By Richard Ong

“Hey, Francis, did the uniforms come in yet?” I stood on tiptoe and tried to peer above the broad shoulders of my friend and schoolmate in Grade Six.

“Yeah. They just arrived,” he said in a voice that sounded more like a low growl. Francis was unusually tall and big-boned for his age. We were both twelve and in the final year of elementary school. Compared to him, I probably looked like his younger brother.

“Julius is bringing the packages to us,” Francis said. Julius was my other friend. He was as short and stout in stature as I was lean. We each carried our precious box and ran upstairs into the student’s lounge. Each package contained our brand new scout’s uniform. I ripped out the tapes on each side of my box and lifted the cover.

I smiled at what I saw. Francis made a whopping sound as he hoisted up his own light-brown shirt. Julius smelled the green neckerchief and caressed the soft fabric against his face.

Francis was ecstatic. He wore his new shirt with an unpaired button dangling below the collar.

“Guys! Tomorrow is the first day we get to wear these uniforms. I hope we get assigned to some duties where the girls can see us.”

All of the boy scouts in Grade Six stood at attention the next day under the blistering heat of the morning sun. There were about a hundred-and-twenty of us lined up and divided into twelve squads. Our squad leader, Gilbert, stood erect like a ramrod on one end of our line. With the sweat on our brows, we listened to Lawrence, our platoon leader, demonstrate how to properly fold and wear our neckerchiefs and slides. Lawrence’s own neatly folded neckerchief was red, a sign of his authority. Ours, including Gilbert’s, were green.

“The most important thing that you should remember,” Lawrence said as he rolled the length of the demonstration neckerchief into several folds, “is to be prepared at all times. A scout must set an example as a leader among his peers.”

Leaving an unfolded triangular flap at the center, he placed the neckerchief around a volunteer’s neck and turned to show the soft wooden slide in front of us. “This slide, as you can see, is carved in the shape of a carabao head. The water buffalo is a kind, gentle beast of burden favored by all farmers. It represents the industrious, selfless and patient qualities that a scout should aspire to in service to his fellow men.” He turned around and swiftly pulled the free ends of the neckerchief through the center hole of the slide. He then drew the slide up and secured it just below the collar like a tie.

“Team, here are your assigned tasks,” Gilbert said as he read the duty roster. “During recess, Francis will monitor the crossover bridge between buildings on the third floor to make sure that there are no kids running carelessly through that path. Julius will join the clean-up crew to put away all the equipment after the senior scouts’ marching drill in the basketball court.”

“What?” Julius suddenly stood up. “I’m going to be a janitor?”

“Sit down!” Gilbert said and Julius did as he was told. “These duties are going to rotate within the team so that everyone gets to do a bit of everything over the next few days, so don’t feel like you’re being singled out to do some of the more menial labor.”

“What about me?” I asked.

“Ahh, you got the jackpot by the end of the day, Richard.” Gilbert grinned. “You get to stay late after school and help the other scouts act like a human barrier off the sidewalk. Your jobs are to stand shoulder-to-shoulder at parade rest like a human chain, discouraging any pedestrian from jaywalking off the school property during rush hour. You must be at your designated position at exactly half past four, no later than that, is that clear?”

“Sir!” I answered.

During the fifteen-minute recess, I walked over to where Francis stood at one of the bridges. Another scout guarded the other end and waved at us. Francis laughed and waved back. The tails of his shirt were dangling over his shorts and he wore the neckerchief with the slide way below the collar.

“Umm … Francis, I think you should….” I didn’t get a chance to finish my sentence, as Francis blew a loud appraising whistle to two pretty girls crossing the bridge towards us. I straightened my neckerchief and smiled. “Hi, Melissa. Hello, Sabrina. How are you doing today?”

“My, don’t you look cute in that outfit,” Melissa said and the two of them giggled.

“Ahh … Sabrina,” Francis said, “W–would you mind if I give you a call this weekend?”

Sabrina swept her hair back and wrinkled her nose. “That depends. Are you planning to take a shower this week?”

“Ouch!” I laughed. “I think that you just hurt his feelings, Sabrina. No worries. In case he’s not available, I think that I can accommodate you both in my social calendar.” Melissa pinched me and Sabrina stuck out her tongue.

When the girls left, Francis and I were suddenly startled by a loud crash below us. We ran towards the rail and looked down just in time to see Julius on his hands and knees picking up the pieces of a drum set and cymbals. One of the senior scout squad leaders was walking towards him with a dark cloud on his face.

“Poor Julius,” I said. “This was probably not what he expected on his first day in uniform.”
“You’re telling me!” Francis threw up his hands. “I have never felt more humiliated in my life. I thought that I would impress Sabrina with my new uniform.”

“Perhaps, if you were to tuck your shirt in.”

“Oh, just be quiet.”

The day was long and hot. I decided to take a quick nap at around four o’clock after school.
Gilbert woke me up with an angry look on his face. “We were looking all over for you, Richard. You were supposed to be at your post on the street fifteen minutes ago! Get up and get your lazy butt moving, pronto!”

I scrambled up from the desk and nearly tripped as I grabbed my hat and ran out of the classroom, down two flights of stairs and out the main gates. I elbowed my way through the thick crowd of departing students toward the sidewalk and saw a gaping hole in place of where I should have been among the human chain. I quickly took my position and was about to do the parade rest when I suddenly felt a hand clamp down on my left shoulder.

I saw the red neckerchief and slowly raised my head to look into the eyes of our platoon leader.


“I’m very disappointed in you, Richard,” Lawrence said in a soft, but firm-sounding voice. “A good scout must always be punctual. You cannot be late even for a minute, do you understand?”

I nodded.

“What would happen if during the time that you’re not there, one of the kindergarten school kids was to suddenly make a break through the hole in the barrier? Would you tell his parents that because of your tardiness, an unfortunate accident sent their child to the hospital?”

I didn’t know what to say and simply lowered my eyes.

“That’s what I thought. I want you to remember what it means to wear that uniform while you do fifty pull-downs on this spot before resuming your duties. Now.”

I swallowed hard and looked at all the faces of the pedestrians that were staring at me as they walked by our line. I crossed both arms in front of my chest and grabbed the lobes of my ears on opposite sides of my face. With my arms locked in this position, I pulled on my ears and my knees bent down and up fifty times while Lawrence continued his inspection of the team.

“Man, that was a bummer,” Julius said. “That senior smarty pants what’s-his-name made me do thirty push-ups for accidentally dropping his team’s drum set.”

We were back at the student lounge and getting ready to leave for the day. Julius laid on the couch while Francis tried to cool himself in front of the portable air-conditioner.

“That’s nothing,” Francis said. “They made me write the same sentence one hundred times across the board in very small letters. I couldn’t feel my hand afterwards.”

“What did they make you write?” Julius asked.

“Something about his personal hygiene,” I said.

Julius laughed and Francis bopped him on the head.

“We totally messed up,” I said. “Lawrence was right. Being a scout is more than just wearing a fancy uniform. We neglected the responsibilities that came with it. In a way we were lucky, this time. Things could’ve been a lot worse if we didn’t have leaders like Gilbert and Lawrence to set us straight.”

“Amen to that,” someone said and I felt a firm grip on my shoulder. I turned around and stared at the red neckerchief neatly secured by a wooden carabao head just below the collar. Lawrence smiled and I knew that I would never disappoint him again.

Vol. 37 No. 3 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Fall – 2010


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