Tuesdays at Cheongster Cafe: Mr OB’s marker
by Felix Cheong
Mr OB’s Marker I
NO ONE ever found out what the OB in his name stood for. Some said obiang; others claimed it was short for ‘obey’. Whatever the urban legend, all the students needed to know was if Mr OB stood in front of you, you were done for.
Mr OB was the discipline master of Joo Chiat Primary School, currently occupying the premises of Bedok South Seaview Primary School which, in turn, had moved to Serangoon No-Seaview Primary School which, in turn, took over Joo Chiat Primary School. This musical-chair routine was generally viewed as a great showcase of social mobility.
The moment Rex Tan saw Mr OB on the first day of school, he was petrified. Though short and stout, Mr OB was packed solid with muscles. Even dust particles would bounce off him. For a man nearing 55, he still held himself ramrod straight, stomach in, chest out, always at attention. No wonder Mrs Hong, the school’s principal, had once described him as “one of the pillars of our school”. He was that strong.
Looking like an airborne ranger (which he was, in his younger days) wasn’t itself intimidating. Neither was it his voice that could startle babies all the way in Jurong East. It was the arbitrary way he wielded school rules.
One day, the girls could wear their hair long, tied neatly in a ponytail. The next, he would holler at them to trim it before he did it himself. One day, he would let the boys kick a plastic ball around in the field during recess. The next, he confiscated the ball, refusing to return it until a parent lodged a police report.
By far the most lethal weapon in Mr OB’s already formidable arsenal was a marker pen. It was so feared that even primary six boys, almost passing puberty with flying colours, retreated into childhood.
“Boo Lee!” he called out one morning along the corridor. Boo Lee was the primary five prefect who saw himself as a Mini-Me version of Mr OB. Rex, on his way to the toilet, watched the scene in awe from behind a wall.
“Yes?” Boo Lee said, swaggering towards him. He fancied himself due for a compliment, especially after he had just caught two latecomers climbing the school gate. Mr OB came within spitting distance. He smelled like the jungle, all wild and creepy.
“Where’s your prefect tie!” Mr OB said. Being in the army most of his life had marched all punctuation from his language.
“I left my tie at home,” Boo Lee said.
“I left my tie at home, Sir!” Mr OB barked.
“I left my tie at home, Sir!” Boo Lee repeated.
“Where’s your school badge!” Mr OB barked.
“I left my school badge at home, Sir!”
“What did you not leave at home!” Mr OB barked again.
“My mobile phone, Sir!”
“Give me your phone!”
Boo Lee dutifully handed it over. What was Mr OB up to?
“Your phone is black!” Mr OB barked.
“All mobile phones must be white. White socks, white shoes, white uniform!”
Boo Lee looked startled – he had not heard of such a rule.
“You know the importance of white!” Mr OB continued barking.
“I don’t know, Sir!”
“White shows up dirt. Anything not white is not clean!”
For the rest of the day, Boo Lee wore a mark on his forehead. His classmates, who had never liked the cocky bully, had a field day sniggering at him. He could not touch the mark or wash it off till the end of the day.
Made with a marker, it simply said, “OB.”
Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang.
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