My Time at the International Boarding School for the Fostering of Excellence
Electric Lit is committed to publishing—and paying writers—through the pandemic without any layoffs or pay cuts. Please consider supporting us during this difficult time. Donate here.
New Fiction by Etgar Keret
When I was little, my Mom had only one fear — that I’d grow up to be ordinary.
Our family, as everyone knows, has been ordinary going back four generations. Really nice, but so normal you could die.
And my Mom wasn’t going to let me end up like that too.
That’s why, from the day I was born, she and my Dad saved their pennies, and when I was 12, they sent me to the International Boarding School for the Fostering of Excellence in Switzerland.
The International Boarding School placed a very strong emphasis on achievement and uniqueness, and its graduates were known the world over for excellence in their fields. The fields themselves didn’t matter to the administration as long as the child excelled at them. In my class, for example, Caroline was studying to be the most beautiful, and Raul was already the most obnoxious and constantly hassled Yu-Lin, who was the most pathetic.
The teacher seated me at a desk with someone whose name nobody knew, but one quick look at him was enough to see that he was the kid who wanted the most. No one knew what he wanted, because he never spoke. But his eyes were open really wide, trying to see, and his tongue was always waving around in his mouth, as if it was tasting something not there, and that golf ball in his throat went up and down every few seconds the way it does when you swallow.
If I’d known what that kid wanted, I would have killed for him to have it. But I didn’t and neither did the teachers. They didn’t even try to find out — it was enough that he excelled at wanting it.
So I spent a whole year staring at the kid without a name. A year during which Caroline had a cheekbone transplant and Yu-Lin tried to kill herself twice.
We were considered a very successful class, except for me and maybe Raul, who occasionally disappointed with uncontrollable displays of niceness. In a desperate attempt to show his commitment, Raul killed our biology teacher. But as the pedagogical advisors told his parents, it was too little too late, and we were both expelled.
The charter flight home was unpleasant. I knew my parents would still love me, but I was afraid of their disappointment when they found out what I always knew — that I was just like everyone else.
No one spoke on the way home from the airport, and when we arrived, it was already dark. Mom looked at the bags of frozen vegetables in the fridge and asked in a choked voice whether I wanted anything. I closed my eyes and knew I wanted. I wanted something. Without a name, but with a smell and a taste. I didn’t want it the most, not half as much as that kid who sat next to me at school, but for me, it was somehow enough.
Translated by Sondra Silverston
÷ ﬂ ÷ ﬂ ± Ω ∞ Ω ± ﬂ ÷ ﬂ ÷
Born in Ramat Gan in 1967, Etgar Keret has been published in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Zoetrope. Keret resides in Tel Aviv and lectures at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. In 2007, Keret and Shira Geffen won the Cannes Film Festival’s “Camera d’Or” Award for their movie Jellyfish, and Best Director Award of the French Artists and Writers’ Guild. In 2010, Keret was honored in France with the decoration of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. His books have been published abroad in 37 languages in 40 countries. His latest book, The Seven Good Years, a memoir, was published in the U.S. in June.
Originally published at electricliterature.com on November 16, 2015.