Diablos: the name given to the igniting of, and ignited, farts. Trevor Hickey is the undisputed master of this arcane and perilous art. The stakes could not be higher. Get the timing even slightly wrong and there will be consequences far more serious than singed trousers; the word backdraught clamours unspoken at the back of every spectator’s mind. Total silence now as, with an almost imperceptible tremble (entirely artificial, ‘just part of the show’ as Trevor puts it) his hand brings the match between his legs and – foom! a sound like the fabric of the universe being ripped in two, counterpointed by its opposite, a collective intake of breath, as from Trevor’s bottom proceeds a magnificent plume of flame – jetting out it’s got to be nearly three feet, they tell each other afterwards, a cold and beautiful purple-blue enchantment that for an instant bathes the locker room in unearthly light.
No one knows quite what Trevor Hickey’s diet is, or his exercise regime; if you ask him about it, he will simply say that he has a gift, and having witnessed it, you would be hard-pressed to argue, although why God should have given him this gift in particular is less easy to say. But then, strange talents abound in the fourteen-year-old confraternity. As well as Trevor Hickey, ‘The Duke of Diablos’, you have people like Rory ‘Pins’ Moran, who on one occasion had fifty-eight pins piercing the epidermis of his left hand; GP O’Sullivan, able to simulate the noises of cans opening, mobile phones bleeping, pneumatic doors, etc., at least as well as the guy in Police Academy; Henry Lafayette, who is double-jointed and famously escaped from a box of jockstraps after being locked inside it by Lionel. These boys’ abilities are regarded quite as highly by their peers as the more conventional athletic and sporting kinds, as is any claim to physical freakishness, such as waggling ears (Mitchell Gogan), unusually high mucous production (Hector ‘Hectoplasm’ O’Looney), notable ugliness (Damien Lawlor) and inexplicably slimy, greenish hair (Vince Bailey). Fame in the second year is a surprisingly broad church; among the two-hundred-plus boys, there is scarcely anyone who does not have some ability or idiosyncrasy or weird body condition for which he is celebrated.
As with so many things at this particular point in their lives, though, that situation is changing by the day. School, with its endless emphasis on conformity, careers, the Future, may be partly to blame, but the key to the shift in attitudes is, without a doubt, girls. Until recently the opinion of girls was of little consequence; now – overnight, almost – it is paramount; and girls have quite different, some would go so far as to say deeply conservative, criteria with regard to what constitutes a gift. They do not care how many golf balls you can fit in your mouth; they are unmoved by third nipples; they do not, most of them, consider mastery of Diablos to be a feather in your cap – even when you explain to them how dangerous it is, even when you offer to teach them how to do it themselves, an offer you have never extended to any of your classmates, who would actually pay big money for this expertise, or you could even call it lore – wait, come back!