The Mischievous Nerd's Guide to World Domination
Author: Stephen Oberauer

Chapter 4
Two years ago


It was a sunny day in 1989, but we were stuck indoors at school, with the teacher waffling away and scribbling some nonsense on the chalk board. I was leaning back in my desk when I heard the sweet sound of Ruth’s voice whispering to me as she leaned over from the desk behind me. There was something magical about her voice. It could increase my temperature while making me shiver, and speed up my pulse while calming me down, ‘Hi Nathan’. I savoured the moment, and then turned my head and greeted her back. She didn’t normally sit there, but had sneaked over while the teacher had her back turned.

Her best friend, Janine, had made her way over to Ruth’s desk, and watched while she whispered into my right ear, ‘Do you like Janine?’

What? Ruth was the only girl I had ever liked, and she was asking me if I liked her friend! I wondered which one of my twisted, childish friends had given her that idea. Suddenly I realized that this was probably the only chance I’d ever get to find out if she liked me back, and I had to figure out a subtle way to tell her that I liked her.

‘No, I like her friend‘, I said quietly and looked at the floor next to me. I looked back to see if she would be smart enough to figure out what I was talking about.

She looked puzzled, came a little closer and asked ‘Do you like me?’

‘Yes’, I replied.

She screamed! The teacher jumped, leaving an untidy dash in the middle of her sentence, and dropped the chalk, which shattered on the ground. Twenty curious faces turned to face us. Ruth was caught like a deer in headlights, while everyone waited, expecting her to explain why she had just screamed. ‘Nathan likes me,’ she responded to the silence.

After five years I had found out how she felt and my heart was crushed. The class continued as if nothing had happened.

Ruth, now highly embarrassed, leaned forward again and whispered, ‘You silly fool,’ and wacked her book against my head, as if it was my fault.

I should have gone to rehabilitation after that, but I just had to deal with it by myself. My mathematical brain had worked things out as follows: There are about 200 girls in this school and I like 1 of them, so I assumed that the chance of a girl liking me must also be 1 in 200. The chance that I will like a girl and she will like me are about 1 in 200 multiplied by 1 in 200; that’s 1 in 40,000. Add to that the chance of her actually finding out that I like her and the chance of us doing something about it and my miscalculated 1 in 100,000 chance of getting a girlfriend had just been completely flushed down the toilet.

I burst into tears.

In case you’re wondering how such an intelligent boy can make such a bad mathematical mistake, it’s simply because I had too much faith in my own brain. As a young and ignorant boy I trusted myself so much that I avoided double checking my conclusions.

There was something else on my mind as well. Being a rather God-fearing boy, I knew my bible backwards, including the verse which said that anyone who called someone a fool would be in danger of the fire of hell.

If I understood it correctly, it meant that Ruth could be in danger of going to hell, for calling me a fool. That worried me quite a lot and so it had just become my duty to save her soul and stop her from calling people fools, because she obviously didn’t know how bad it was to do so, so I decided that on the Monday morning I would leave a note on her desk, asking her to read the verse. We had bibles in the classroom, as this was still back in the time when bible reading and singing hymns were part of going to school.

On the Monday morning I cut out a small piece of paper and wrote down, ‘Dear Ruth, please read Matthew 5 verse 22’. I had to wait for the opportunity to put it on her desk without her knowing that it was me. I was really scared of talking to her. I know it sounds silly, but that’s just the effect that she had on me. At lunch time, when no-one was in the class room, I sneaked into the class, placed the piece of paper on her desk at the back and left. After the lunch break, while children were returning to their desks, she read the note. It was quite different to how I expected it to be. I thought that she would just read the note, and quietly look up the verse, but that was not the case. She showed it to her friends and soon the whole class was looking up the verse and guessing who the anonymous author of the note could be.

One of the boys asked me if it was me, and even though I was scared that she would find out, I said ‘yes’, because I always told the truth. Excitedly, he walked over to Ruth and told her who the random note writer was, but she ignored him, and his voice was lost amongst the rest of the children’s voices which were also telling her who they thought it could be.

So, that was what happened between Ruth and me two years ago, and most of my scars have healed.

Ruth didn’t occupy my mind for too long that evening, because the waft of supper made it’s way up into my room and made my stomach’s needs take over my brain. My mom’s voice came through the intercom on the wall next to my bed, ‘Supper’s ready!’ Perfect timing, I thought, as I got up and climbed down the ladder and into the passage. Supper that night was lasagne, which was one of my many favourite meals that my mom would cook.

The four of us gathered around the small kitchen table and my mom asked me to pray, so we all closed our eyes as I recited our generic prayer, ‘Dear God, thank you for this food and please bless it to our bodies. Amen.’ We sat down to eat and my mom started dinner conversation, ‘How was school today, Nathan?’

‘Embarrassing,’ I responded. I proceeded to tell her about the bell.

My older brother, Rupert, was listening carefully. ‘Thanks, Nathan’, he responded, ‘Thanks to you, I spent half an hour longer in Afrikaans class than I had to.’ He pushed his glasses into place and continued to eat.

(Afrikaans is a language we have to learn in school in South Africa. It’s similar to Dutch, but is only spoken in this country, and since it’s not useful anywhere else in the world, most English speaking children don’t like being forced to learn it.)

‘How was your day, Rupert?’ my mom asked my brother.

‘You mean besides wasting two perfectly good hours in Afrikaans?’ He glared at me. ‘It was actually okay, because we learned some interesting stuff in mathematics. We learned equations for parabolas.’

‘What are parabolas?’ I asked, curiously.

‘They’re like this,’ he replied, drawing a shape in the air with his finger.

‘What’s so great about them’, I asked.

‘Well, imagine this serviette was a hard material, like wood or metal. Now, if I fold it into a parabola shape,’ he cupped his hand and put the serviette in it, ‘then any sound from this direction would reflect into this exact point, and if you put a microphone here, then …’

‘Then all the sound from a single direction would be reflected into the microphone and you could hear a conversation from a long distance,’ I interrupted, excitedly.

‘Exactly,’ Rupert agreed.

Seeing the big smile appear on my face, my mom shook her head. She could see the cogs turning in my head. ‘Can you make that shape on your lathe?’ I asked my dad, a Swiss watchmaker, who had all the right tools for making shapes.

‘All right, but after supper,’ my dad replied. He could see that Rupert and I were ready to leave our half eaten meals to make a parabola.

Soon our meals were finished and my brother and I were heading off to my dad’s work room. ‘I hope you’re not going to spy on anyone,’ my mom said, rather hopefully, but the two of us pretended to be too far away to hear, as that was exactly what we intended using it for.

By 8pm the parabola shaped wooden thing was ready with a small microphone from one of my brother’s many electronic kits. We climbed up the ladder into my room to conduct our little science experiment. I detached the ear pieces from a pair of headphones, plugged the microphone into the amplifier and we each listened in one ear piece in order to hear what the device would pick up. The room was silent, as we waited patiently to hear something, carefully aiming the microphone through the window. The rain had stopped, which was perfect for us.

‘Turn it up. I can’t hear anything,’ Rupert requested.

I turned the volume up until the headphones started to buzz, but we couldn’t hear anything else. ‘Wait, I think I heard something,’ Rupert whispered, and aimed it a little to the right into the neighbour’s yard. We remained quiet for a few seconds, listening as hard as we could.

‘WOOF!’ We jumped! The neighbour’s dog had barked and it was loud! Two naughty grins sat smiling at each other. We had successfully spied on our neighbour’s dog. Just then it started to rain again and all we could hear was the sound of the rain. We would have to try again another time.

The rain continued to pour right through the night, but with all the excitement I didn’t sleep well. I kept thinking about all the uses for such a device and how I could find out what everyone was up to. I would have to obtain a portable amplifier, so that I could conduct my experiments in school, which is of course where science experiments belong.


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