“My old school was much better than this dump”, Simon mumbled to himself sulkily, and casually kicked at an empty plastic drinks bottle, causing it to skate noisily across the grey tarmac.
He shuffled slowly across the playground, head down and hands thrust deeply into the pockets of his stiff new uniform trousers.
“Why on earth couldn’t Dad have just stayed in his old job? Why the hell did we have to move halfway across the flipping country?”
He knew all the answers already of course. Mum had gone to great lengths to carefully explain all of the very sensible and perfectly logical reasons.
“Oh but it’s such a great opportunity for your father darling, a much better job and we’ve found a lovely new house. Right out in the country. You’re really going to love it there.”
Simon mimicked his mother’s oozing platitudes under his breath as he continued to pursue the mangled bottle slowly around the playground. It was alright for her. She didn’t have to come to this grotty place every day. His mobile buzzed angrily in his trouser pocket, prompting him to roll his eyes skywards. Nobody else ever wanted to text him, so it could only signal yet another message from Mum. Simon pulled the phone from his pocket.
“Hop you haven’t a lolly day dear”
Mum didn’t seem to understand any of the obvious pitfalls of the modern spell-check system and clearly never bothered to read her hastily typed messages before pressing the send button, leaving Simon to decipher the often very garbled missives that arrived throughout the day, usually with all too annoying frequency. Neither did she seem to understand the subtle complexities of emojis, but since discovering those “pretty little pictures” on her phone, insisted on appending at least one to every single message she sent. Today’s offering was a green puke emoji.
“Well at least she got that right”, mumbled Simon under his breath.
He tapped out “NO!” in angry capitals, followed by a thumbs down and pressed send. He hated everything about this new school. He hated the strict, surly teachers, the obnoxious, stuck up pupils who never spoke to him. He hated the oversized dark green blazer that itched at his neck and hung on his small, skinny body like a stiff green sandwich board. Most of all he hated the fact that after four and a half weeks, he still didn’t have a single friend to share his misery with.
“Got any chocolate, maggot?”
Simon didn’t need to turn around to recognise that voice. Tommy Hearn, the only boy in school who ever spoke to him. Five feet six and almost as wide, with a gut that hung over his straining trouser belt like a huge wobbling sack. The thug looked for all the world like a nightclub bouncer, with a skinhead haircut that showed every gnarled contour of his misshapen skull. For his age, he was a giant of a boy, with minimal neck and even less personality. Every uttered word was an insult, a put down or a menacing demand for food or money. Simon turned slowly to face the all too familiar ugly visage and told him quietly and politely that he didn’t have any food.
“And I haven’t got any money either!”, he added, already anticipating the next question. Unfortunately, Tommy must have picked up on the slightest hint of nervous deceit in Simon’s voice.
“Liar! Open your bag!”
Frustratedly, Simon told him to go away, but this time with a slightly stronger choice of words. Words that his mother would be horrified to hear him use. As he saw the angry look on Tommy’s face, he immediately regretted it and wished he had been just a little more restrained.
For such a well-padded boy, Tommy’s fist felt surprisingly solid as it slammed into Simon’s face, knocking him several feet backwards. Although slightly dazed, Simon could easily have steadied himself enough to stay on his feet, but even his very limited experience had already taught him that to remain standing would only invite further violence. He staggered back, falling to the floor as convincingly as he could, then lay motionless, clasping both hands to his swelling cheek. Tommy walked over slowly, perhaps still in search of something to fill that enormous gut. Simon had considered that possibility already and thankfully had the foresight to tuck his bag neatly beneath his body as he fell.
“What a wimp!” Sneered Tommy, standing astride him and launching a large glob of green phlegm towards his limp, prone body. It splatted loudly against Simon’s blazer and remained there solid and glistening on his lapel like a small shiny badge of shame. Simon didn’t move. He waited until Tommy was well out of sight before slowly getting back to his feet. He rubbed at his sore cheek, tried to clean up his blazer as best he could with a tissue, then wandered to the very far end of the school field, before unwrapping a large bar of Fruit and Nut and biting off a comforting chunk. Yes, he hated school and now, he also remembered how much he hated that overgrown ape, Tommy Hearn!
Afternoon lessons did nothing to cheer Simon’s sullen mood in any way at all. Fridays timetable always ended with, joy of all joys, a double period of ‘Physical Education’.
“What a ridiculous name for a subject!” he mumbled to himself under his breath. as he made his way reluctantly to the changing rooms. Simon’s puny muscleless body was simply not cut out for the rigorous exertion required for such unceasingly strenuous sporting activities. In fact the only ‘education’ that he had ever gleaned from any type of ‘Physical Education’ was that however hard he tried, he was never going to be any good at it. To make matters worse, just as he jogged miserably towards the football pitch, his boot studs clacking loudly against the tarmac, it began to drizzle. Even the weather seemed to be mocking him today. Within minutes he was soaked though, his shirt clinging tightly to his skinny body as if deliberately emphasising his complete lack of a manly physique. For nearly an hour Simon ambled, jogged and more often than not, just stood motionless on the breezy football pitch, shivering in his paper-thin and now semi-transparent sports kit, with absolutely no ambition beyond avoiding that hated ball at all costs. Thankfully, his endeavours were reasonably successful today. He was only required to demonstrate his complete lack of ball skill and poor coordination on a few brief, but predictably embarrassing occasions.
As the final long whistle sounded, signalling a very welcome end to the afternoons purgatory, there was still just enough time for one demeaning humiliation before home time. Strung out, in small groups, with Simon trailing along miserably behind, the boys headed for the changing rooms and the school showers. It was of intense shame and embarrassment to Simon that at thirteen, his skinny white body steadfastly refused to show hardly any of the usual signs of maturity that most other boys of his age now proudly displayed in abundance. Back in the noisy changing rooms, in a carefully planned and well-practised routine, Simon undressed painfully slowly, thus ensuring that even if the water were now running a little cold, the showers would at least be far less populated. His towel remained tightly wound around his boney hips until the very last minute. Then, as he finally entered the cramped wet showers, he was forced to resort to his last line of defence, a large bottle of ‘Spice of Africa’ shower gel, clamped firmly to his groin. He showered quickly, never facing outwards, then after meticulously reversing his choreographed routine for a safe and humiliation-free exit, he dressed with far more vigour than he would ever have displayed on the football pitch, with very little attention paid to drying himself off first.
Ten minutes later, with the clouds miraculously clearing and the first hint of blue sky appearing to the west, he was flying through the narrow country lanes on his trusty bicycle, his spirits immeasurable restored, as he headed for home.