At break time Mike ran the track. Lane number 3 was his favourite because it was the one he was running when he beat Jonathan. He also liked ‘It’, ‘British Bulldog’, ‘What’s the time Mr. Wolf?’ on the multicoloured ladder painted on the infants side of the playground and ‘fighting’, pretending to be heroic men from TV or of his own invention, based on men from the TV. But most of all he just liked running.
He could do maths OK and had stopped putting play-doh in his mouth after that time that Mrs Ellison had caught him and told him how disgusting it was and how he was too old to be doing it and was getting on better with English and could write almost half a page now before class finished without pinching his arm or tugging at his hair and crying. He liked making models of haunted houses out of cardboard with Joseph, his best friend in the whole world ever. He also liked his other friends, the ones in his gang, but they weren’t allowed to call it a gang, like Dennis who was in the year above but was their friend and who liked to protect them or Andy who had xmas on his hands and his feet or Kemal who was from Poland. Joseph was off this week because his granny lived in Scotland and she was sick and Dennis had moved up to the juniors and didn’t really hang around with them as much because they were infants.
Mike was crouched with one leg out and his hands forward on the ground like he saw Carl Lewis do. His heart sank like a stone and he stood up straight.
“Oi! What you doing?”
“Just gonna run” said Mike, staring at his battered Nicks and not even at the feet of Simon Addison. Simon Addison was the most famous kid in the school. He’d been on CBBC and not even on a gameshow where he got gunged. He was on Ghost Squad as Charlie and Raven Tower and said that he was going to be Kid Doolittle in Kid Doolittle which hadn’t even been made yet and was about a kid who solved crimes because he could talk to animals and they would help him because his mum was a scientist and his dad was a vet and he got a chemical on him but no one would believe him. Every Christmas he was at the centre of the choir and at every summer concert he was Michael Jackson and it didn’t even matter that every year he never wore the glove on the right hand because he could do the moonwalk and pull faces that made people laugh and would grab his willy just like Michael Jackson did. Simon had lots of friends and they all walked around together all the time. They were a proper gang.
“Unggh” said Simon, poking Mike in the chest. “You’re such a spastic. Why you running?”
“I just like running”
“Shut up. Unnngh. I just like running” he said, shoving his tongue behind his bottom lip and flailing his hand around in front of his face like his wrist was broken.
Simon and his friends were walking towards Mike. Mike backed away.
“My mum says that it’s not nice to do that” Mike said quietly as he stared at the floor at his own shoes and not even Simon’s shoes and walked backwards towards the wall.
“Because there are people who are really like that and they can’t help being like that and they have a hard time without...”
Mike had backed all the way up to the wall. He had nowhere else to go.
“Shut up! Why would I care what your mum says? Your sister tried to get into a 12 and my mum wouldn’t let her and next time she’s going to call your mum. This is a warning, yeah?”
Simon’s mum worked in the cinema and was also a member of the PTA. It was almost impossible to get into a film if you were too young. She knew everyone and would tell their parents.
Simon shoved Mike against the wall.
“Shut up” said Mike, quietly, still staring at his trainers.
“What?” said Simon
Mike didn’t say anything more
“What?” shouted Simon
“And I thought I told you to CUT YOUR HAIR!” Simon grabbed Mike’s hair and smacked his head against the brick wall. Mike fell to the floor and began to cry. Simon walked away with his gang, leaving him to weep.
A few days later, Simon approached him. Both boys were on their own, without their friends.
“What you doing?”
Mike stayed silent.
“My mum says that I have to say sorry to you. Sorry”
Simon held out his hand and looked away. Mike took his hand and shook it, just like he’d been shown to do by his dad. He tried to make it strong.
Simon looked at his shoes and kicked at the tarmac. Then a smile spread across his face.
“You like running, do you?”
“Are you fast?”
“Faster than me?”
Mike shrugged again.
“I’ve got an idea”
Mike looked at him
“I run from this wall to the end of the playground and back and you time it, then you see if you can beat it. We’ll time it on my watch”
Simon’s watch had a stopwatch. It also had tetris and could tell you the time in Japan and could control the video player and make the teacher really confused and think there was a ghost or something. It was the best watch Mike had ever seen.
“OK” said Mike, with quiet confidence. Simon was famous but he was also fat.
Simon showed him how to work the stopwatch function like he was talking to a baby, but Mike didn’t mind much because he was used to it.
Simon reset the watch and took his place by the far wall.
“On your marks!” said Mike
A small crowd had begun to form, as often happened with Simon at break time.
Simon could move fast for a boy of his size and bolted from the wall with a look of grim, angered determination. His jaw clenched along with his fists.
Past the ladder,
past the hopscotch,
past the frog,
and slapping the car that was painted on the far wall. Everyone cheered him on. Mike pressed stop as soon as Simon got back to the first wall.
Simon approached him, huffing.
“How... how did I do?”
Simon paced around, waiting for his breath to return before walking towards Mike.
“Good luck yeah?” he said, lightly punching Mike’s arm.
Mike nodded and took his position
He stared forwards.
“On your marks!”
His eyes skimmed over the tarmac and he imagined himself flying.
He stared at the wall. Through the wall. Through the houses behind it.
He said a tiny prayer.
Mike was the wind.
He was the very wind itself.
His feet turned to air and he began to fly.
He took off from the earth.
He took off from the earth and flew through the air, above the ladder painted on the ground, fast and beautiful and unstoppable and towards the sun.
But something went wrong. The hopscotch grid was flying towards him and suddenly he was numb and in lots of pain at the same time. He couldn’t see from his left eye and he couldn’t breathe and the shock climbed through his bones and pulsed in his hip and everyone was laughing and he could just hear a ringing, but he felt the noise jumping out of him in spasticated jerks and through one eye, through a wall of tears could see Mr Lawrence’s feet running towards him.
Mike wiped his eye and turned his to see Simon Addison howling with laughter.
Mike spread his homework over the floor in front of the telly and stared over his German textbook towards the children’s programs he held little interest in. He would conjugate every 5 minutes as he patiently waited for the succession of soaps and imported American science fiction dramas that would make up his evening. His mum walked in and stepped over him.
“Mike... honestly. Do you have to do your homework here?”
“Where else am I meant to do it?”
“You’ve got a desk! Why do you think we got you it?”
“It’s got all my models on it”
“Well, look. You shouldn’t be watching the telly at the same time, sitting on top of it like that. You’ll fall in. If you hurry up and finish, you can go round to Joe’s house. What’s the matter, don’t you wanna go round Joe’s?”
Mike shrugged. He really didn’t know. He stared at his German textbook.
His mum waved her hand dismissively at him.
“Ah well, suit yourself. I don’t know”
His mum walked out of the front room and left him to watch the Australian soap that had just started. About half an hour later she came back in with an ironing board. She set it up, facing the television and changed the channel.
“Hey! I was watching that”
This week ChronoMax was an olden times American president and had to sign a paper about the slaves or something.
“Well it’s not just about you, you know?”
She flicked up and down before resting on the news. Mike sighed but didn’t move.
Woher kommst du?
Wo wohnst du?
Ich wohne in...
C A T F
The front door went. Mike’s ears pricked up and something shrank in his tummy to the sound of ruslting and keys being put away. The living room door opened.
“Hello love” said his mum
“Mmm. Hello” said his dad
“How was work then?”
His dad didn’t answer, but instead carried on leafing through the post, sorting into piles of bills, junk and personal/unknown (the latter of which would again be sorted by name).
“Martin? Martin? I asked you how work was. Martin?”
“WORK. I asked you how WORK was”
“What? Yes, yes. It was fine...”
Mike’s father paced around the living room, opening the bills and almost stepping on his son.
“Oh, erh, sorry Mike”
He stopped pacing and looked at the boy.
“You alright? How are you getting on?”
Mike grinned up at his dad. His dad’s face softened for a fleeting moment before dropping into a stony look again.
“Mike, what have I told you about not sitting in front of the telly when you do your homework?”
His dad gave him a look that made him feel five years old.
“Why... why are you letting him do this?”
“What? Why are you asking me?”
“Because he’s doing it right in front of you. You’re encouraging him.”
“Encouraging him? What the hell are talking about? I have so much stuff to do here, I can’t be watching over him all the time. He’s getting old enough...”
Wie alt bist du?“Well, if I could be around here more often...”
Wie alt bist du?“I don’t know, downstairs I think. Don’t bloody ask me. Where are you going?”
Wie alt bist du?His mother came back in clutching a ceramic owl, one of a pair. The side of its face was destroyed.
Wie alt bist du?“What was it fucking well doing there?”
Wie alt bist du?“I don’t know, I had to put something under it to fix it”
Wie alt bist du?
“WHY COULDN’T YOU PUT A BOOK OR SOMETHING?? MY MOTHER GAME ME THESE!! THEY’RE RUINED”
Ich bin ____ Jahre alt.Mike’s mum threw the owl at his dad.
Ich bin ____ Jahre alt.It missed, smashing on the floor.
Ich bin ____ Jahre alt.His dad marched over to him mum.
Ich bin ____ Jahre alt.
She grabbed the iron and pulled back her arm, ready to hit him.
Ich bin ____ Jahre alt.Mike’s dad grabbed her wrist before she could make contact.
Ich bin ____ Jahre alt.
She started crying, desperately.
Ich bin zwolf Jahre alt.
Ich bin fünf Jahre alt.
Mike was quiet in the common room before registration the next morning. Everyone was talking about the episode of High Times that had been on that morning and how they wished their school could be like schools in America, where you could wear cool clothes and skateboard in the corridor and you didn’t have to wear uniforms and how they would bang Sandy Spitowski despite not knowing her real name or what banging really was. Mike had seen it too, and Mike fancied Sandy Spitowski. But Mike didn’t say much at all.
“Yo, Mike! YO!”
Scott hung back towards the end of the crowd, kicking, jeering and shuffling its way towards Mrs. Price’s English lesson.
“Yowwwwwwwwwww, mannnnnnnnn” he said in a deep American accent, holding out his fist. This made Mike laugh a little bit, and he nudged Scott but then quickly went back to staring at the floor in front of him as he walked.
“You alright, mate?”
Mike shrugged, still walking.
Mike shrugged again.
“Oh yeah, I got the new Powersquad comic. It’s alright, you know. I think since all those creators went and started UltraMax comix, they’re starting to get better because everyone likes the new ones. You know, they’re all gritty dark and stuff?”
“I’ll give you a read of it at lunch, yeah?”
Mike shrugged again.
Mike sat on the far table at lunch, away from most of his class. Scott sat next to him with a plate of chips, beans, sausages and pizza.
“Yowwwwwwwwwwww” he said again. Mike didn’t laugh this time. Scott got out the comic and passed it to Mike. Mike listlessly thumbed through it as Scott tucked in.
Mike looked up at Scott.
“I think my parents are getting a divorce”
Scott stopped eating and swallowed his mouthful.
“They just keep shouting. Last night it was really bad. My mum almost hit my dad with an iron”
“I don’t know. They were just arguing and he grabbed her hand but she looked like she was going to do it. She looked like she wanted to kill him”
Mike looked down at the comic again. The sound of the dining hall rose up again. The cheer, the laughter, the jeering and the brutality. The bitter stares from the lines of kids still queuing to come in, pushing, shoving, waiting for the roulette of pigeon shit to find today’s fated victim.
“Look man... it’s just. They’re funny, parents. They can be idiots sometimes, and your dad works really hard sometimes. I dunnno, they’re probably really stressed since your granddad got ill”
“What... what was it like...”
“When my parents divorced? It was horrible. They were arguing all the time and they hated each other but now my mum has Rodger and when they meet up now they sometimes even smile at each other. It was really bad for a while, but it gets better”
Mike smiled a little. Then his face dropped.
“They can’t do that!”
Mike was pointing at the last page.
“The Golden Angel was killed by Mayhem AGES ago when they had to team up with Dizzolve in the X Zone. Ages ago. Like, a year or something. How the hell can they bring him back?”
“I reckon its nanotechnology”
Mike walked over to Scott, who was drinking a can of pop and talking to Robin.
“Alright Mike, how you doing?”
“Fancy a race?”
“Tell you what... if you can beat me to the maths block and back, I’ll give you this mars”
“Why don’t you both give it to me now and save yourself the bother!”
“I don’t even know how you can run in those clig-clogs”
“What? These have got air in the soles, mate. AIR”
They both walked over to the small wall that faced the maths block and got ready in a standing position.
Scott’s size ten feet slapped firmly, then awkwardly, erratically against the playground. His feet slid and scuffed as he stumbled and fell forward. His arms flailed. His balanced fell away, as did his dignity as everyone near him began to laugh the crushing laugh of secondary school humiliation, stripping him of years. He took a moment as the pain sank through his hands and all the horrible things he ever thought about himself were suddenly true and travelled down his neck like ice, meeting the dull ache in his arms and legs. The burning shame seeped into his head and got hotter and hotter and didn’t go away even when the pain reduced to a sharp sting. The whole of the playground, the whole of the world stopped to laugh and jeer. Everyone except Mike.
Scott got up and breathed sharply through his teeth, waiting for the dizziness to stop. Mike stood with his foot still cocked at a right angle in Scott’s path, frozen in a look of slight shock. Scott marched up to him, tearing at the eyes and weeping through the tear in his knee, ignoring the pain.
“What the fuck, man?”
Mike said nothing.
“What the fuck?”
Mike said nothing.
Scott shoved Mike in his chest, pushing him over, and limped off, swearing and wiping the tears away from his eye in as masculine a way as he could manage. Mike sat on the playground floor as said nothing. As people laughed and howled he stared at his static shoes and imagined them moving.