Waves (Part II)
By Mark Burrow
My stomach is hurtin by lunch. I swear I’m fucken droolin in the queue with my plate, waitin for chips and a burger. I see it’s the nice dinner lady and I ask her for more chips and she says, There you go darlin, in her thick Jamaican accent.
Looking for a place to sit makes my head hurt, having to figure what fool is sittin where and whether I’ll get started on or not. That’s all school is, and on The Grove, and fucken indoors, always on the lookout for fights.
I see a table with fools on I know won’t cause trouble. I put my tray on the table and squeeze ketchup on the chips and shake lots of salt, taking the squelchy onions out my burger cos they’re gross, and then put more ketchup on and I have to hurry cos my stomach is pinchin so bad.
The food slides into my belly. I see the kids on the table lookin at me and I know I’m eating too fast. It’s not like this is Maccy D's. The burger is cold and hard and the chips are soft an sad with black spots. The kids get bored starin at me and carry on talking. I sort of listen in, hearing how someone has been racist to a teacher and they’re gunna be expelled.
I realise it’s maths in the afternoon with Mr Cole an I want to bunk off cept I can’t.
I put my tray on the trolley rack and walk out, not makin eye contact with anyone cos that’s how trouble starts.
I cross the main square, which is the fucken danger zone for gettin picked on at lunch. Anne is sitting away by the home economics block, where she told me she’d be, reading a book. She didn’t want to come and eat lunch. When I asked her, she acted as if I’d said somethin awful, shaking her head, and I guess that’s why she’s all bones. She looks more like a boy than a girl.
What you readin? I say, sitting down.
She shows me the book.
She puts her book marker on the page and closes the cover. I look around and reckon it’s safe enough to light a fag.
You smoke? she says.
You know it causes cancer?
Everyone knows that. It’s what me grandad died off of.
She goes to speak and then doesn’t bother.
We don’t say much for a bit. It feels extra awks when things go stills with a girl. My head pinballs and then I say, How come you were off for so long?
I just was.
Were you sick?
Sort of. No.
I think about what else to say and go, Where’d you live again?
That’s over the road from me.
She pops gum in her mouth. I know, she says, you’ve told me before, The Grove.
What’s it like?
Fine. Dad never lets me go out. He doesn’t let me do anything.
I can do whatever I like.
I’d love that.
Yeah, I say.
What? You don’t sound sure.
Nah, it’s good.
He wants to move, she says.
She shrugs and says, Mum wants to go back home.
I’m not Chinese. They hate China. We’re from Vietnam.
Is it near China?
Dad won’t go back. It’s mum, she misses her mum and dad.
I’ve never been to a foreign country.
I’ve been to Margate once.
What? You never been?
You’re funny. If I could live anywhere, she goes, I’d live in America.
I must’ve pulled a moody face cos she says, Don’t you like America?
I ain’t sure what to say but there’s this feelin in me that I don’t rate America much. I had this supply teacher once and she was from America and she was so fake and she fucken lectured me, goin on and on when I says I don’t believe in God to her. Seriously Bible Bashin me, her and the fucken Born Again Christians in the class. I don’t tell Anne, though, I just say, Nah nah, America would be alright, I reckon. Better than here anyway.
Tell me about it, she says and she moves her fingers to have a puff.
But you said you don’t like it.
Does smoking stop you getting hungry?
I think it over. Yeah, it does, you know.
She takes the fag and smokes. She doesn’t cough or anything.
I watch her strike poses, holding her fag upwards, pretending to be a posh lady.
We’re both creasin.
I tell Anne I think she’s funny too.
Mr Cole bores on about mean, median, mode and range an I wanna do murders. I look at the worksheet and the connection in my head is down. He eyeballs the class, asking for an answer.
Not a single one of you? he says.
The sight of the worksheet makes me twist. I don’t get what Mr Cole is on about.
Just my luck. I know he’s comin for me. Zonin in. Aim. Ready.
How do you find the mean, Smith?
Don’t know, sir.
You don’t know?
You have the calculator on your desk.
Chuckles. Like they fucken know.
Right, let’s go through it on the board.
I wanna dive out the window. I’ve run out of classes before.
Mr Cole talks about what’s on the board.
Now use the calculator, Smith.
I do what he says and tell him.
Well done, Smith, he says, that’s the correct answer. That’s all there is to it.
I feel like a boffin, seein the others in the class looking at me like they can’t believe it. They’re not wrong. It was sheer flukiness on my part that I did it like I was supposed to.
I get scared Mr Cole is gunna ask me to do the next one.
He picks on Robbie Flintlock, who gets grief cos he’s from Wales.
Robbie don’t know how to do the answer.
Mr Cole explains to Robbie like he told me but Robbie don’t have my flukiness. We can see Mr Cole forcin himself to sound patient, knowing he’s getting wound up, mad at how the class do not have a clue about these medians and modes.
It’s like trying to teach goldfish, he says.
I do a doodle on the worksheet of a vampire kitten. I wonder how Tracey Clarke is doing in my room. I left her food and water. I don’t like leavin her on her own when she’s so little. It ain’t nice to be left alone. Guess it’s better than being in a dustbin. I locked the bedroom door to stop anyone going in and messing with my stuff. I know mum and Liam would find that fifty quid, sniffin it out. If they found the money, they’d be straight down the pub or buyin that stuff that makes them all sleepy and smiley but in a scary, not-all-there way.
I wish I was in bed with my new kitten, cuddlin up.
Cats are so much better than dogs.
I’m sittin by the window. The sun is coming through. The portacabin classroom is usually fucken freezin but today it’s warm and I feel sleepy. Mr Cole has given us twenty minutes to see how many questions we can get through. The glass has wire mesh fixed over it. I look onto the blocks of flats on the estate over the road. It’s a different shape to The Grove and the bricks are a darker colour.
I can’t wait for school to be over.
I try a question and give up, colouring in my latest vampire kitten.
I keep lookin outside through the prison window at the estate. The sunlight shows these specks of dust floatin. I think about the armies and this film in my head starts playing of a jet screeching across the sky and firin missiles. An attack helicopter, called a gunship, hovers over the PE block and fires more missiles and blows up Mr Barker, the PE teacher, who has to be the biggest perv in the whole school, watching us when we shower, talking bout our willies an wankin.
The soldiers keep running in, firin their machine guns an shooting rocket propelled grenades.
They storm the buildings. Kicking in the doors, coverin each other, and then they come to the portacabins and they spray Mr Cole with explodin dumdum bullets. His body flies across the room and smashes against a fake portacabin wall, leaving streaks of blood.
Smith, shouts Mr Cole, are you sleeping?
He holds up my worksheet and looks at the vampire kitten.
You can’t be helped, can you, Smith?
No, sir, I say.
You know what the sad thing is about you, lad?
There is a brain in there but you’re intent on not using it.
In my guts, I know he’s spoken a truth.
From nowhere, I feel like blubbin.
All I want is for school to be over before murders start for real.
This place, though – it does my head in with its medians and modes.
Everyone draggin me this way an that, doing their best to try and pull me under their fucken waves.