• Chapter 8 - The Boys are Back in Town

    “Them wild-eyed boys that had been away. Haven’t changed that much to say.”


    I am not sure when it started, or how. They are all laughing. I can feel the high pitch needles of laughter piercing my brain. I can see them looking over at me out of the corner of my eye and I just pray that it will be over soon. As they get closer I can feel their cheap bitter perfume filling my nostrils and clouding my brain. My thoughts are disrupted as the smell and laughter mix with the general classroom white noise and push me insistently towards a meltdown. I feel them crowding around me and try to look straight ahead.

    I don’t understand any of this situation, I have never understood what they get out of it. They obviously enjoy it. Kim is screeching with laughter. Having a whale of a time. Centimetres from my ear, her warm breath clogging up my touch and hearing. Following the cold icicles of her laughter deep into my brain. They start asking me questions. I’m confused, my head spinning they seem innocent enough then I look at their distorted faces. We all know where this is heading, but I answer as best as I can. Dad always said I am best to ignore them. If I don’t give them what they want they will move onto their next victim. I have tried that before though and if I ignore them they start prodding me with their spiteful bony fingers. At least this way I have one less sensation to deal with.

    Now they are asking me questions about sex. I don’t know what they are talking about or what to say. I want to run. I used to run all the time. I don’t so much anymore because I know where it always ends up. Mr Brattan the headmaster’s office, trying to explain my alien ways to someone who doesn’t even seem to realise there are different planets.

    Questions are being fired at me. The previous has hardly finished when the next one is starting. I can feel myself losing control and I need to pull it back. The opening guitar riff from This Charming Man runs through my brain giving me something to hold on to. A lifeline to pull me back so to speak. I feel myself calm a little as I see the notes playing in turn. My eyes close a little.

    “Aw, he is singing” Kim screams sarcastically. I am not always good at picking sarcasm up but when it is as blatant as this it isn’t that hard anymore.

    “So what are you singing Alien? Is it an alien song?”

    “This Charming Man, The Smiths” I blurt out quickly, not really considering if this is a good idea.

    How can the laughter get louder? Spinning, my eyes blur. Needles becoming arrows. Invading my brain. I don’t understand why they are laughing. What is so funny?

    It’s too much. Through the door, away from the haze of sound and smell. Guitar still playing in my head.

    I hit my hip on something. The pain spins me sideways. I can see people, I know they will be looking at me but I am grateful that they leave me alone. I run down the stairs to the bottom and turn sharp to find the place where they store old tables and stuff. I find the gap and curl up into a ball out of sight.

    Breathe.

    “Punctured bicycle, on a hillside desolate”

    I open my eyes and see Manny sitting cross-legged next to my table. He smiles kindly.

    “Alien,” he says gently. His voice is more soothing than I have ever remembered. I hold back the tears as I feel my emotions start to swell in my gut again.

    “Man, I saw you run out of Maths: What happened?”

    More questions. More confusion. Is he with them? With the girls? No, he can’t be, he isn’t in my maths class.

    “Take your time, man” he smiles.

    After another awkward pause, Manny starts to sing the guitar intro of This Charming Man. He misses quite a few notes but it sounds good anyway.

    “Punctured bicycle on a hillside……”

    I am pretty much whispering as Manny starts to drum on his knees and join in with me. We both sing

    “Will nature make a man of me yet”

    I love this line and wonder if it ever will. Maybe I will always be an alien. My voice gets stronger and I can feel the sound rushing through the back of my throat. Manny’s singing is shielding me and letting me build my confidence. I feel myself building strength and volume. I notice when Manny slightly misses the notes and make sure I hit them cleanly. Cleaner, stronger, louder. I am singing. Singing in front of someone else. At school.

    “I would go out tonight. But I haven’t got a stitch to wear”

    Manny now has confidence in my singing and switches to singing the guitar part while still drumming on his knees and thighs. This sounds amazing. I think anyway. One thing is for sure it feels amazing.

    Suddenly I realise that people have moved into the stairway and are standing watching. Manny is acknowledging them and smiling as we perform. I close my eyes and try my best to concentrate on hitting the notes and stopping my voice wavering and dropping.

    “He knows so much about these thi -i-i-i-ings.

    I fade out the vocals and Manny continues with a bass and guitar mash while keeping the beat surprisingly well on his knees.

    People are clapping and applauding us.

    Manny stands and high fives a few people and hugs some others. He smiles his thanks to everyone and I sit looking up and wonder how he can be so at ease with all those people. This must be Manny’s superpower. Soon the small crowd disperses and Manny turns back to me.

    “That was brilliant man” he smiles enthusiastically “You can proper sing Alien. I mean proper!”

    He sits back down and enthusiastically leans over to hug me. I flinch and pull away from him and shake my head.

    “What man? Is it true that you don’t like being hugged? What is with that?”

    “Erm…..” I start to stammer a little and feel like I have clicked back into Alien again. Now we have stopped singing I feel alien again “Yeah, I mean… No, I don’t like to be hugged. I say looking down. I know that it is weird it’s just that…. I don’t know it’s complicated.

    “Complicated like what happened in Maths?” he smiles at me.

    Is he laughing? I don’t think he is. Maybe he is asking me a question? I slowly start to explain and study his face to see if this is right. I haven’t really looked at him before but something in his face seems kinder now. In the hall the other day he was harder like there was no depth to him… or he didn’t want people to see it.

    I explain what happened in Maths and he nods along with me like he understands. I struggle to believe that this has ever happened to him.

    “What you need is ‘back up’ Alien!” He says abruptly. His face twists a little and he says “Do you mind if I call you Alien?”

    “Yeah, I kind of like it now,” I say trying to raise a little smile.

    “Yeah cool” he continues “So you need some mates. Let me have a word with LIz and that lot. I’ll explain that you are my mate and you’re alright. That should be enough for them to leave you alone and pick on someone else. Kate and Stacey will certainly leave you be. They’re alright, you know”

    “Yeah, I was surprised at them being involved. They are okay”

    “So mates, yeah?” he smiles and offers me a hand to shake. I flinch again and he smiles kindly. “No handshake?” he laughs “how about a fist bump”

    He offers me a fist to bump and I reciprocate. I have never done it before but aside from missing the middle, it goes okay.

    “Come round mine tonight” Manny smiles at me “Bring your guitar.”
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