Estimated reading time — 13 minutes
“Bobby! Pay attention!” he heard his teacher say. He snapped out of his reverie and looked up to see her glaring at him. “Did you hear anything I’ve been saying?” she continued.
Bobby shrugged his shoulders. Prior to being disrupted, he was daydreaming that he could freeze time, and before that he was imagining himself navigating the classroom if he was only 5 inches tall.
The teacher continued to rant at him, just as they all did, then she placed him on detention Friday night after school.
Why is it that schools are so intent on crushing a child’s imagination? What is it about creative kids that piss so many teachers off? They punished him for sketching or writing stories in class. They punished him whenever he slipped into a daydream. His artwork wasn’t the right style for his art teacher; his music was too modern for his music teacher, and he was even forbidden from using mnemonic techniques to revise for exams. Whenever he strayed from their formula and their methods, he was punished and told he would never amount to anything.
At the end of the school day the kids rushed towards the gates, saying goodbye to all their friends and classmates. Nobody said goodbye to Bobby though. They barely noticed him unchaining his bike for the lonely ride home.
As he approached his teens, he was finding it hard to connect with other kids and was used to being excluded. Bobby’s only companion was his diary, in which he confided his thoughts and feelings. Every night before bed, he would make an entry…
Another shit day at school. Wandered the playground alone. Picked up another detention Friday night.
On the plus side, there are some great Xbox games coming out this month.
The following day transpired much the same…
I hung around the boys in my class today, watching them play football. I thought they were going to ask me to join in, but they just wanted me to fetch the ball. I decided to spend my break time in the library instead.
Got into an argument with mum and dad again. I told them I’m on detention tomorrow night and they threatened to take away my books and Xbox. If they did that my life wouldn’t have much point.
The following day at school Bobby made an effort to focus on his classes. Every time he caught his mind drifting away, he’d try to snap his attention back to the words of the teacher. That lasted all of 15 minutes before he slipped into another daydream.
When the school bell signalled home time for the kids, he made his way to the detention hall. At least here nobody was telling him what to think about. The supervising teacher read a book while Bobby and two other boys stared at the walls until their hour was up. When he was done, he headed outside to unchain his bike. It had started to rain and dark clouds hung in the sky making it feel much later than it was.
Bobby rode his bike along his usual route home, over the wet deserted roads, but before he could reach the home stretch, he noticed a gang of older boys lurking in one of the streets. They looked like trouble so he chose to circumvent them via a patch of wasteland behind the houses. The pavement gave way to a rocky and uneven dirt track at the foot of a tall grass bank. He steered onto the grass to avoid some broken bottles, but it was soft and slippery from the rain. The front wheel slid out of control, throwing Bobby over the handlebars. He landed on his back, knocking the wind out of him.
He appeared not to be seriously hurt, but sat on the ground for a while as he attempted to catch his breath. He was wet and his bike lay in a heap in front of him.
“Are you ok?”
Bobby looked round trying to locate the source of the voice. It sounded like a young girl.
“Is your bike damaged,” she asked. It was coming from the top of the bank, but he couldn’t see who was speaking.
He pulled himself to his feet and started to clamber up towards the unidentified voice. A line of houses backed onto the bank, overlooking the wasteland below. In one of the gardens stood a girl, peering through a wire fence.
“I saw you fall and just wanted to check you were all right,” she said.
“I’m ok…thanks,” Bobby puffed, gasping for breath.
The girl opened the gate and gestured for Bobby to enter. The lawn was overgrown and the house looked run down, but that barely registered in his mind as he laid eyes on the girl in front of him. She had brown hair tied into a pony tail with a red bow that matched her dress; a pale and flawless complexion with pink cheeks, and eyes like droplets of sky. She was beautiful.
Bobby didn’t know what to say. He was out of practice when it came to talking to girls…or to kids in general.
“I left my bike,” he said, standing on the threshold.
“We can bring it up to my garden if you like. We can check it over, make sure it’s safe to ride,” offered the girl. “Come on, I’ll help you.”
The two of them made their way down the grassy bank and wheeled the bike back up to the girl’s garden.
“Err…thanks,” said Bobby.
They checked over the bike, though Bobby was thinking only of the girl he was with. He’d never experienced such kindness from a stranger before.
“I’m Lucy,” she said.
“So are we meant to shake hands or something?” she said, reaching out.
Bobby smiled and gently shook her delicate hand.
“Do you have to rush home or do you want to hang out for a while?” she asked. “I can’t invite you in because mother’s asleep, but I know somewhere we can shelter from the rain.”
Bobby checked his watch. “Ok. I have to be home by eight though.”
“Great! Follow me.”
Bobby picked up his bike and wheeled it along as Lucy led the way. They exchanged small talk and he found himself more at ease than he had felt for a long time. They came across a small cove of trees where the branches intertwined to form an overhead canopy.
“It’s not much, but it’ll keep the rain off us. We can sit here,” said Lucy, taking a seat on a log and motioning for Bobby to join her.
He leaned his bike against a tree and sat next to her. “So, do you hang out here a lot?”
“Yes. Sometimes I need to get out of the house. Mother sleeps a lot, you see. She gets really annoyed when I make noise, so I try to keep out of her way.”
“I understand,” Bobby replied, sympathetically. “I have arguments with my parents too.”
“Really? Over what?”
Bobby looked down before saying, “I disappoint them.”
“I’m sure that’s not true.”
“I’m no good at anything and I’m always in trouble at school.”
“Are you one of those bad kids?”
“No, I’m really not. I just can’t concentrate on the classes. They bore me.”
“That’s not so bad.”
“My parents wish they had a normal son who was into sports and did well at school. When I try talking to them about the stuff I’m into or the stories I’m writing, they just roll their eyes,” he said. “Most people just avoid me.”
“I didn’t avoid you, Bobby.” Lucy placed her hand on his as she spoke. He flinched slightly at her touch. She looked at him until he raised his head and their eyes met. “I would love a friend like you,” she added.
Bobby couldn’t repress the smile that stretched across his face. “Do you want to hang out tomorrow?”
“I’d like that. Meet me in my garden around three?”
“Ok,” he agreed.
They continued chatting a bit longer before deciding to head home. Bobby gave Lucy a lift on his bike, dropping her off at her garden before making his way home for the night.
I’ve had an amazing day and I think I’ve made a new friend! Her name is Lucy. She’s beautiful and sweet. We really clicked and she gets me. We’re meeting again tomorrow afternoon. I’ll keep you updated.
As arranged, Bobby met Lucy in her garden. She was wearing that same bow and red dress. He noticed it was torn and frayed in a few places, but she looked even more beautiful in the clear daylight. They went for a ride on his bike and he showed off some stunts. She appeared impressed and gave him a round of applause. She explained that she’d never learned to ride a bike, so he decided to teach her, gently guiding her to make sure she didn’t fall. As he placed his hand on her back, he noticed that her dress was damp. Had she not dried it from the rain yesterday? Did she not have any other clothes? he wondered, but he kept his thoughts to himself.
Bobby turned around to see a bunch of on-looking kids. They were shouting out and laughing amongst themselves.
“Freeeak!” they yelled again.
Lucy pulled Bobby aside. “Take no notice. I get it all the time.”
“It’s because I’m poor and my house is a dump,” she said. “Don’t pretend you haven’t noticed.”
“Freeeeaaaak!” the kids continued.
Bobby had always shrunk away from confrontation, but he found himself tapping into courage he never knew he had. He puffed up his chest and pulled back his shoulders, ready to face them. The kids scurried away nervously.
“Forget about it. They’re just idiots,” she said, tugging at his arm.
Bobby and Lucy returned to their little den in the trees where he allowed his temper to settle. He couldn’t understand why they called her a freak. Aside from the frays and tears on her dress, she didn’t look poor, especially from a distance. He started to wonder if they knew something about her that he didn’t.
They continued talking and discovered a number of interests in common. Lucy loved reading too, but confessed that she didn’t go to school much. When Bobby asked why, she said it was complicated and offered no more. He figured it had something to do with her mother, but decided to drop the subject. They spent the entire afternoon laughing and playing together and forgot all about the incident.
Bobby dropped her off at her garden. He looked up at the house. She was right: it was a dump. He felt so sorry for her. Despite the arguments with his parents, he was always well fed and well dressed and had nice presents at Christmas and birthdays. Maybe one day he could whisk her away.
They stood facing each other for a moment. Their eyes met, but Bobby broke his gaze to check his watch. “Well, it’s getting late. I guess I should get going.”
Lucy leaned in and wrapped her arms around him. “This has been one of the best days of my life,” she whispered into his ear.
“Mine too,” he replied, sincerely.
Bobby peddled his bike home, a smile stretched across his face and a fluttering in his chest.
He met with Lucy again the following day and every night after school.
I’m sorry I’ve not written any updates this week. I have been spending a lot of time with my new friend, Lucy. I’ve never met anyone like her before and I can’t stop thinking about her. She’s so caring and when I talk, she actually listens to me. I stop myself sometimes when I think I’m rambling, but she always asks me to carry on and says she finds me fascinating.
I think about her as more than just a friend sometimes. She hugs me and compliments me a lot and it makes me wonder. She had a big argument with her mum last night and cried on my shoulder. We held each other so tightly and just stood there for ages in the rain. She looked up at me with those big blue eyes and I wanted to kiss her so much. I think she wants me to, but I’m scared to ruin what we have.
Something really bothers me though. All the kids keep calling her a freak. It happens whenever they see us together and I don’t understand why. She says it doesn’t bother her, but it must. Why are people so cruel? I notice she wears the same tatty dress every day and I worry that her mom is neglecting her. But I’ve planned a nice surprise for tomorrow.
When they met the next day, Lucy joined Bobby on his bike and they took off along the main road towards town.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“It’s a surprise!”
“I don’t get to go into town any more,” she said. “This is so exciting!”
They arrived at a shopping mall and Lucy seemed overjoyed, mesmerised by the wonders in front of her. They walked round, admiring things in the shop windows and when Lucy pointed out a dress she really liked, Bobby offered to buy it for her.
“That’s the surprise,” he told her. He’d been saving his pocket money for some new games, but the past week he hadn’t even turned on his Xbox.
“What? Really?” Lucy was jubilant. “But I can’t, Bobby. That’s your money…I can’t.”
Bobby insisted and assured her it was what he wanted, so they went inside and bought the dress.
“I’ll wear this for you tomorrow,” she said, and gave him a big hug. “I can’t wait!”
Bobby treated her to something to eat and drink in a fast food place, but the stares they got from the people in there made them very uncomfortable, so they decided to finish their food outside. In fact, they endured a lot of stares in the mall that day, as well as a few giggles and Bobby was sure he heard the word “freak” a few times too. But it wasn’t enough to ruin their day or snap him out of the bliss he felt when they were together. Besides, Bobby secretly hoped that the new dress he’d bought for her would put an end to the name-calling.
When he met her the following day she was wearing the new dress as promised. It was dark purple with lace frills. She had untied her hair too, and it hung freely just below her chin. Bobby was taken aback.
“Do you like it?” she asked.
“I love it!” he replied.
That evening they decided to leave the bike behind and go for a stroll over the local park.
“Do you ever dream about your ideal future?” she asked.
“All the time.”
“Do you ever picture yourself falling in love? Or walking hand in hand, taking the dog for a run over the park on a Sunday afternoon then snuggling up on the sofa in the evening, watching movies?”
“I guess so,” Bobby said. The truth is, he’d thought about it a lot, especially since meeting Lucy.
“A girl can dream,” she sighed.
The following ten minutes passed in silence as they walked through the park, taking in the autumnal colours and kicking through leaves. Then he felt Lucy reaching for his hand. He held onto it and they continued walking hand in hand. He felt butterflies in his stomach and in that moment he couldn’t have been happier.
Unfortunately, it was soon to be interrupted.
Three boys, a few years older than Bobby, stood in their path. “Look, it’s the freak!” one of them said.
Bobby released Lucy’s hand and positioned himself between her and the boys. “Leave her alone,” he warned them.
“Is that your girlfriend?” one of them laughed.
“Mind your own business.”
“How about I steal her from you?” the biggest of the boys threatened. “I’ll snap off her head off and use it as a football!” At this point, the boy reached out and grabbed Lucy’s arm. As he pulled her towards him, she fell over.
Bobby snapped. He threw a punch into the larger boy’s jaw, who dropped to the floor in an instant. He then swung at the other boy, catching him on the nose. He felt it crunch on impact and blood spurted out. The remaining boy saw his opportunity and punched Bobby under his eye, but it wasn’t enough to knock him down. Adrenaline rushed through Bobby’s veins as he grabbed him in a headlock and tightened his grip until he screamed for mercy.
“Bobby! Stop!” he heard Lucy say. He looked down to see she was still lying on the floor. He released his grip and all three boys staggered away, defeated and humiliated.
“Fuckin’ freak!” one of them muttered.
Bobby ignored the parting shot and attended to Lucy.
“Are you hurt?” he asked her as he lifted her onto her feet.
“No, I’m fine,” she said. “But your eye…it’s all swollen.” She ran her fingers lightly over Bobby’s face, where he’d caught a punch.
“It’s nothing,” he replied.
Lucy leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you Bobby. Nobody has ever done anything like that for me. You were so brave.”
“By the way, you dropped something,” she said, handing Bobby his watch.
“It must’ve come off in the fight. It’s a good thing you found it! My granddad left it to me when he died and my parents would go crazy if I lost it.”
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “I’ve never had a watch before.”
“Want to try it on?” he offered. “You can wear it until we get back.” He adjusted the strap and fastened it onto her narrow wrist. She held it in the air and flaunted it as though it was some valuable treasure. It was endearing how much she appreciated the little things. Everything about Bobby seemed to impress her.
They continued walking and he noticed she was limping. “I just twisted my ankle a bit, that’s all.”
“I’ll give you a piggy back,” said Bobby, crouching slightly so she could jump on his back. He was surprised at how light she was. He walked her all the way home, right to her door.
“You’ll have a black eye tomorrow,” said Lucy, touching his face again. “What will you tell your mum and dad?”
“I’ll make something up. I’m good at that.”
They lingered for a moment. Their eyes met, only this time neither of them turned away. Bobby glanced down at her tender lips, brushed back her hair and leaned in closely. He kissed her and she reciprocated. He felt his heart pounding.
They gently pulled apart and gazed into each other’s eyes. She started to giggle nervously. “I’ve been waiting for you to do that,” she told him.
Bobby beamed at her. “See you tomorrow,” he said, as he retrieved his bike.
“I can’t wait!” she replied.
He couldn’t stop thinking about her on the way home, about their kiss. He was overcome with euphoria and wanted to greet everyone he passed and announce his happiness to the world. Just over a week ago, he’d meant nothing to anyone and was just some lonely failure. Now he was a hero who had taken on three older bullies and got the girl. Life couldn’t be better.
Her reached the front of his house and went to check the time. “Damn!” Bobby exclaimed, realising he’d forgotten his watch. He trusted Lucy and considered leaving it with her until tomorrow, but he started to imagine his parents stressing out, before marching him to her house and demanding it back. He couldn’t face the embarrassment.
Bobby turned his bike around and headed back to Lucy’s house. By the time he got there, the sun was going down and darkness was falling over the streets. He noticed there were no lights on at the front of the house. Afraid of aggravating her mother, he decided to head round to the back garden where they usually met, hoping he could attract her attention.
No lights on in the back of the house either.
“Lucy!” he called out, in a half whisper. He made his way through the overgrown grass and weeds, drawing towards the house. He called out again, but no response.
He walked up to one of the windows and peered inside. He could see what looked to be a dilapidated kitchen. The walls were streaked with peeled wallpaper, the surfaces were covered in plaster and dust, and broken tiles lay on the floor. Bobby felt his heart sink on seeing the deprived conditions in which Lucy was living.
He moved round to the next window. A dirty net curtain obscured his view, but in an otherwise empty and undecorated room, he could make out the figure of a girl. Her back was turned to the window and she was gazing into a mirror.
“Lucy?” he called out. No response.
He knocked the window. She didn’t move. He knocked again, a little harder, but she remained perfectly still. A sense of foreboding loomed over him. He knocked again.
“Lucy! It’s me, Bobby.” His pulse started to race and he struggled to swallow. Something wasn’t right.
He headed to the back door and found it unlocked. The house looked even worse on the inside. There was plaster over the floors, holes in the ceiling and no carpet or wallpaper. It looked abandoned. He crept slowly through the shadowy hall towards the room in which he had seen the girl. Floorboards creaked underfoot and he remembered Lucy telling him how annoyed her mother would get when disturbed. He could feel himself trembling. It wasn’t about the watch now; he just needed to check she was ok.
Slowly, he opened the door and an icy shiver ran over his body. He felt his knees buckle and his stomach churn at the sight before him: a pale mannequin with rosy cheeks and brown chin length hair. It was wearing the purple dress that he’d bought from the mall. Its glassy blue eyes stared blankly into a dirty mirror.
Fear gripped his body, but he needed to know the truth. He drew closer and gently pushed the mannequin. It toppled to the floor and lay there stiff and lifeless. That’s when he noticed his watch fastened around the mannequin’s narrow wrist.
Bobby could feel his head spinning and his heart pounding as repressed memories came flooding back and his fantasy started to give way to reality. He ran outside and jumped on his bike. Tears streamed down his face as he peddled furiously away from that house…forever.
Credit: Daniel Hammonds