Nature Boy: Chapter One

Nature Boy: Chapter One

A Chapter by spence
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Moving 300 miles from north east to south west England and attending school for the first time seem like the worst ideas in the world to Paul.

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It could be said that any one school canteen or dining hall is pretty much the same as any other. Not exactly the same of course, but if you were to visit any school in the country between the hours of 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. you would most likely see the same type of scenario taking shape.

That is to say, there will probably be children and young people swarming into a large communal space with tables and chairs arranged from the centre out over. You could expect the canteen to resound with the noisy babbling of hungry pupils amid the maddening clatter of cutlery and crockery. I also imagine that there may be an unfortunate ‘on-duty’ teacher somewhere about the place, shouting occasionally to keep the peace. A teacher who looks as if they’re wishing they were in the staff room with other human adults while eating their lunch instead of trying to enjoy their meal in the midst of a lunatic troop of baboons.

And let’s not forget ‘the line’, those making up the lunch queue to receive helpings of the familiar smelling meals in aluminium trays, from hot and bothered kitchen staff armed with ladles, fish slices and harassed attitudes.

Dining halls have been this way since I was at school, which I admit is quite a long time ago, but when I was a child my grandfather would insist that they were very similar in his day too, except that the children were far better behaved in the ‘olden days’, of course.

Which reminds me, I have forgotten to mention something else that is as common to the school canteen as red-faced ‘dinner ladies’ and green coloured curry. Every school canteen usually contains at least one individual who, for whatever reason, is sat alone at a table that is as far away from the rest as possible. Usually in a corner that looks as glum as the person sat there.

Perhaps in the schools you have attended this person has been made to sit in isolation as punishment for bad behaviour, being a bully or a trouble-maker, but usually- ordinarily- this person has chosen to stay away from their fellow students.

In my experience of school dining halls this is usually in the hope of avoiding bullies and trouble-makers.

This was the case for Paul Anthony Nicholson during only his fifth lunch break at Sunnydale High School in Devon, England.

Paul, a painfully thin, asthmatic 13 year-old, was seated in a secluded corner in the canteen trying his best to be invisible by ignoring everything and everyone around him. He stared at the plate of half eaten food on the tray on the six person table at which he sat alone deep in thought. Despite his best efforts to remain ‘incognito’ Paul stood out like the proverbial sore thumb within the sea of identical laminate topped tables and black uniforms.

Not only was Paul the newest addition to the Devonian institution, but everything about him was odd. His shabby second hand uniform was two sizes too big for his fragile frame, he wore hiking boots instead of shoes or trainers and his shoulder length unkempt red hair contrasted starkly to the stylised cut and dyed head mops all around. Brown framed spectacles with remarkably thick lenses completed the look of a person utterly uninterested in the latest fashion accessories or local gossip.

Pretty much everything about him, including his inability to play sports and lack of a mobile phone, I-pod, PS3, amongst other things he had no desire for, made him stand out from the crowd. The crowd didn’t like this very much and told him so as often as they possibly could.

Simply being ‘Paul Nicholson’ had already earned titles as diverse as ‘the ginger Harry Potter’ and ‘Geordie hippie’ as well as a host of other insults in the four and a half days he had been at the school. Any reply saw his north eastern accent similarly laughed at by his south western contemporaries. Add in the fact that having been ‘home-schooled’ for most of his life Paul, though clever, had no knowledge of how to behave in an educational institution and he truly was an outcast.

The teachers were continually reminding him to address them as ‘Sir’ and ‘Miss’ and Paul’s confusion at this strange custom was also a source of amusement for those used to such subservience.

Despite the difficulties he had adapting to this new life, Paul reminded himself that he had promised his parents to try his best to make the most of attending a regular school. In truth though, Paul was already quite certain that it would continue to be the unmitigated disaster it had been over the last four and a half days.

With his Dad stressed and pre-occupied with University studies, his Mum concerned with her new job and all of their spare time being taken up with caring for his disabled and poorly Grandfather, Paul didn’t want to add his problems to the considerable burden. Having been encouraged to find his own answers to problems his entire life he was determined to try and stick it out as long as he could.

Even if that meant suffering in silence until the Devonian kids got used to him, he would do it.

 But even sat on the smallest table in the corner by the double doors to the hallway he was as far away from the boisterous queue and rowdy tables filled with more popular boys and girls as he could manage, still ‘they’ noticed him.

‘They’, (the bullies and trouble-makers who would inadvertently set Paul off on the amazing adventures this story is about), were Kai Brunswick, Aiden Campbell and Kieran Hensley in particular.

Although it was also true that no one had been particularly friendly to him it was these three almost identically dressed and styled individuals that Paul feared the most.

‘They’ were walking through the canteen chaos, weaving their way between tables, smiling gleefully despite the mind-boggling din of endless chatter. There was unmistakable malicious intent gleaming in their eyes as they approached Paul.

In an attempt to keep his breathing regular Paul stayed focused on the plate of unwanted food as his three tormentors arrived at the table. They glared down at him as if expecting an invite them to sit, but Paul ignored them. He didn’t have to see them to know what their expressions looked like. He’d seen it enough times already since he’d begun attending the school on Monday.

Kai sneered superiorly at this futile attempt to ignore them, while Aiden and Kieran grinned menacingly over each of their leaders’ broad shoulders.

‘Cruel that is,’ Kai observed to his friends.

‘What’s cruel?’ the less than intelligent Kieran asked with a genuinely confused frown.

‘That,’ Kai said, happy that one of them asked to keep the act going as he pointed to the new boys’ plate,

‘His parent’s must be really evil, giving their kid rabbit food to eat,’ he continued.

‘They won’t let him eat meat. I’m not surprised he’s so skinny and weak,’ Aiden, the cleverest of the three, added in support of his best friend and school football captain.

Paul continued to twist the limp lettuce around with his fork, simultaneously regretting telling the class his family were vegetarian on his first day and hoping if he ignored them they would leave him alone.

‘Do you want some of my burger Paul? Build your strength up eh?’ Kieran asked while sticking a previously concealed half devoured cheeseburger toward the seated boys’ face.

Paul turned his head and grimaced in disgust at the pungent odour of the meat, but the bully persisted and the sesame bun connected with his cheek. Paul moved his arm up across his head to sweep the burger away and then slid his body and tray to the next seat along the table.

This was a mistake.

‘Take a seat? Don’t mind if I do!’ Kai exclaimed and parked himself in the seat Paul had just vacated.

His accomplices followed Kai’s lead. Kieran sat on the other side of Paul while Aiden took the seat directly opposite their intended victim. Paul was stuck between Kai and Kieran and had Aiden staring him down from over the table.

The only way to avoid eye contact was to keep looking down.

‘So- did you bring it?’ Aiden asked presently.

Paul turned his eyes upwards to briefly meet the questioners. He was looking for signs of mercy even though he already knew they wouldn’t be there. When he saw Aiden’s malevolent glare he had that certainty confirmed and looked down into his lap again.

‘I… I could o… only get f… 50 p… pence,’ he stuttered meekly, hopelessly hoping that a teacher, ‘dinner nanny’ or similar benefactor would intervene and save him.

’F… 50 p… pence?’ Kai asked contemptuously from Paul’s right.

‘Th… that’s n… no g… g… good to us!’ Kieran snarled savagely from his left.

‘What are we supposed to do with 50p, Paul?’ Aiden asked calmly from in front.

Paul pushed his hand into the right pocket of his oversized, second hand school blazer meaning to take out the modest sum he had brought, but Kai grabbed him at the upper arm and held him in place.

‘You haven’t got a knife in there have you?’ the ringleader mocked while squeezing Paul’s arm tightly.

‘No, I… I w… was getting the m… money out,’ Paul said tearfully, letting his arm go limp and trying to lean away in freeing it.

As a consequence of his wayward tug Paul moved closer to Kieran who responded by shoving him in the back. Paul lunged forward, his shoulder connecting with Kai’s upper arm; their heads almost colliding. Kai pulled his head back, squeezed Paul’s arm as hard as he could then frowned threateningly into the boys’ frightened face.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ he seethed through gritted teeth, as if Paul had committed some terrible crime.

Paul responded to the ridiculous accusatory question more aggressively than was wise in the circumstances. He pulled his arm free of Kai’s grasp with a violent shrug and shot a warning glare in the comparatively huge boy’s direction.

‘Kieran pushed me into you Kai- you know he did. Just take the money and leave me alone will you?’

‘Whoa! He’s getting nasty Kai! I think he wants to fight you!’ Aiden said in instigation.

Paul was suddenly aware that he was walking straight into a trap and checked his temper accordingly.

‘I don’t w… want to f…fight! I just want to be l… left alone!’ he stammered toward Aiden, letting his body relax from its defensive posture and avoiding the gaze of the three bullies once he had spoken.

‘Well th… th… th that’s a shame cos we’re n… n… not gonna l… l… leave you alone N... N… N… N… Nicholson!’ Kai said mockingly, ending the sentence with a vicious laugh that was soon joined by his comrades.

In the hope of avoiding further confrontation Paul used his left hand to reach into his right pocket and withdrew the 50 pence piece before placing it on the table below his hand.

‘That’s all I’ve got, t… take it or leave it!‘ he declared, his anger outstripping his nervous stammer once again.

Paul already knew that by showing his defiance he had wilfully taken the bait, but still hoped that only merciful mockery and humiliation would be forthcoming.

He was to be disappointed for when Kai slid the money into his grasp he whispered into Paul’s ear,

‘I’ll see you after school for that Paul. Then everyone will see just how tough you aren’t.’

Paul didn’t even try to protest as the three boys stood from the table and loomed over him.

‘Half past three by the corner shop. If you’re not there I’ll make sure my brother gets his hands on you.’

Paul shuddered at the thought of Kai’s elder brother. Bryn Brunswick was 16 years old and a far worse bully and troublemaker than his little brother. Even Kai wasn’t safe from his wrath.

‘You’re going to be there yeah?’ Aiden goaded as he placed his palms flat to the table to lean toward Paul.

Paul nodded while turning his face from the oppressor.

‘What was that Paul?’ Aiden asked.

‘I’ll… I’ll be there,’ Paul choked in reply.

‘Good!’ said Aiden then as he stood tipped the tray upwards so that the plate full of salad and couscous fell onto Paul’s lap.

‘See you later loser!’ Kieran laughed and slapped Paul across the back of the head.

The trio walked off laughing as Paul breathed deeply to prevent the tears at his eyes from spilling over into sobs of despair.

A table occupied by a gaggle of older girls giggled and pointed mockingly as Paul quietly went about putting the tray, plate and cutlery back onto the table. Ignoring them had the desired affect and by the time he’d finished scooping the food from his legs they had lost interest in him, allowing his thoughts to drift away from this grim reality once again.



© 2012 spence


Author's Note

spence
As I am writing this story for my daughter and have based some of the content around her experiences, the 'familiar' aspects of this will be amended/replaced for any manuscript submitted for publishing.

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Added on January 6, 2012
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Author

spence
spence

Grimsby, United Kingdom



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Just returning to WritersCafe after a couple of years in the wilderness of life. I'm a 40 year old (until December 2013, at least) father of two, former youth and community worker, sometime socio-pol.. more..

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