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Chapter 5 New Trainers

Marcus knew that he couldn’t make Will go out with his mum if Will didn’t want to. But he knew Will’s secret now, so perhaps he could make him do something else. He started going round to Will’s flat after school.

The first time, Will wasn’t very pleased to see him. He stood in the doorway and didn’t invite Marcus in.

‘What?’

‘I just thought I’d come round. What are you doing?’

‘Watching Countdown!

Marcus knew about Countdown — the most boring programme in the history of television. But he wanted to get inside Will’s flat.

‘I could watch it with you if you want. I really like it.’

Will looked at him for a time. ‘All right. Come in.’

There were lots of interesting things in Will’s flat — hundreds of CDs, records and cassettes. There were pictures from films on the wall, and black and white photos of people with musical instruments.

‘Who are these people? And why are they on your wall?’

‘They’re musicians. And they’re on my wall because I like their music and they’re cool.’

‘Why are they cool?’

‘I don’t know. Because they took drugs and died, probably.’

Marcus thought he wouldn’t want pictures on his wall of people who took drugs and died. He’d want to forget all about that kind of thing, not look at it every day of his life.

Will made tea in the kitchen. Then they went back into the living room and sat down on the sofa.

‘Do you like school?’ Will asked.

‘No. I hate it.’

‘Why? Do the other kids bully you?’

Marcus looked at him. How did he know that?

‘Not really. Just a couple of kids.’

‘What do they do to you?’

‘Nothing really. Just, you know, say things about my hair and glasses. And my singing. Sometimes . . . I sing without noticing.’

Will laughed. ‘It’s not funny.’

‘I’m sorry. But you could do something about your hair. You could have it cut in the way you want it.’

‘This is how I want it.’

‘Why do you want your hair like that?’

‘Because that’s how it grows, and I hate going to the hairdresser.’

‘I can see that. How often do you go?’

‘Never. My mum cuts it.’

‘Your mum? How old are you? Twelve? You’re old enough to get your hair cut yourself. You could get married in four years’

time. Will you let your mum cut your hair then?’

Marcus didn’t think he’d be married in four years’ time, but he understood what Will was telling him and knew that Will was right. But there was another way of looking at the situation. If his mum was going to cut his hair in four years’ time, then she would still be alive.

Marcus visited Will a lot that autumn, and by about the third or fourth visit he felt that Will was getting used to him. They didn’t talk about much at first, but one day Will said, ‘How’s the situation at home?’ for no reason that Marcus could understand.

‘You mean my mum?’

‘Yes.’

‘She’s all right, thanks.’

Marcus had never talked about it, and he’d never said how he felt. But what he felt, all the time, every day, was a horrible fear.

This was the main reason why he came round to Will’s after school. Every time he climbed the stairs at home he remembered the Dead Duck Day. When he saw his mum watching the news or eating or preparing work on the dining table, he wanted to cry, or be sick or something. But he couldn’t talk about it.

‘Are you still worried about her?’

‘A bit, when I think about it.’

‘How often do you think about it?’

‘I don’t know.’ He thought about it all the time, all the time, all the time. Could he say that to Will? He didn’t know. He couldn’t say it to his mum, or to his dad, or to Suzie. They would all be too worried about him. He just wanted a promise from someone, anyone, that it wouldn’t happen again, ever, and no one could do that.

Will was wishing that he hadn’t asked Marcus about Fiona, because it was clear that the boy was very upset. Will wasn’t used to coping with people with real-life problems. He liked watching people’s problems on TV, but he’d never had anyone with problems on his sofa before.

Sometimes they managed conversations about other things, like Marcus’s dad.

‘Do you see your dad often?’

‘Quite often. Some weekends. He’s got a girlfriend called Lindsey. She’s nice.’

‘Would you like to see him more than you do?’

‘No.’

‘Well, that’s all right then.’

The next week, while Will was watching Countdown as usual, he was interrupted by a long, urgent ring on the doorbell. He got up off the sofa and opened the door. Marcus was standing on the doorstep, and two ugly-looking boys were throwing hard sweets at him. Some sweets hit Will.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ He couldn’t remember the last time he had been so angry.

The boys ran away and Will went back into the flat. Marcus was sitting on the sofa watching Countdown.

‘Who were they?’

‘I don’t know their names,’ said Marcus, his eyes on the TV ‘They’re in the class two years above me at school.’

‘Marcus, does this happen often?’

‘Well, they’ve never thrown sweets at me before.’

‘I’m not talking about the sweets. I’m talking about older kids bullying you.’

‘Oh, yes. Not those two

‘No, OK, not those two. But others like them.’

‘Yes. Lots.’

‘Right. That’s what I’ve been trying to find out. Your problem is, Marcus, that you look different from other kids. That’s why they notice you. You need to look more like them. You need the same clothes and haircut and glasses as everyone else. You can be as weird as you want on the inside. Just do something about the outside.’

Will took Marcus shopping in Holloway Road and bought him a pair of expensive Adidas trainers. Marcus thought they were cool, and Will was pleased. He couldn’t remember feeling as good as this before. He had made an unhappy boy happy, and there hadn’t been any advantage in it for him at all. He didn’t even want to sleep with the boy’s mother.

But the next day Marcus’s new trainers were stolen. He came home from school wearing only a pair of black socks.

‘Where are your shoes?’ Fiona screamed. She hadn’t noticed that he had been wearing new trainers.

‘Stolen.’

‘Stolen? Why would anyone want to steal your shoes?’

‘Because …’ He was going to have to tell her the truth, although he knew the truth would lead to a lot of questions.

‘Because they were nice ones. They were new Adidas trainers.

Will bought them for me.’

‘Will who? Will, the guy who took us to lunch?’

‘Yes. The guy from SPAT. He’s become my friend.’

‘He’s become your friend?’

Marcus was right — his mum had lots of questions, but she asked them in a very boring way. She just repeated the last thing he said, made it into a question and shouted.

‘I go round to his flat after school.’

‘YOU GO R O U N D TO HIS FLAT AFTER SCHOOL?’

‘Well, you see, he doesn’t really have a kid.’

‘HE D O E S N ‘ T REALLY HAVE A KID?’

When the questions had finished, he was in a lot of trouble, although probably not as much trouble as Will. Marcus put his old shoes back on, and then he and his mother went straight to Will’s flat. Will opened the door and Fiona immediately started shouting at him about SPAT and his imaginary son. At first Will looked embarrassed — he had no answers to her questions, so he stood there staring at the floor. But as it continued, he started to get angry too.

‘Why do you invite twelve-year-old boys round to tea-parties in your flat after school?’ asked Fiona.

Will looked at her. ‘Are you suggesting what I think you’re suggesting?’ He went red in the face and started shouting very loudly. ‘Your son invites himself round here. Sometimes he’s followed by other kids who attack him. I could leave him outside, but I let him in for his own safety. I won’t do it again.

Now, if you’ve finished, you can both get out of here.’

‘I haven’t finished yet, actually. Why did you buy him a pair of expensive trainers?’

‘Because . . . because look at him.’

‘What’s wrong with him?’

Will looked at her. ‘You really don’t know, do you? Marcus is being eaten alive at school by the other kids. He gets bullied every day.’

‘Marcus is doing fine,’ his mother said.

Marcus couldn’t believe she’d said that. He wasn’t doing fine; his mum was being blind and stupid and crazy.

‘You’re joking,’ said Will.

‘I know he’s taking some time to get used to his new school, but …’

Will laughed. ‘Oh, yes. And after a couple of weeks he’ll be OK? When they’ve stopped stealing his shoes and following him home from school, everything will be great.’

That was wrong. They were all mad. ‘I don’t think so,’ said Marcus. ‘It’s going to take more than a couple of weeks.’

‘It’s OK, I know,’ said Will. ‘I was joking.’

Marcus didn’t think there was much to joke about in the situation. But he was very pleased that Will understood what was happening to him at school. He’d only known Will for a short time, and he’d known his mother all his life. So why could Will understand, and his mother couldn’t? But now his mother understood too, because Will had told her.

‘You’re not going to Will’s again,’ Fiona said to Marcus on the bus on the way home. ‘If you’ve got anything to say, you say it to me. If you need new clothes, I’ll get them.’

‘But you don’t know what I need. I don’t know what I need.

Only Will knows. He knows what kids wear.’

‘We don’t need that kind of person. We’re doing all right our way. Marcus, I’ve been your mother for twelve years. I do know what I’m doing.’

Marcus didn’t think either of them was doing all right. He wondered if his mother had a kind of plan for him. In the next few days he began to notice the way she talked to him. He was interested in everything she said about what he should watch on TV or listen to or read or eat.

She had always said it was important to talk about things, and that she wanted him to think for himself. They had often discussed what was bad about fashion and modern pop music and computer games. But if she didn’t like what he said, she argued with him until he agreed with her. But he hadn’t agreed, really; he’d just lost the argument.

‘I’ve been thinking for myself,’ he said,’and I want to go round to Will’s flat after school.’

‘No. He’s a rich guy who doesn’t work, who tells lies, and who …’

‘He understands about school. He bought me those trainers.

He knows things.’ He was getting annoyed. ‘I’m thinking for myself and . . . it doesn’t work. You always win.’

‘Marcus, it’s not enough to tell me you’re thinking for yourself. You’ve got to show me too. Give me a good reason why you want to go round to Will’s.’

Marcus gave her a reason. It wasn’t the right reason, and he felt bad saying it because it made her cry. But it was a good reason and he won the argument.

‘Because I need a father.’

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