I dreamt I was a schoolboy, I was sitting near the back of the bus on my way home. I was not alone, but alone in my thoughts – something nice to say to Mom, some jokes for my two kid brothers, homework and TV. She got on the bus – the one they called the prettiest in the school.
She had her eyes on me, she walked to the back of the bus and yanked the little schoolgirl sitting next to me out of her seat. “You can sit elsewhere!” She sat down next to me, the bus moved off with a jolt and threw us back in our seats. I was in for a ride.
What did I think? That I was being used? Had she had a tiff with her boyfriend? Did she want to upset him by talking to me? All eyes in the bus were on us. She asked every question about me she could think of. And told me the answers. Very useful, I needed that. My name is John McCracken and she Charlotte Hayes. She's in the class below mine and so is her boyfriend. I decided his name was Jake, but no mention of him.
We got off one stop before mine and walked to her home. She pecked me on the neck and said that tomorrow I would meet her there to go to school. I woke up, someone was banging on the door and yelling in English. “Get up! Get up John! You'll be late for school!”
It must have been the Mother. There were some clothes on a chair, not a school uniform, this cannot be England. Where am I? I got dressed, grabbed some things and left the building. Was it my home? I let my legs carry me and there she was waiting for me. “Just one more day and it's the weekend. Just think of what we can do together.” Yes, I thought and why not.
She asked me more questions about myself in the bus and I learnt from the questions a lot about her. Fortunately no sign of Jake.
My first hour was a foreign language, although it was my mother tongue, odd. I had forgotten a long time ago – the causes of the first world war – my history class. In the break I wandered down the hallway and saw my reflection in a glass door. I look like a schoolboy. I sat at the top of the stairs and had a good think.
Jake came running up the stairs and surprised me. He accused me of stealing his girl, he was loud, he wanted to hit me, a crowd formed. I stood up, whoops, I'm bigger than him, he backed off, I warned him to be careful, he fell down the stairs.
I ran down the stairs to him, he was moaning and his legs were oddly bent. I remembered the first aid course I took for my driving test many years ago. I pulled out my phone and called for an ambulance: John McCracken, a boy has fallen down the stairs, Knownott School, on the landing on the stairs in the new building, he's breathing, he's moaning...
I ordered four younger boys to block the top and the bottom of the stairs “They can use the back stairs.” I told Jake not to worry, help was coming fast. Faster was the duty teacher.
“You've called the emergency number, haven’t you? Don't you know that only the school secretary can call the emergency services?” “Yes, I called them, an ambulance is coming.” “But don't you know the rules?” “Mr Faster, the secretary is in the old building. It would take an extra five minutes to go there and tell her.” I wanted to tell him where to go.
He lectured me about keeping the rules, school rules, any sort of rules. And how absolutely correct they were. And how I would not get on in life if I did not keep to the rules. Two medics pushed their way past us and helped Jake.
A large boy pushed his way down the stairs, he wanted to look, he had every right to go down the stairs, so he said. One of the medics told him where to go, the language was strong, he retreated up the stairs.
“And another thing, who told you to block the stairs? That's the job of the duty teacher. Again, always breaking the rules...” The medic looked him in the eye. “Hey, silly little man, get out of the fucking way!” I pushed Mr Faster out of the way and let the two men in red carry Jake away on a stretcher.
The crowd laughed and Mr Faster, the duty teacher, slunk off. I expected trouble. I went to the school secretary and reported the accident and that Jake had left in an ambulance.
“I don't believe you did. You didn't do it, did you, John?” It was Charlotte. It didn't matter what everyone was saying, I didn't push Jake down the stairs, I told her that. She told me that the school manager wanted to see me at two. I expected trouble.
There were two teachers in the manager's office – Mr Faster and Mr James, head of languages. The school manager asked me to report what had happened on the stairs that morning, she asked me two questions.
“No, I didn't steal Jake's girlfriend. You can steal things, you can't steal people.”
“Do you think you did the right thing this morning?”
“Yes! I mean no, it wasn't good that Jake fell down the stairs and broke his legs. But I did the right thing, I called an ambulance and I reported it to the school secretary. I rang my Mother during the lunch break, she works part-time at the hospital, she told me that Jake had been already operated on. I want to visit him after school.”
She said I could go, that sounded OK, the two teachers had said nothing.
Charlotte and I visited Jake in hospital, he said nothing, he stared at the ceiling.
“Be at my place at ten tomorrow morning!”
She was so damned pretty.
“They're upstairs in Charlotte's room.” It was odd, Charlotte was lying on the bed with a middle-aged man, they were using their smart phones.
“Hello John, meet my Dad. Make room for John, Dad!” I lay in the middle and pulled out my phone. We spent an hour discovering me on the net. “We need to know all about you, John.” I was judged acceptable.
“Time to go.” Charlotte's mum and dad were off for their weekly Saturday shopping. Charlotte and I went for a long walk over the common, we had so much to talk about. I put my arm round her and grabbed her butt. I wanted to stuff that hand in her white jeans, but some other time. We kissed, half an hour, it was good.
“That was good. You can do it again some time.”
We visited Jake again on the Sunday. He had broken his left leg badly, compound fracture, and twisted his right leg. Apart from that and the pain he was OK. But he did not remember anything about the accident. “Oh good, you'll be out soon.”
Something was wrong, I didn't know what, Jake wanted to stay in hospital, something was very wrong. I wanted to get outside quick, we left and walked round the town.
“John, it's my birthday next month.”
“Oh, that's good, I must find you a good present.”
“It's a special birthday, you're going to be there and I'm coming of age, you know what that means. But first I'm going away.”
Going away? Where to?
School on Monday, why was everyone looking at me, talking about me, accusing me. Oh, yeah, I had pushed Jake down the stairs. I wasn't the quiet guy any more, I was the tall maniac in the upper class.
No video clip of the accident? No problem, stage it again and film it. I discovered some guys “doing” the accident on the stairs and filming it. The video clip of the crime is already on the net and you're wanted in the manager's office. A police officer asked me some odd questions about the accident. That was all.
I could see myself in a theatre, everybody was looking at me. The floorboards on the left of the stage were rotten and dangerous – don't go there – Jake. On the right was the spotlight and Charlotte – that's where I should be.
“It must be bad, you must be suffering, everyone is looking at you, talking about you, accusing you, saying you pushed Jake down the stairs, you're under pressure, can you hold out?”
“Hold out? Easy with you in my life.”
I woke up and heard Charlotte's voice. “You say such lovely words to me, John. You really mean it, don't you?” Her eyes lit up. I remembered proposing to a woman ten years older than Charlotte many years ago. Remember that the number one, best, favourite girlfriend can turn into the number one, best, favourite wife.
School on Tuesday and you're wanted in the manager's office. A police officer asked me some odd questions about the accident. I was under pressure.
And so it continued for days, every day the police questions, but nobody could or would tell the police that he or she had seen me push Jake down the stairs.
Two weeks later there was a new scandal, Mr Faster had been caught stealing schoolgirls' underwear, Jake's accident had been forgotten, the police questions stopped and Charlotte had been driven away in a bus.
I was alone, Jake was still in hospital and Charlotte was on a ten-day school journey to other countries. The trip had been booked months ago, Charlotte wanted to cancel it to be with me, I told her to go, her parents told her to go. We phoned every day.
I decided to walk to school and save the bus fare. “Do you want a ride?” A car stopped next to me. I was in for a ride.
“Do you know who you are? No, you don't have to answer that, you probably can't. You look like a schoolboy and for all I know you taste, smell and feel like a schoolboy and you sound like a schoolboy. But you're not. How do I know? Because you don't always sound like a schoolboy, you'll too cool, too laid-back, too clever. You sound like a forty-year-old. That's what I think.” It was Mr James, head of languages.
He drove on. “We aren't speaking English. Is this your mother tongue?”
He drove on, I continued “What do you think I am, a swivel-eyed lizard? A forty-year-old playing Feuerzangenbowle? Or maybe just a crazy schoolboy? I sometimes dream that I had a wife and three children; I lived in another land.”
“Who do you think I am, Mr James?”
Charlotte came back, she'd had fun and was pleased to see me. I decided to forget about Jake and Mr James, they were just bit-players, cardboard cut-outs, no real part to play in my life. But what about Charlotte? This life was good with Charlotte – she'd better be real.
I was the star guest at the birthday party, I was the only boy, the rest were girls apart from some neighbours. We drank ginger beer and I made a short speech about starting adult life, the importance of a good education, but that we must all take time to have fun and enjoy life. Cheers!
Charlotte said that my speech was wonderful, just like me. Her parents were pleased, if somewhat surprised. Later that night when the guests left I kissed all the girls and Charlotte's mum. I put Charlotte on my lap and Charlotte's dad poured four whiskeys for us.
“Time to go.” Charlotte's mum and dad were off for their weekly Saturday afternoon shopping. Charlotte and I went for a long walk over the common, we had so much to talk about. I put my arm round her and stuffed my hand into the back of her white jeans. I pulled her on top of me, it was good.