He didn’t make a point of hurrying across the road.
Too many people already made fun of him for that. Something about the shuffling gait, an awkwardness where a different personality might have found pride. And where the naturally extrovert would have revelled in the ambient roll of the shoulders, or in possession of the huge, broad back, that mien continued to elude Trevor.
At school the best he could hope for was some kind of Erkan Mustafa status, Grange Hill’s Row-land born again as Essex soulboy, the frostier memories of daytime TV consigned to a footnote; though Roland had his backers, too, the bookish black girl or sometimes even a member of staff on hand to lend a sympathetic ear. So if he was a little adrift, unlike Trevor, he was never totally at sea.
A good deal of Trevor’s problems stemmed from the presence of another fat kid in his class. Chris Papadopoulos, or Chrissy P as he insisted on being called. And though Trevor hated to admit it, even now, Chrissy P was entirely the wrong kind of fattie. The sort to nick your lunchmoney and sit on your head if you complained. Always the first to put the boot in as well. Quick off the mark with the verbals too, some Asian kid usually getting it in the neck – ‘Paki, this and Paki, that’ – as though Chris was trying extra hard to prove a point to the English boys who’d sometimes tease him about his olive skin and his mum’s hairy arms.
But in another way, Trevor understood. There always had to be someone lower down in the food chain.
The English boys had Chris. And Chris had the Asian kid. And he doubtless had someone too, or a pet hamster, or something, out of school. It was just how things were, how they’d probably always been. Not for him to question; just another detail to survive. He knew he stood out anyway, the only Scot in a class full of cockneys. And it wasn’t as though he could just hide away, blend his fourteen stone into the décor.
The occasional quiet moment, but these kids were louder still than the ones he’d left behind in sunny Glasgow.
And unlike before, he couldn’t even understand half their carry on. All those mangled vowels, some of the boys almost throatier than his old man, so much so that he could swear they had access to the same poisons. The way things moved from throat to fist, too, seemed more than half remembered. Something horribly familiar about the speed with which words kissed flesh, drew claret. Called witnesses to their ballet of hysteria – Fight! Fight! Fight!
And all the kids would be there, clapping and chanting and making sure those embers stayed well stoked. The English, and the big Greek, and even the Asian kid, if only through fear, though there was one other in the class who regularly went missing, and always at these moments.
But for Trevor, tired of all the gravy-for-blood, wot-no-dick, fat fucker jokes, and of far worse after school, something was going to have to change. He’d be stretching it if he said it was all his idea but he’d certainly had some thoughts along those lines even before the conversation with R. Still, he was grateful for the advice, especially given the sporadic nature of R’s school attendance. It lent the words that special allure of ‘limited edition’ but more importantly gave Trevor something concrete to hold on to. Specific items on a list, and a venue, just a bus ride away.
In some respects he worried more for his mum and his sister, Tina, than he did for himself. This in spite of the fact that the move had clearly been harder on him, uprooting him from the few hard won friendships he’d built up away from the scallies and their buckfast winters, and forcing him back to square one, but this time in a bigger place which felt even harsher. New rules, too, which he didn’t yet understand; sounds which were alien to his ear. Kotch, na mean? Sights, too – mouthy black boys with all but the veneer morphing into their supposed enemies, mouthy white boys. All throat, but plenty of threat too. And whilst he accepted there were always going to be comments about the accent, the clothes, it was already clear that Tina was settling in to her new environment far better than him. She’d made a couple of friends, wasn’t always skulking round the eges of everything. He’d even seen her laughing and joking with some of the black boys he found so hard to understand. And then he’d see how they’d look at him, and it was very different. So if she wasn’t exactly sailing through, she was at least making progress in this landscape.
Then again she wasn’t fourteen stone.
Didn’t move, do everything as…slow.
As for Mum, she’d found work as a dinner lady at their school, and seemed to be popular enough with her new workmates. Even some of the kids who gave him such a hard time in class were unfailingly polite to his mum when queing up for lunch.
But he worried about his mum and his sister for reasons that for once had little to do with the school yard.
He knew dad loved Tina for her strongheadedness just as he resented him for his fatness. But recently he’d also seen the bruises on her arms. He suspected the old man was still drinking even before he’d found the empties strewn around in the trash, the telltale mixture of tins and bottles; jakey-strength sherbets and even more ruinous meths. He’d been on the wrong end of the belt enough times to know what that mark was on his mum’s legs too.
For now though, he needed to compose himself. He had a little job to do, and it was important he stay focussed. Ultimately it was a simple enough list of ingredients. He just needed to remain calm. Though thinking back on it, Trevor wasn’t even sure how R. had known about what the teachers would call his ‘homelife’. How had he known? Trevor certainly hadn’t mentioned anything about it to him before. Being around scallies all his life, the one thing he had learned early was how to keep schtum.
His mind went into overdrive and he was sweating even before he got into the shop.
Which was a touch ironic given the need for discretion; also, given that his only crime, to date, was to be an overweight loner with form for nothing other than offering himself as a sacrificial buffer; an inflatable, emotional punchbag between the spirit-emboldened fury of cartoon strip father and, to him at least, unfathomable loyalty of bruised mother.
His dad’s face unexpectedly slopped back into view as that of a kind man, laughing and joking on their trips to the seaside, always taking them on the donkey ride and buying ice creams.
Then without warning it would become bloated and ugly as the cone slid down his face, the mouth curled at the corners into an ugly Cornetto sneer.
His dad had been right about one thing though – the boy was always daydreaming.
No time for that now though. The other Asian kid at school, R. – the one always going scarce – had told him about this place; made it sound like an Aladdin’s cave, with some fabled kit lying around. But to Trevor, who quickly scoured the street before shifting his parka’d fourteen stone bulk through the unfeasibly small shop entrance, it just seemed like any other convenience store, if a little more cluttered and random than he last remembered it.
Apparently for the ‘placebo’ to work, it needed just the right combination of Lucozade, beer and cashew nuts.
And this was the only place in the area which did the nuts.
It sounded so convincing when R. had explained it all to him during lunchbreak, but now Trevor wasn’t even sure he knew what ‘placebo’ meant or how it would help him with his dad. Still at least he knew where the place was; he often picked up those old fashioned glucose sweets that his mum liked from here.
The door signalled his arrival with a two-tone squeak.
‘Hello. Can I help you?’
‘Nah, nah. Just lookin’ mate.’
Trevor did his best to swallow the vowels and suppress as much of Glasgow as he could in that one short sentence.
The shopkeeper, an older, barrel-chested Indian man, stood for a moment, wondering why these people with funny accents were always trying to practice their broken Hindi on him. Take this boy for example. Seemed like a nice enough lad but really should stick to English. Na na. Or maybe it was the Bengali influence filtering through the tunnel to this part of town too? Whatever the reason, it seemed a shame – such a beautiful language made to sound so harsh. In his heart the poetic courtesans of Lucknow, but in his shop something else entirely.
Trevor tried his hardest to look nonchalant, but it wasn’t that easy for a fourteen stone boy in a parka to pass by unnoticed in the shop’s cramped confines. Lucozade, cashews already stashed away in deep side pockets, Trevor was still trying to figure out how to access the beer when he became aware, with a start, that the old boy was right there next to him in the aisle.
‘Nayi, nayi, you should just ask me next time,’ explained the shopkeeper, wagging a knowing digit at the unusually fat young man gazing blankly up at him, mouth slightly agape.
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to. I mean I didn’t want to,’ blabbered Trevor, lurching into automatic pilot, trembling hands fishing out the guilty loot.
The surprised shopkeeper tried to summon up his most outraged expression, but his heart wasn’t really in it.
Truth was, he almost felt sorry for the lad. He’d seen him come in before, after all the other kids had been and gone and taken their clamour, antics and minor thefts with them. But he’d never been any trouble himself and had always paid for his little sugar coated indulgences.
Still, how often did he get the chance to play at being the plucky entrepreneur, struggling against the odds, and never more than one adolescent theft away from ruin?
‘Why do you do these bad things?’ he asked, palms dutifully upturned, brow exquisitely furrowed.
The worst he’d expected was that the boy would say something unkind and run off with the goodies. So when his shoulders instead began to go up and down and the mouth creased into the telltale crescent, the older man was momentarily caught off guard. The boy wailed until his snot and mucus had got all mixed up with his remorse but the shopkeeper, quickly recovering his usual empathy, felt it was ‘all part of the service’ and held the tearful face to his chest with genuine feeling.