Bullying has been in the news recently (again) and it seems just as hard to stop now as it has ever been. FB has shown pictures of children with head wounds and we’ve even seen football managers engaging in disgraceful behaviour towards reporters. It’s an age old problem.
Here at MHD we wrote a book about bullying, The Water Carrier, a novel about a teenager facing the issue and in it we explored how he could start to take some control. We hope the book also sent out the message that if you are being bullied you are not alone. Well due to the current zeitgeist being what it is we thought we would take the opportunity to promote the book again and post two or three of the first chapters here. Lest you think we are simply trying to market our own products, the book costs less than £2.00 and we have committed to giving the first £20000 pounds from the sales to Children in Need!
Have a read and enjoy.
The teenage boy stood silently in the hall, beads of sweat starting to form on his forehead as he watched the scene in the living room unfold through the crack in the door. His mother sat opposite his father who leaned back in the armchair, swigging from a can of strong lager. A rogue drip made its way down his chin unnoticed, only to be lost in the stubble of his three-day beard. He sneered at his wife and whispered something unpleasant under his breath. She paused, looked into her glass of vodka, drained it with one gulp and hurled the glass at him. Her husband ducked as it smashed against the wall, showering him with shards of glass.
Their younger son felt sick; he could hardly bear to watch as his father swore loudly, lifted his cumbersome frame from the stained and sunken seat and rushed clumsily towards his wife, pulling back his right hand and bunching his fist. She aimed a kick that caught him in the stomach, knocking him off balance, forcing him to put out a hand against the wall. She pushed herself up, gaining leverage from a sticky-coated coffee table. Just as he was about to punch her, two doors slammed in the house at the same time: one, a door from upstairs as the younger son ran to the sanctuary of his bedroom; the other the front door as their elder son came rushing in to stop the fight before it got further out of hand.
The younger boy could no longer distinguish what was being said from upstairs. The volume of noise echoed around the tiny house. He pushed himself further into a corner of his room as if trying to gain greater distance from the trouble. Another crash and more raised voices; the booze-fuelled momentum of a situation spiralling further and further out of control. He was sweating, his heart was pounding and the nausea was almost overwhelming as he started to shake with fear. Any minute now one of them might take it out on him.
Alfie Finch’s story begins at a point in his life when everything was so mind-numbingly depressing that no one wanted to listen to him for fear of being dragged down the same path that he seemed destined to follow for the rest of a deeply miserable life. But don’t feel too sorry for him if things look tough because there is a way out of this tale of woe, if he’s prepared to take it.
Fourteen year old Alfie was sitting on the edge of his bed crying his eyes out while his parents were screaming at each other in the downstairs living room whilst blaming Alfie for the cause of their domestic violence. Alfie felt that his entire life was screwed up. The daily rows between his parents, which he was frequently accused of causing were hardly a predicament that could be laughed off.
Alfie was simply unable to fathom out what he was supposed to have done to cause today’s row. He had simply returned home from the school he detested with a passion, walked into the house, put his bag down and before he knew it the house had turned into a war zone with his parents screaming at each other. Alfie reflected on his situation with a mixture of anger and a deep ingrained bitterness. No one should have to live one day of their life like this, let alone every single day. His parents did not want him. He had no friends. He hated school where he felt he was useless at everything. Life seemed to be without hope and some days Alfie just didn’t want to live anymore.
Alfie tried to stop the flow of tears; he couldn’t believe he was crying at his age. He doubted there were many other fourteen year olds who come home from school and cried their eyes out. In fact he suspected there weren’t any, just him. He was a hopeless loser and it was entirely the fault of his mother and father.
When he pondered on the word ‘entirely’, he decided that wasn’t quite the case. His nineteen year old brother Joe who, despite having his own flat was a frequent visitor to the small, shabby family home, had to take more than a share of the blame for Alfie’s misery.
Joe constantly recited his favourite line to Alfie, “They never argued until you were born.” According to Joe not only were they the perfect family before Alfie was born but he was an accident that shouldn’t have happened. This was a flavour of the type of abuse that Joe had heaped upon Alfie for what seemed like his entire miserable life. Surely older brothers were supposed to be nice to their younger brothers? In Alfie’s eyes having an older brother meant having someone who would back you up, help you with your homework, protect you from the school bullies, make sure you weren’t the last to get picked in a game. Most importantly an older brother would stand up for you when their parents argued. Sadly there was little or no chance of that with Joe.
Alfie couldn’t comprehend why Joe was such an awful brother, and even more mystifying why his parents thought Joe was such a great son. Great son, my arse thought Alfie with venom.
As his thoughts boiled slowly Alfie could hear the negative comparisons his father frequently made between the two siblings.
“You’re not like your brother. You should take after him more. You should be able to kick a ball further than that; Joe could when he was your age. Joe was school captain when he was in your year, and he was in the pub team when he was fifteen.”
Well, good for Joe, thought Alfie but he’s still an arrogant bully who doesn’t look after his brother. But when Alfie calmed down he knew he would still try to please Joe and his parents; try to fit in. He knew his desperation to please his father was pitiable, but he could not help himself.
The situation with his mother was no better. She just wanted to sit on her fat backside watching TV all day, and drink white wine or vodka as long as she thought no one was looking. How pathetic. Alfie was tempted to take his dysfunctional family on The Jeremy Kyle Show and expose their cruelty to the rest of the world. Which would be wonderful because, bizarrely, outside Alfie’s home the world genuinely seemed to think his family was special.
Alfie knew the reason behind this misguided view of the Finches. It was just because his dad and brother were talented footballers. Not because they’d won a Nobel prize for world peace or curing cancer, but simply because they were good footballers and if you live in Wolverhampton, Alfie’s home town, where football is everything, that’s all you need to be; a good footballer.
Alfie had to admit it was true about Joe playing for the pub team at fifteen, and he’d gone on to become the team captain at nineteen. Alfie smiled bitterly; given that his father was also the pub’s best customer it wasn’t difficult to see why the Finches were considered God’s gift to the brewery. Every year the pub team won a trophy and the team photograph would be printed in the local newspaper, The Express and Star. There were at least five framed pictures of the team displayed on the wall of the pub. On the odd occasion that Alfie was allowed in the pub the red-nosed old men constantly reminded him of how proud he should be of Joe and his father. Well, the red-nosed brigade would have a different view if they’d been flies on the wall of the Finch house this evening with his mother shrieking, his father effing and blinding and the big hero Joe blaming his younger brother.
Sadly, Alfie genuinely believed that his fate was set in stone; there was nothing he could do about who he was. In his opinion, which was the only one that counted, you were either born good or useless, and he was clearly born useless.
He kept torturing himself with the same questions: Why was he useless? Why was he so unpopular? Alfie mused unhappily on his lack of popularity. He had only one friend in the whole world, Leroy Lloyd. But why was Leroy so popular in comparison to himself? Their respective academic performances at school were remarkably similar. They were both hopeless at Maths, passable at English and History, clueless when it came to Physics and both shared an ability in Art. Whilst Leroy was good at PE, Alfie shone at Music. In Alfie’s eyes the only palpable difference between the two of them was that Leroy was a talented footballer.
Leroy showed undoubted promise for the beautiful game. He was a certainty to represent the school team again this season following the trials at the beginning of the new school year; his selection was a foregone conclusion. Alfie’s dad had also set his sights on persuading Leroy to train with Joe for the pub team, despite the fact Leroy was still two months short of his fifteenth birthday. The answer to Alfie’s popularity question was clear; it was all about football, bloody football.
Not that Alfie didn’t like football, on the contrary, he was a keen supporter of his home-town team the Wolves. Well, he would be if only his father would take him to a match. Unfortunately his father had been clear with him; he would only take Alfie to watch the Wolves when he was selected to play for a team himself. So instead Alfie had to satisfy his passion for the game through the solitary pastime of listening to the matches on the local radio station, BBC WM. Further evidence, in his eyes, that his family couldn’t care less about him because of his footballing ineptitude.
With his questionable logic on the subject Alfie arrived at what he believed to be an indisputable conclusion: Leroy’s only claim to popularity at school was through his footballing prowess without which he would assuredly be a victim of the bullies, just like Alfie.
Much of the bullying to which Alfie was subjected took the form of homophobic abuse. He was frequently taunted about being gay because of his long hair and the fact his voice had only just broken. Recently he had left his bag unattended for a few minutes and when he returned someone had scrawled “gay boy” all over it. To cap it all Joe and his dad shouted at him for failing to stand up for himself and just when Alfie thought it couldn’t get any worse, the pair of them asked Alfie suspiciously if the rumours were true. Again the mixture of rage and bitterness welled inside Alfie. He couldn’t be less gay if he tried, not that he wanted to try. After all he couldn’t help it if girls didn’t like him, could he? But that fact didn’t even remotely justify the gay comments.
Alfie’s final twisted thought on the matter showed how close his mind was to unravelling. Despite being his best, in fact his only friend even Leroy had asked him last week if he was gay. It wasn’t said in a negative way, but it must have crossed Leroy’s mind that it was true or surely he wouldn’t have asked the question? Alfie had been tempted to tell Leroy to “get lost”, but he knew if he lost his only friend his misery at school would be complete.
The conclusion dawned on Alfie that he had only one chance to escape the pit of despair. He had to get into the school football team. If he got selected for the school team then perhaps the bullying would stop, his dad and Joe would spend time with him and he might even become more popular with the girls. So the answer was to take part in the forthcoming trials alongside Leroy. But as soon as he had reached that conclusion Alfie’s superfine negative mind took another turn; if he was a complete failure at the trials, would his life get even worse? On further contemplation that was an easy question for Alfie to answer: his life could not get any worse. It was so unbelievably empty, he could not help himself murmuring out loud, “I have nothing; I am nothing.”
The young soldier felt his back start to stiffen under the weight of his pack. Luckily he was nearly home. The walk from his neighbouring village wasn’t far, about two hours, but the climb was steep in parts and no vehicles had been available; all gone to the war effort. As he stretched out his muscles he heard the distant noise of his neighbours’ children playing in the woods up ahead. He’d completed his recruitment for the day but he knew those young tearaways would insist on trying to force him to let them sign up. Even this war couldn’t bring down the spirit of his village and its Croatian people.
He walked on. His mother would have a large meal prepared, his father would push a glass of something less healthy towards him and, if the ingredients were available, his brother would have baked bread. There was nothing better than his brother’s bread … apart from the sight of his own beautiful wife. All his struggles were worth it knowing their future depended on his efforts and those of people like him.
The children’s play grew louder but a distant noise caught his attention. He stopped to listen and immediately recognised the soof soof, as he ducked instinctively before glancing skywards. The first shell landed about a hundred yards behind him destroying the road and showering him, even at this distance, in concrete and dirt, knocking him from his feet. He ditched his pack as he stumbled to get back up and the next shell landed further along the road, nearer the edge of the village. As the young soldier ran headlong towards his home, a barrage of explosions went off in every direction, forcing him to dive for cover amidst a cloud of dust and noise that had no business here in the pretty village.
The shelling only lasted for a short time, but it seemed endless: trees fell, bushes burned, the road disintegrated and the war came home. Until now, for the soldier at least, it had been necessary to travel some distance from his home to see the fighting and be involved in combat. Death had been something he could leave behind. Now, this had changed.
When the explosions ended he stood up, the very definition of “shell-shocked”: the ravaged landscape left him confused, and with no more children’s laughter to guide the way, he stumbled, dazed, in the general direction of his home.
His parent’s house was still partly standing; it wasn’t clear if the damage had been from a direct hit or a near miss. But this was no near miss.
The door had been blown off its hinges and the complete devastation was obvious; no internal walls remained and the setting sun shone where the roof had once sheltered them.
An hour later, he walked out, having found the bodies of everyone he loved amongst the rubble. He stood in the remains of the garden and looked up and down what had been the main street, but was too stunned to see anything. He tripped on the charred remains of the bench where he used to sit and watch the sun go down. He stumbled, fell to his knees and screamed. He screamed again, paused and screamed a third time before curling up in a ball and lying face down in the grass. Then he cried for the first time.
Nightfall came and went, followed by the dawn. The soldier may have slept a little but as the sun began to rise he was still curled into a ball, crying softly, his body rocking rhythmically. He didn’t see the tall bearded priest walk up behind him and he barely stirred when he felt the big, strong hand on his shoulder. The priest knelt beside him and heard the soldier whisper, “My life is over. I have nothing, I am nothing.”