While you wait for the next instalment in the Man on a Wharf series, I thought I’d share an old story that I wrote nine years ago. I wrote Sticks and Stones in 2005 when I was taking a creative writing course at Flinders University as part of my Bachelor of Arts.
As I’m sure will be the case with the stories on this blog, some of my stories are better than others. Of the ten or so stories that I wrote, this story received the most praise from my classmates and tutor.
I think what made this story special was that it was autobiographical. I grew up in country South Australia and was an outsider for many reasons. Like the child in the story, I was bullied frequently. While the bullying was quite horrendous at times, I was blessed to have amazing parents who taught me to forgive my enemies and who created a safe environment at home.
Bullying and its potential negative consequences is such a big issue these days. Everyone has a theory on how it should be handled: From retaliation through to reporting. Unfortunately, you can’t change other people. Bullying, while it can be improved, will never be completely eliminated.
I wanted to show how, despite the terrible things that others can do to you, you don’t need to wear that all of your life. If you have a safe place to go to, loving friends and family of your own, then you can cope with just about anything.
Sticks and Stones
by Chalky MacLaan
I pick it up quickly, my bag that is. I look around the room at my classmates, they are all talking. Talking, talking, talking to each other in groups. Groups of monkeys, they seem like. Monkeys, picking each other’s nits. They are so involved in each others’ lives, so interconnected with one another. It makes me sick to be here on the outside of the group, looking in and wishing that I was not here, on the outside. It makes me sick, so sick I’m leaving now.
I walk through the porch of the old, wooden classroom that has been here, in this school, for decades, gradually wasting away in the scorching outback sun. I walk outside and feel that same scorching sun hit my face. It feels like someone has just thrown me into a furnace and dropped an anvil on my head at the same moment. I shake my head to throw these images away and scamper to the bike shed, where I need to be before the older boys catch sight of me. I scarcely look around, but I’m pretty sure that the boys aren’t there, because I can’t hear their taunts. I can’t hear the taunts that I so often think about, dream about, cry about. All I can hear is the birds; the whistle of the north wind in the tall, deformed trees that have been growing in asphalt since forever; and children, younger than myself, singing as they are being led towards the line of yellow school busses, beyond the staffroom. I long for the sound of cars, busses, motorbikes, trains, planes and every other sound that represents a place that is not this town, this prison, as I like to call it.
I unlock my bike from the bike shed. No-one else has to lock their bike up, only me. And still a bike lock does not guarantee that my tyres will be fully inflated when I ride home in the afternoon. Today, however, my tyres are fine. I sometimes wish that I could fill my tyres with a gas that, when let out by one of the older kids, would magically transform them into a person who is different than the norm, like me. Or at least expose the fact that all of the other kids are not clones of each other as they pretend to be, but individuals.
I start to ride. I ride fast, I ride hard, I ride home. It’s not far to home, only down this street, around the corner and down that street. It seems easy enough. I turn the corner, only to be confronted with a nightmare: A nightmare of red. Their red, sunburned necks fade into the red of their short hair, with no distinction. I’m scared. It’s the older kids. I can see my house, I can see it. But the way is blocked. I have to ride on. Ride on through the red sea.
They’ve seen me now. I can’t turn back. They bend down to the ground, down to the dusty, dirty ground, as I ride past, fast and at last they’re behind me. But wait for it. Thunk. It hit my wheel. Thunk. It hit my bag. Thunk. It hit my head. The rocks came flying. And so did those taunts.
Thunk. “You fat wombat.”
Thunk. “Go back to the city.”
Thunk. “That’s for your dad, you freak.”
The bike kicks up the dust and it mixes with the tears that start to fall down my cheeks. The responses to these taunts, flow freely around my head, but I’m always going to be too scared to voice them. I am now out of their range, until the time comes when they devise freak-seeking missiles. I turn into my drive and dump the bike on the lawn. I wipe the mud from my cheeks, take a deep breath and go inside. As I enter, I step out of the furnace, and the anvil is taken from me. It is cool, and there is a nice smell of biscuits or cake or something in the air.
The assault continues as I walk to my front door. I look out the window and see the older boys still hurling rocks. But it is quieter now. Muffled by the walls of the house, I only hear a soft: Tick. Tick. Tick. My mum comes up behind me. She puts her hand on my shoulder. I smile. From here, through the window, they are exposed as the buffoons they are. Their red faces, their red necks, the red dust that makes them cough. They look ridiculous. I laugh. They can’t get me in here, this is my house, this is my zone. Here I am not different. Here I can be the city-loving, slightly overweight, son of a teacher that I am.
The tick, tick, tick of the rocks dies down as the boys get bored and walk off. It’s over for today. I shut the curtain and get on with my life.
Cover image: David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net