THE SHED (A parody – well, sort of)
Muck stirred in bed, semi-awake as Morrissey’s voice whined Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now on the radio.
Half of him felt cheated that God had chosen half term to cover Camberwell in two feet of snow; the other half was just glad to have a break from the torture school had become. Either way, he had the whole house to himself today and was determined to spend it doing as little as possible.
The shower was quick and breakfast suitably unhealthy, as befitting a 14-year-old with free rein of the house. Muck entered the front room and was about to settle down in front of the telly when the plop-plop-plop of letters landing on the doormat signalled the postman’s arrival. He went to pick them up. In amongst the gas and phone bills was a blue envelope with his name on it. No stamp; no postmark; no return address; just his name.
Muck ripped the envelope open. Out fell a page torn from a ring-bound notebook, with handwriting that looked like a spider had tried to mark out its territory on the page.
“We need to talk. Meet me behind the bike shed. Signed, Your Daddy.”
Your Daddy. Muck had heard those words several times recently, always accompanied by something painful: a punch, a slap, a kick, the sound of his Musical Youth cassette being smashed to pieces… “Who’s your daddy?” was the Ladykiller’s catchphrase; taunting his victims with it seemed to enhance whatever twisted pleasure he derived from bullying.
Your Daddy. The words brought a bad taste to Muck’s mouth as they brought back memories of the worst day of his life. Sissy was a year behind him in school, but ever since the day he first saw her, he’d had a massive crush. When she agreed to go and see Return of the Jedi with him, he’d walked on a cloud all week. Ever since then, they’d been inseparable. School discos were heaven. And then came the Ladykiller.
“If you like a girl and he looks at her, forget it,” Muck’s best mate Billy said to him during Double Maths one Tuesday afternoon. Sure enough, Muck became the Ladykiller’s prime target. For a while, he toughed it out… until that Friday afternoon when he saw – through two black eyes – his beloved Sissy disappearing behind the bike shed hand-in-hand with his nemesis. The Great Misery descended upon Muck like a ton of bricks that day. It had hung around like a bad smell ever since.
But sending cryptic notes wasn’t the Ladykiller’s style. He was more your bog-standard, give-you-a-wedgie-then-knock-your-books-into-a-puddle type of bully. Not the kind who went in for psychological warfare – mainly because he didn’t believe in doing stuff he couldn’t spell.
Well, there’s only one way to find out what this is about, Muck reasoned with his saner side. All right then, commonsense replied resignedly. Off to the bike shed it is. But have a word with Billy first, and see if he knows anything about this. Billy’s house was on Muck’s route to school, just a five-minute bike ride away. It can’t hurt to show it to him, Muck thought. He might even know who wrote it.
“I haven’t a clue whose writing this is,” Billy said after examining the note. “And I really don’t think you should go.”
“I know,” Muck replied. “But I have to find out what this is all about.”
“Just be careful, mate.”
Billy disappeared for a few minutes. When he came back into the room, he had a shiny H-shaped object in his hand.
“Here,” he said. “My Dad uses this for DIY. Says it’s better than a hammer. It fires staples. If anyone tries anything, you can really hurt them with it.”
Muck took the staple gun hesitantly, and put it in his jacket pocket. “Cheers, Billy,” he said. “Sure you don’t want to come?”
“No, thanks. You be careful.”
Denmark Hill was a tough cycle, even without so much snow on the ground. Muck wheezed his way past King’s College Hospital, thinking how handy it was to have a Casualty department within spitting distance if he and his bike ended up under a bus. The way his wheels were slipping, that seemed extremely likely.
Eventually, Muck gave up trying to cycle and pushed the BMX the rest of the way to the schoolyard. Even when deserted, the place gave off bad vibes. Muck approached the bike shed with trepidation, wondering exactly how much real damage a staple gun could do at close quarters.
It wasn’t a sound or a sight that had triggered Muck’s surprise; it was the sudden change in temperature of the air hitting the back of his neck. In a split second, it had morphed from an arctic wind into a pleasantly warm summer breeze. As he turned to look round, he noticed the place getting brighter. The snow under his feet melted quickly and disappeared. Young flower saplings burst through the already green grass. Suddenly it was summer in a tiny corner of south London, with Muck the only witness to it.
As the weather changed, the forbidding presence of the bike shed also appeared to be going through a transformation of its own, into a welcoming house with double-glazed windows and stone cladding on the front wall. It looked just like Muck’s grandmother’s house. Nan’s house had become a refuge for Muck since the Ladykiller’s terror campaign began. It was the one place he could escape to and just be… loved. But why was he imagining Nan’s house in the middle of school… and in the one place he’d come to hate so much?
The house’s front door creaked slightly ajar. Muck could hear raucous, warm laughter from within. “Here goes nothing,” he muttered under his breath as he ventured up the steps and pushed the door open. As he stepped in, a very loud Nigerian accent boomed out.
“Well, you took your time!”
Muck turned in the voice’s direction and found his eyes level with a massive bosom adorned in the most flowery fabric he’d ever seen. He tilted his head slowly upwards, taking in the sight of an enormous black woman in a voluminous flowing print dress.
Any minute now, he thought to himself, she’s going to whip out an umbrella and start singing ‘It’s Raining Men’.
“So glad you could join us.” Two other people had entered the front room to form a welcoming party for their shell-shocked guest. “This,” the woman said, motioning to the tall Latino man on her right hand side, “is Jesus. And over here…” pointing to the Oriental-looking woman on her left, “…we have Soraya.”
“And you are…?” Muck asked.
“Well, most people call me God – although that’s actually all three of us. I prefer Pops myself.”
Hmmm. The temperature outside just went from 0 to 60 in three seconds; the school’s bike shed has turned into my Nan’s house, and I’m inside it with a Puerto Rican bloke called Jesus, some strange Chinese bird and a fat African woman who says she’s God. That’s it – I am officially mental.
“What – you’re God?” Muck spluttered. “That’s impossible!”
“How so?” said Pops. “It’s the dress, isn’t it? Humans! You have no problems with men in frocks claiming to be my representatives on earth. But when I rock one myself, your minds can’t handle it!”
“No, it’s not the dress. It’s… it’s…”
“Is it cos I is black?”
“It is! The idea of me being – how can I put this – non-Caucasian – disturbs you! I blame George Burns for this. I can’t wait until Morgan has his turn!”
“Who’s Morgan? Have his turn at what?”
“Oh, you’ll find out soon enough.”
If the few occasions Muck had been to Sunday School had taught him anything, it was that the Wrath of God wasn’t the sort of event you wanted a front-row seat for. He decided humouring Pops might be the safest option all round.
“Don’t humour me,” said Pops.
“And don’t even think of swearing!”
“I – I – I’m sorry,” Muck managed to spit out. “I’m just not that used to God inviting me to hang out with her-him-them… I mean you. And certainly not in a bike shed.”
“Why wouldn’t I, child? What parent doesn’t want to spend some time with his boy?”
Something inside Muck snapped.
“No offence, but if you’re God and I’m ‘your boy’, why is my life so rubbish? What kind of mother – father – whatever you are – lets ‘their boy’ get all the crap I’ve been having? My life’s bloody awful!Yeah – I said ‘bloody’! Are you going to strike me with lightning?”
Pops hardly broke a sweat.
“No, son. But calm down. That’s exactly what we’re here to talk to you about.”
“Go on, then,” Muck said calmly.
Pops paused. Soraya put a reassuring arm on Muck’s shoulder and sat down with him, facing Pops. Jesus, who had briefly popped out of the room, came back in and took a seat on the sofa next to Muck and Soraya. Pops started to speak.
“Look, son. I know things have been rough for you. I hate it as much as you do, but that’s just what happens in a fallen world. But trust me, it won’t always be like this. It will get better. And all of us here are looking out for you – even if it doesn’t always feel that way.”
“And what about Sissy? What do I do about her?”
“You’ll get over her. I know it hurts now, Muck. But being dumped isn’t the end of the world. There will be other girls – girls who won’t leave you for the first thug who comes along. You’ve got a great future ahead of you – not just relationships, but every area of your life. See those computers you love playing with so much? The other kids give you so much stick about it now, but all the knowledge you’ve gained about them will be worth gold dust in the 90s. The meek – the geeks, if you like – will inherit the earth. I said it, and what I say goes.”
“And the Ladykiller?”
“Well, I don’t want to give too much of the future away. But let’s just say that next summer, he’s going to choose the wrong boy to pick on. Rajesh might be short and skinny and wears glasses, but he’s also his school’s junior kickboxing champion.”
Muck stifled a laugh.
“Don’t push it, lad. He may be the one making your life a misery, but vengeance is still mine.”
A loud ‘ding’ from the kitchen signalled that dinner was ready, and the four of them went into the dining room. Dinner was hot, delicious and loud. Muck had heard it said that God had a sense of humour. But now he was witnessing it up front over rice and peas and a wicked curry, topped with a tall glass of Um Bongo.
When dinner was over, Muck stood up to say his goodbyes, unable to stop the smile taking over his face. The Great Misery was still hovering away in the back of his mind. But its power was now considerably diminished. The fog was clearing, and Muck could sense it.
He turned round for one last look at his three new friends before setting off for home. Jesus threw an air high-five and shouted “Siempre contigo, hermano.” Soraya smiled and gave him a hug. Pops stood tall, arms akimbo, and flashed him a broad grin and a wink. Her warm voice boomed out again.
“Muck, we’ll always have your back. Never forget who your daddy really is.”
© George Luke, 2008.