The True Curse
Some people say that when people like me have been diagnosed with a learning disability or difficulty, we carry the burden of having a curse. But what those surprisingly ignorant people don't realise is that it is God's greatest gift. Without dyspraxia, I wouldn't have a vast intelligence of snakes and other reptiles and I wouldn't be the herpetologist I am today – even if it means being anti-social and having unintelligible handwriting. The true curse we are forced to endure is the curse of bullies. As I sit here in the reptile room, where the cacophony of hisses, croaks, squawks and other animal noises blend together like a musical orchestra, I remember one particular incident that happened to a very shy young man I used to know many years ago.
It was a cold, miserable Monday atop the Mortmain Mountains and Kevin was relieved to see the first half of the school day finished. The army of students were let loose from their classroom and they marched down the narrow corridor to the cafeteria in order to receive their lunch, making horrendous noises as they went, sounding a lot like the herd of elephants I saw on one of my expeditions. Kevin felt nervous and intimidated – crowds and noise gave him sensory overload – and all he wanted was to sit someplace quiet, where he could enjoy his meal in peace. But luckily, the teacher had shown him a shortcut – for this was a gigantic building with countless long and winding corridors – so he was in the queue in no time at all. He got himself a tray and asked the friendly dinner lady for the roast beef option and a can of fizzy pop. Feeling somewhat happier, he plodded over to the other end of the hall, the tray feeling heavy in his hands as he struggled to hold it correctly.
On his own, he could watch the other students. He never really understood why he took so much pleasure out of seeing how people acted when they were with their friends. He felt calm when he saw a group of girls he vaguely knew giggling over a picture in a magazine and he felt included when he heard glimpses of three different conversations at the same time. So, like everyday, he began to tuck in, despite suffering from severe food issues. Carefully cutting the beef with his cutlery into edible sizes, he did this very slowly because he was not especially skilled at doing such a task, and he placed a small chunk of meat in his mouth. As chewed the horribly chewy food hard and vigorously, an uneasy feeling crept up on him, the hair on the back of his neck standing up. Slowly and dramatically, he turned around in his seat to see Olaf from his class and his gang of sniggering cronies.
" Olaf!" he gasped. " Leave me alone," he muttered and turned back around.
" I just wanted to sit with my bestest buddy in the whole, entire world!" he sneered, his alice blue eyes shining brightly.
" Leave me alone!" Kevin insisted.
" Ooh, what do you have there?" the bully continued, ignoring the poor boy's cries. " Roast beef, huh?"
" Mind if I have a bit?" asked Tony, the one in the dress, and before Kevin could give his permission, the gender confused boy picked up a piece with his filthy hand, contaminating the food with his germs. Kevin gulped nervously, now feeling terribly frightened.
" Go and enjoy your beef now," Olaf went on.
There was something going on and Kevin knew that. Olaf wasn't being nice for the sake of being nice; he was planning to do something cruel to him. Hesitantly, he sunk his fork into the beef and brought it to his mouth. He began to chew, his jaw bouncing up and down as it worked hard to break down the meat into smaller pieces. Olaf and his five friends let out howls of laughter, knocking their heads back as they banged their fists on the table. Holding back tears, Kevin mentally told himself that it wasn't his fault he was such a messy eater. He moved away from the gang of bullies, hoping they would leave.
" Go away!" he muttered.
" Hey, Kevin!" Maurice hooted, the light reflected in his naked head. " Eat with your mouth closed, OK?"
" Yeah, it's disgusting," cried Rae.
" No one wants to see your food churning around," her sister, Sue, added.
" You're such a freak. Baby need a bib?" their eldest sister, Peggy, mocked, sucking her thumb like the baby she'd accused Kevin of being.
" Go away!" he repeated.
" No," Tony answered, grinning smugly.
Kevin had had enough. He grabbed his tray and swiftly headed towards the toilets, the bullies closely following. Kevin hid in a cubicle, his heart racing, and he continued to nibble his lunch. But it wasn't long until Olaf, Maurice and Tony started banging on the door and throwing shredded paper over the top. Kevin heaved a miserable sigh and ignored them, still blatantly hoping they would eventually get bored and leave him alone. But that was the thing about Olaf. He never gave up.
" Leave me alone!"
" I think he's throwing up," he heard Tony whisper.
" Really? What makes you say that?" Maurice whispered back.
" Well, he's locked himself in the toilet with his lunch. You know how weird he is with food."
" Go away!" Kevin said, the tears welling up in his green eyes. He wanted to say something witty and clever to them but he never found the courage to do so, until years later when he'd already graduated.
A loud sudden boom made him leap out of his skin as Olaf started to kick down the door. Trapped inside like a fly in a Venus Flytrap, Kevin had no idea what to do. He thought of home and the comforting arms of his mother. He resented her choice to send him to this dreadful school. With every forceful kick, the lock began to lose resistance, making Kevin more and more upset and he sobbed. After a few more kicks, the door swung open and the three horrifically nasty boys screamed with laughter to find Kevin a blubbering mess on the urine-stained floor. As the boys advanced on him, he gave them (and himself) a surprise by picking himself up and dashing outside to get away. He didn't know where he was going; he didn't care. He needed to be somewhere he was safe from the wrath of the bullies.
Humming a merry tune, I plodded down the corridor in the Herpetology Department with a pile of paperwork in my hands. As a herpetologist who'd previously gone to this school, I felt it my duty to lend a hand in taking care of the animals that the students used in their lessons, so that was what I was doing at that precise moment. I didn't see Kevin until he crashed into me, sending the papers fluttering about all around us like A4-sized snowflakes.
" Watch where you're going!" I snapped in an annoyed tone.
The boy stood up and I noticed that he was crying. His eyes were bloodshot!
" Are you OK?" I asked, my voice dropping to a softer tone.
Kevin wiped his eyes on his sleeve, nodding as he nervously looked over his shoulder.
" You don't look OK," I continued. " What's your name, laddie?"
" Evan," he mumbled.
I'd heard that name mentioned before. He was notorious amongst the teachers – even the ones who didn't teach him – for having so much trouble with getting support for his severe dyspraxia. Being dyspraxic myself, I felt somewhat empathetic, despite not knowing him in person. A grin spread across my face. " I'm Monty," I told him kindly. " I hear you have a certain little friend called dyspraxia. Is that right?"
Kevin gave me a bewildered expression. " Uh, y-" he began, but stopped. He closed his eyes for a brief moment, annoyance hitting him hard as he tried to overcome his stammer. He nodded in the end.
" Guess what? I have it, too. Do you want to tell me what happened?"
At last, the young boy of sixteen smiled, sniffing bitterly, and opened his heart to anyone for the first time.
After hearing the despicable story of the incident, I escorted him to his teacher and told her about it. Olaf and his friends were severely punished and were each given an official warning. Seeing as he seemed to trust me – and Kevin rarely trusted people – the headmaster had me be his main caretaker when he was not in the classroom. That meant I took care of him while he ate his meals in the cafeteria and spent lonely weekends with him in his bedroom. I became his only friend, even though I was a member of staff rather than a student. Eventually, Kevin transferred to the Arts & Crafts Department and never had to deal with Olaf or the others again.
I feel proud to know that I was the cause of his newfound confidence, but I've not seen him in a long while. Who knows where he is now?