Tom did go to school that day, but hid behind every corner and stayed as far away from the bullies as he possibly could. At lunch, he ran out of the playground and sat at the top of the hill overlooking the school. From high up on his vantage point he could see everyone in the playground. He was too far away to tell who was who, but there were groups of friends playing games and chasing each other. He unrolled his sandwich from the tinfoil and took a bite. Yuk, he thought, Not cucumber and pickle again. It’s was the worst flavour but it was his sister’s favourite, so he and his dad were given the same. He looked out at the rolling hills of the Devon countryside that sprawled all the way to the horizon.
No one at school had even noticed that he’d gone. Or that he’d been eating here alone every lunchbreak since term started back three weeks ago. It was the only way to stay out of Luke’s way and not be terrorised keep his dignity intact. He’d had so many wedgies that he’d considered not wearing underpants to school, but he was sure that Richard would probably just pull his trousers down instead, or something equally as embarrassing. If he couldn’t stand up to him like everyone said he should, then he could at least get out of the way altogether.
He heard a whistle and saw the school football team practicing in the field adjacent to the canteen. The football field seemed so far away. It was visible but felt completely out of reach. There was someone else in goal now. Someone with longer legs, who could reach the top bar of the goal without having to jump as high as they could. Someone bigger and stronger who could dive for the ball when it came hurtling towards them and do crowd roaring saves. ‘Come back and try for the team when you’re bigger,’ they’d said. His mum said they shouldn’t have let him on the team in the first place, but that hadn’t made him feel better at all. If anything it just showed that everyone thought that he was too small to be good at anything as well. Even his own mum.
Further past the football field Tom saw the woods that he walked through to get to school. It was his detour to avoid the school crowds and of course Richard and his gang. The trees were still bare and looked spindly against the clear blue skyline. He preferred the woods in spring when the leaves gave him more hiding places. His teeth chattered with a gust of the brisk February wind and he huddled himself tighter in a ball. He blew on his hands to keep them warm, took another bite of his sandwich and forced it down. It was too cold to eat outside and the cold was seeping through his coat and giving him a numb bum.
The sun burst through a break in the clouds and briefly warmed his cheeks. Tom thought of his Gran. She tended to notice every change in the weather, moment by moment, and took great pleasure in spending at least ten minutes at the start of every conversation updating whoever she was talking to with a weather report of the previous day, just in case they missed it. Tom thought she should have been a weather lady. He could just about see her house from up here, just beyond the woods on the far side. If he ran there it would take about fifteen minutes, but it felt like it was in another world.