I was born a day before a kid called Linners.
As babies we were in the same ward, our cots actually next to each other.
He’s even got the same first name as me.
I was born first, so I sometimes wonder if his mum just read my name tag and thought, ‘Yeah, that’ll do’.
I was destined to know Linners for the next sixteen years, our trajectories following a similar path from nursery to junior school to high school.
That’s why I watched his progress through life with a barely disguised shudder.
There but for the grace of God, go I.
Everything he did seemed to be designed to draw the wrong kind of attention.
For example, one time, when we were little, we were allowed to bring our favourite book to school.
Lots of Beano Annuals, Famous Five, Eagle and Victor.
Linners brought in a big annual called Ballet for Girls.
I mean, come on.
Even if it was his all time favourite book, what the fuck was his stupid mother thinking, letting him bring that in?
The saddest thing was he could hardly even walk, never mind dance. He just threw one foot in front of the other and hoped for the best.
Laces always undone, flies always open, socks sliding down until they gathered in a thick, uncomfortable clump in the toe of his shoe and he’d limp around until a teacher sorted him out.
He would stare into the distance, blowing bright green snot bubbles the size of apples until the giggles and screams of horror caught his attention, then he would guiltily suck all the gunk back in again.
His ears stuck out like taxi doors, his teeth stuck out like a kicked in fence.
When he got excited his voice became weird and shrill, like he was being raped.
The poor, poor fucker.
He wasn’t a thick kid, far from it, just from another world, another time maybe.
When the other kids saw Ballet for Girls on his table they just laid into him, cruel little eight year olds mercilessly taking the piss out of him like only cruel little eight year olds can.
I remember seeing his clumsy hand slide over the book title as he looked at the ground and took the heat.
I said nothing.
Time and again he’d do something that drew the mob’s attention.
Standing at a bus stop, bus spotting.
Bringing in some weird white slop in a tub for his lunch and eating it with his fingers while everyone fled his table and when a teacher asked what the hell he was eating he said he didn’t know.
Wearing clothes that were painfully, shamefully small, exposing knobbly wrists, bony shins.
His family didn’t have much cash, but they didn’t help themselves either. Lovely people, and they really did love Linners and care for him, but the problem was his mum wanted a girl.
So she kept trying.
Seven pregnancies and seven boys later she got the message.
They were skint enough as it was without having seven clones to feed (and they were all clones, each new boy freakishly identical to Linners MkI) so as a result Linners had to make do with one school uniform a year if he was lucky, and if he grew, it was his own fault.
I can’t remember seeing him in clothes that fit. Ever.
Whenever anyone took piss I never really joined in. I might have laughed, I can’t remember, but I didn’t wade in.
It was all a bit too close to home, if you know what I mean.
My mum once took me to his house to play.
I hid behind her the whole time, watching with horror as Linners sat on a tiny tricycle, shrieking with glee as he rode it in tight circles around and around and around wearing nothing except some white underpants and a a white vest.
His mum said she wanted to keep his school clothes clean, but I couldn’t understand why she didn’t dress him in something else.
Afterwards, I said, “Mum, I don’t want to play there again.”
She replied, “I don’t blame you.”
In high school Linners kind of fell off my radar, which was a blessing. I had my own problems to sort out.
I got a lot of shit of my own at that time, I didn’t need to watch Linners getting ripped apart.
But it was almost like he needed the attention.
It was almost as if my lack of noticing demanded something big to get my attention back.
So Linners pulled off the big one, the incident that was talked about for years afterwards with a mixture of awe and horror.
I was going down a corridor when I saw a huge crowd crammed around a toilet door.
There was screaming, laughter, excited chatter, cries of disgust.
I pushed my way through, and then the smell hit me.
How any of them could stand it I have no idea, but the draw of the spectacle was too much. This was classroom gold.
I saw over the heads of the other kids, into the toilet.
The cubicle was closed, but I could see smeared hand-prints of shit all over the walls, all over the door. Shit was spread onto the floor like a painting – I can honestly say I’ve never seen so much shit in my entire life.
And the smell. Oh God, that smell.
A teacher was trying to coax the occupant of the cubicle out in between bouts of retching. A weird gobbling noise was coming from the cubicle, a sound like a turkey makes. That made me go cold because it was someone literally gibbering with insanity. A hand appeared above the cubicle, pushed more shit in a brown rainbow across the wall.
I asked the kid next to me, “Who the fuck is in there?”
He didn’t come back to school for weeks.
If it was me, I wouldn’t have come back at all.
Apparently he’d been ill. Apparently he’d shit his pants and tried to clean it up but in the panic had lost it and gone completely batshit in the cubicle and made a mad dirty protest on an epic scale.
It was the only thing people talked about while he was away, the only story being told in every classroom in every year throughout the whole school.
All I could think was, don’t come back. It’s not worth it, you poor, poor fucker.
Don’t come back.
But he came back.
He was a pariah, a leper, the unclean.
No-one would go near him, no-one would talk to him, he was friendless.
I wasn’t getting involved.
Pretty soon the piss taking started. The nicknames, the whispers, the giggling.
His life was Hell.
And then I walked into a classroom and he was there.
He was sat at a table, on his own, looking down.
A group of kids were just pissing themselves laughing, talking about the shitting incident right in front of him.
Linners just sat there, doing nothing.
And a weird thing happened.
I suddenly remembered Ballet for Girls.
So I walked over to the ringleader of the kids, grabbed him by the throat, pulled him across the table and said if he took piss out of Linners again I’d kick the living fuck out of him.
The kid babbled he was sorry, really sorry.
The other kids looked ashamed.
I left the room before they could figure out that I wasn’t hard enough to back up my threat.
And from that day on Linners didn’t get bullied.
It was a strange thing, but I reckon people realised that they were being a bunch of cunts.
They weren’t eight years old anymore, and maybe they just needed reminding of that.
Linners made it.
He went to university, which is better than I ever did, and he’s married with kids now.
What made me remember this was last week, seeing Linners’ mum walking down the street of the town where I grew up. She looked happy.
She was pushing a pram, and in the pram was one of her grandkids.
A little girl.
I suppose everything sorts itself out in the end.