I always go to bed at 8 o’clock. My mum says that if I brush my teeth and get my pyjamas on at half past seven, I can stay up and watch Coronation Street with her. I’m not really bothered about watching it, it’s for old people, they all talk in a weird accent and not a lot really happens; besides, I much prefer Magpie, but The Street, as Mum calls it, makes her laugh and that’s what I like to stay up for.
As soon as the credits roll and The Street is replaced by The Bill, I have to make sure I’m in bed, ready for her to come up and tuck me in. She says I’m too old for stories now, but I think it’s the tucking in I’m too old for. I don’t tell her that though because she gets upset easily these days and I don’t want to set her off if I can help it.
After Mum has put me to bed and gone back downstairs, I make animal shapes with my hands from the thin sliver of shadow cast by the landing light. It’s not that I need the landing light on because I’m scared, it’s because the animals need it. Crocodiles are easy to make, I can do them just by opening and closing my hand. Ducks are easy too, but I struggle with rabbits. I can never seem to get the hang of making the ears with one hand and a face with the other hand. The shadow animals keep me company because I don’t have a brother to share my room; it’s just me. Well, me and Mum.
“Hello, m-my name’s Karl, what’s your name?” I try not to disturb Mum but find myself grunting out the sentence at the top of my voice. The animals’ names were short. “Dan,” said the duck. “Chip,” said the crocodile. “Hello,” I say. I can always manage “hello,” but as I lay there on top of my Incredible Hulk duvet, I begin to feel that familiar tingle in my shoulders and immediately my arms flail around: left, right, left, right. Slowly to start with but building up momentum until my arms bang against my bedroom wall.
My head jerks backwards and just as quickly as they came, Dan and Chip are gone.
In the mornings, Mum shouts at me to get ready for school. I don’t know why she has to shout all the time, there’s only me and her in the house. “She’s stressed sweetie,” Nan told me once when I asked her, “grit your teeth love and just smile.” Which is exactly what I do, although I don’t really know what being stressed means apart from that it means she shouts a lot. Mum then says, “Choppity, chop, chop Karl, those books won’t read themselves,” and seems happy again. It’s very confusing.
I’m in no rush to get to school though. Not because I’m stupid, I’m not, because, for a start, I can do my twelve times table in 32 seconds (I like timing myself doing things) and I know the difference between a noun and a verb (a noun is an object, a verb is a doing word).
I never put my hand up in class (although it does have a habit of flying up on its own sometimes) so people tend to think I’m an idiot. If I had someone to tell, I would say that actually, my brain is constantly whirring away. It’s like a constant river of information streaming into my head. I like that. My doctor said it to me once. It’s called an analogy. What he means is that my brain doesn’t switch off like other kids’ brains do. It’s a bit annoying, and it’s why I get tired so quickly. Of course, once I’m in bed, the last thing I can do is sleep, especially when I think about going to school the next day.
I remember once, when I was in Year 5, during morning break-time, I stood by the low brick wall outside the canteen. I was playing Dr Who by myself, so I had to be the Doctor and the Daleks, which I didn’t mind because I could decide who would get blasted, when a group of Year 6 boys pushed me over the wall, stole my rucksack and punched me in the stomach.
“Get down, Shep,” they laughed as they shook their arms around like they were having a fit, and then began barking. I tried to explain to them that I couldn’t help the noises I made just like I couldn’t stop my arms having a life of their own, and that if they got to know me they’d see I was actually alright. They just wanted to punch me even more and spent the next year doing as much. They said I annoyed them, but how could I annoy them when I wasn’t even doing anything?
Now I’m in Year 6 and those boys have left. Mum said that because they would now be the youngest at big school maybe they’d get a taste of their own medicine. Calmer, she called it. “Calmer? I don’t get it,” I said to Mum, so she explained. K-A-R-M-A. I think it means that because they were mean to me, now other boys will be mean to them. I like the sound of karma.
Today wasn’t a great day. When 6F were doing their assembly I gave a great big grunt and, as if that wasn’t enough, followed it up by accidentally headbutting the boy next to me. I apologised and told him I didn’t do it on purpose. He replied with “freak,” which I thought was a bit strong but I wasn’t going to get into an argument in the middle of the hall surrounded by 100 kids.
Mum explains my tics by saying “your brain is special Karl,” and that annoys me because it’s not special. It doesn’t do what I tell it to do and does things I don’t want it to do, but the kids at school know what’s wrong with me and have all been told, supposedly secretly, that they are not to pick on me. But now I’ve headbutted this boy just as Alicia was about to explain the difference between African and Indian elephants and I ruined it for her.
Everyone turned round and stared, the boy was crying hysterically and a few boys started barking, obviously thinking the ‘Shep’ thing was still funny. My headmaster clapped his hands, quietly said “children,” and, thankfully, this time, they all turned back round to the front and left me alone, for now, the boy’s sobs turning to quiet whimpers. The damage was done though. Alicia had gone as red as me and any chance I had with her was now ruined.
Although, to be fair, my chances were zero to begin with.