The Power of Words. A story about bullying.
By John Lord
Author’s note. This story won first prize in a short story competition on bullying.
Peter Fowler, better known to his friends as Chook, was sitting on the edge of the skateboard ramp with his best friend Justin Jansen. Justin’s nickname was Chase. He had acquired this name because for as long as everyone could remember Justin always seemed to be chasing after Peter. Ever since kindergarten, the boys had been inseparable. Justin was about to turn ten and Peter was eleven. As they sat on the ledge, the older boy noticed that Justin was looking sad. He placed his hand on Justin’s shoulder and asked him what was wrong.
‘I just wish he would go somewhere. OK’ Justin said angrily.
‘Like where for instance?’ Peter replied.
‘Like jump of a cliff. I don’t know, who cares, he’s nothing but a big lump of sh….’
‘Were not allowed to say that word? said, Peter.
‘You know what I mean Chook. Don’t you? Life sucks, it really does.’
‘Don’t worry about it Chase. Just stay cool dude. Come on let’s do a few more alley-oop’s before it gets dark’.
Justin was referring to his biggest dilemma, Fatso Flattery, or more correctly Bryson Flattery. He wanted everyone to call him Bryce but no one did. Nobody liked him. He was the school bully who had few friends. Those he did have hung around him like blowflies on cow dung. It seemed that his main mission in life was to make Chase’s life a misery. Like most bullies he was very clever at getting Chase on his own and punching him and making threats. Chase had invented all sorts of ways to avoid Fatso but he always managed to corner him somewhere. Chook had more than once told him to go to the headmaster but Chase had said it would just be his word against Fatso’s.
They stood up on the edge of the ramp and placed their boards on the ledge. Chase had been trying to perfect a Kickflip, which required the skater to kick his board into a spin before landing back onto it. Being a gangly sort of a kid who wasn’t particularly coordinated, Chase had found this manoeuvre very difficult. His mother always got very cross when he came home with numerous cuts and bruises that needed attention. Chase always retorted by saying that boys of his age needed some adventure in their lives.
‘Anyway it’s better than just being on the computer all day’.
Chook went first and completed a set of tricks including a reverse Nollie and a Fakie followed by a Kickflip which he executed perfectly. He sat on the grass at the end of the ramp and looked up at Chase with an encouraging grin.
‘Come on Chase, you can do it this time’ he yelled.
Chase waved at Chook and took off determined that this time he would accomplish the trick he had been practicing for so long.
His descent started slowly and gradually gained speed. When he thought his speed was right he increased his weight on the left side edge of his board sending it into a spin. His head spun in anticipation that his best friend would for the first time see him complete a Kickflip.
His board rotated three times and to his amazement, he felt his two feet land firmly on his board. At last, he had done it. He was elated. Oh what a feeling. What surprised him most was that all the kids were clapping and cheering him.
As he was slowing down, he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. It was a large shape and coming at him very fast. He turned his head to his right but it was too late. Fatso had his elbow raised and hit him square in his right eye. He lay on the concrete looking up at Fatso through watery eyes and vaguely heard him say.
‘You have no guts Jansen; you’re not welcome at this park.’ And with that, he picked up his board and walked away with his mates in tow.
Later that night Chase telephoned Chook to thank him for helping him home. Chook hadn’t hung around fearing the anger of Chase’s mother when she found out what had occurred. He hadn’t told her about Fatso. She had accepted that the fall he had explained his broken arm, but was at a loss as to how it also resulted in the black eye that was completely closed. As it happened Chase’s grandparents were visiting from the country. His father was still at work so Poppy Ron offered to take him to the clinic. On the way, they drove past the skateboard park where some boys still mingled. Fatso was standing on the kerb as they were waiting for the traffic lights to turn green. He noticed Chase and put his finger up making a rude gesture. His grandfather asked him who the fat kid was, but Justin told a lie and said he didn’t know him.
They had been waiting at the clinic for about fifteen minutes when Poppy Ron, without looking directly at Justin said, ‘Do you know that when you tell a lie you take away the other person’s right to the truth? It’s like stealing really. So do you want to tell me what really happened?’ Justin did not answer immediately. Instead, he said, ‘How come you know how to get inside my head?’ ‘Just do I guess’ replied Poppy Don.
When Justin visited his grandparents who lived in the country, he was used to his grandfather telling him grown up things. Things that made him think a lot. He remembered him saying the last time he visited, ‘You might want to be many things when you grow up but if you just grow up to be a good person your Poppy will be a happy man’. Another time he said ‘Life is about doing things, not having things’. Or, he would say, ‘The most amazing thing about learning is that each day you wake, you find that you want to learn more. At least I do.’ Then there was the time he said ‘There is no shame in not knowing. The shame is in not wanting to know’. Justin always gave these things a lot of thought because he knew how much Poppy Don loved him and how special he thought he was.
‘So, are you going to tell me the truth, Justin, or are you going to keep it all inside?’ Justin hesitated but then told his grandfather the whole story. He told him that Chook was the only other person who knew what was going on. His story visually upset his grandfather and his annoyance was only interrupted when the doctor called them. As it turned out Justin had broken his arm. It wasn’t serious but it did require a plaster cast.
On their way home, Justin completed his story explaining how Fatso always managed to get him on his own. Poppy Don agreed not to tell anyone else provided Justin agreed to let him go with Justin to the skateboard park after school the next day. When they arrived, Poppy Don sat on a bench seat near one of the ramps. Chook came over with some other kids, they all said sorry about his arm, and they agreed that something needed to be done about Fatso. Justin sat next to Poppy Don who never took his eyes of the fat kid. After some time Fatso, who had noticed the old man watching him came across and asked Poppy Don why he was looking at him. Poppy Don looked at him and said. ‘Well let me tell you son. I have been watching all the kids for an hour or so and you are the only one who doesn’t seem to be able to do a Grind’. (Now a grind is when one or both axles scrape along a railing or curb or some other obstacle and is very difficult to execute).
‘What would you know? You’re too old to do anything’.
‘Chook, would you be good enough to loan me your board?’ said Poppy Don.
‘Sure Mr. Jansen said Chook. ‘What are you planning on doing?’
‘Well I’m just going to show our friend here how to do a Grind.
Chook looked at Chase with a ‘Is he nuts’ look on his face but Chase just shrugged his shoulders because he knew his Poppy would have a go at anything. By this time, many kids had come across to see what was going on and when they saw the old man with the skateboard they just laughed.
‘You sure about this Poppy Don?’ asked Justin.
‘Sure son, remember what I told you about observation. What do you think I have been doing for the past hour? Can’t be that hard’.
So with all the kids looking on in astonishment Poppy Don eased down the slope completing a couple of easy tricks before approaching the iron rail on the stepped terrace. He took off in a squat position and when he hit the rail, sparks were flying from both axles. When he returned after completing an Ollie backed up with a Kickturn all of the kids were jumping up and down with excitement. When everything had calmed down, he walked up to Bryson Flattery and said. ‘I guess it’s your turn now.
Fatso now had no choice but to attempt a Grind or be seen as a wuss. He was plainly embarrassed that the old man had put him in this position.
He set off taking the same route as Poppy Don but without doing any tricks on his way to the railing. As he approached, blind Freddy could see that it was a disaster in the making. As he leaped, his board stayed on the ground and Fatso looked more as if he was making a bad attempt at the high jump. His legs sprayed either side of the railing and when he landed; his groin took the full weight of the fall. ‘A fair bit or damage to the undercarriage I imagine’ Chook was heard to say. Worse was to come because when he landed his head hit the path with an almighty crack that broke the silence. ‘Looks like it could be serious’ said Poppy Don as he ran toward Fatso who was flat on his back. Poppy Don told Chook to ring for an ambulance while taking Fatso’s pulse. ‘Justin you had better start CPR’ he added.
‘No way, don’t be gross’ said Justin, but when he looked at Poppy Don he knew he was serious. While he was doing this, he noticed Poppy Don slip what appeared to be a bracelet or something onto Fatso’s wrist.
Later that evening Poppy Don rang the hospital and asked about the boy’s condition.
‘The doctor said it’s alright to visit tomorrow’.
‘Why would I want to visit that bully?’ said Justin.
‘To give a lesson in grace, my boy’ said Poppy Don.
‘It’s about forgiveness’
‘You mean I have to forgive him?’
‘Yes, if you want the bullying to stop, let me explain’.
Chook had agreed to come along to support Chase on the visit to Fatso but was a little unsure as to why Chase needed to forgive Fatso. When they walked into Fatso’s room, he had just finished dinner and was watching television. The boy’s stood at the end of the bed with Poppy Don behind them. Nothing was said, for a long time until Poppy Don broke the silence saying, ‘Justin has something to say to you’.
‘Bryce, I want you to know that I forgive you for all the times you have bullied me and you can be our friend if you want, isn’t that right Chook?’
‘Yes, I suppose’ said Chook hesitantly.
Bryson Flattery just looked at them and try as he might he couldn’t find any words. He took a sip of water, cleared his throat and said, ‘Do you know where this came from’? he said indicating the bracelet on his wrist.
‘Well I’m afraid I’m responsible for that’ replied Poppy Don.
‘If it’s a present, it’s the best one that anyone’s ever given me’.
‘What’s written on it?’ asked Chook.
‘It say’s: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Chase I’m so sorry for how I have treated you. Can I please be you friend. I don’t have any real friends and my stepfather is always bashing me. Mister Jansen, could you teach me how to do a Grind?
‘I think I’m getting a little old, but perhaps your new friends will’.
A week later on the morning of Justin’s tenth birthday, he woke to find a bracelet on his wrist. He walked out to the kitchen put his arms around his grandfather and thanked him. His father was seated at the table having a cup of tea, and asked what all the hugging was about.
‘Oh it’s just about a bracelet I gave Justin for his birthday’ said Poppy Don.
‘Like the one, I gave you years ago’.
His dad asked him if he truly understood the meaning of the words.
‘Yes I think I do’ said Justin. ‘It means that we should treat other people in the same way as we would expect them to treat us’.
‘That’s right’ said his father.
Then the telephone rang. It was Chook.
‘Hi Chase’ happy birthday.
‘Listen dude’ said Chook, ‘when I woke up this morning I had one of those bracelets on my wrist’
‘You’re kidding me dude’.
‘No I’m not, Chase. It’s the same as the one that Bryce had. How cool is that’
When he hung up the phone, he walked over to his grandfather. Gave him another hug and said. ‘You know you’re pretty cool for an old dude Poppy Don’.
‘You can say that again’ said his father.
Poppy Don suggested that Justin might like to ring Chook and Bryce to see if they wanted to go to the skate park.
‘Good idea Poppy Don, I know Chook will but Bryce might still be a bit sore in certain areas, if you know what I mean’.
‘Why don’t we all go and your grandfather can show us one of those Grind tricks’ said his father.
‘No way, once was enough but I might try a double twist with . . .
Justin interrupted saying,
‘I think you have done well enough already, Poppy Don’.