His sweaty red face contorted into an animal snarl, he jabbed a Doc Marten-booted foot into my shin at speed. I staggered a little, but didn’t fall or cry out. Every muscle I had was clenched, and my fourteen-year-old mind a storm of fear and rage. But I didn’t cry out. I knew this bully couldn’t best me.
He wasn’t strong enough and he wasn’t fast enough to seriously damage my frail eight-stone frame. I knew it, and he knew that I knew it. I’d have already run to the next floor, secure in its erratic patrol of rumpled arts teachers, were that not the case. Most of all, he couldn’t best me because he too was bullied. He was the laughing stock of his year group, a failure at sports and academia both. A fellow victim, even if he’d never admit it. So he lacked the conviction, the will and even the experience to be truly vicious.
Bullies create bullies, we’re led to believe: the sins of the father revisited upon the weaker peers of the hardened son. In That Fat Kid From The Upper Sixth’s case (I cannot recall his real name, purely the demeaning descriptor he was referred to as by all the boys of my year), that didn’t ring true. This was the moment he proved it, not to me, but to himself. My young, paranoid mind frankly managed little in the way of insight at that age, but I swear I could see something in his eyes. A hurt, a sadness, a disbelief that /he/ was kicking a runty dork from the year below him in the shins.
We both knew this wasn’t him. We’d even spoken pleasantly a few times in the past, having discovered some common interest – a band, a videogame or some other teenage obsession. I can’t remember his name, but I’ll never forget that look in his eyes, so distant even as he attempted precision violence. So I didn’t cry out.
“Next time I see you I’ll, y’know, yeah,” he attempted, focusing those sad eyes into a piggy scowl meant to instil infinite fear into me. “Whatever. /Fatty.”/ I stepped down from the red and black Head sports bag I’d climbed onto in order to reach my own bag, which lurked somewhere on the far slope of this crumpled mountain of mindlessly discarded boys’ satchels, rucksacks and briefcases. Every boy in sixth form hurled their bag onto this pile: the earliest arrivals crushed inside its core, and the swaggering late boys achieving yet more status by having their own bags and whatever favoured logo they bore clear for all to see on the surface.
For once, The Fat Boy had made it to the top of the pile. That black and red Head bag, a large, misshapen tube of cheap leather, was near the summit. It was a rare and precious moment, so when a dwarfish geek from the year below clambered on top of it, it had to be defended. All would be lost if it was knocked into the messy middle, and branded with a muddy size 6 bootprint. He’d called me down before I’d reached my own bag, and threatened a beating when I asked for a moment more. So he kicked me. But I didn’t cry out. “Whatever. /Fatty./”
My own bag now in hand – was it a green, pseudo-military satchel? Its image hasn’t been burned into my memory as has that of the black and red Head bag – I stepped down from the pile, being careful to walk pointedly onto his bag in the process. I turned and, limping a little, with a small section of my right trouser leg glued to my shin by a thin goo of clotting blood, made to leave building, in search of my bus home.
If he was indeed a bully, if he truly wanted to be like his own tormentors, he’d have followed me, punched the side of my head, kicked my feet out from under me. He stayed where he was, now holding his own bag, with his always-red face now a startling crimson, as if a fountain of blood was about to burst through his cheeks. Just as the front door of the school closed beside me, I could hear the jeers start up and, in either my peripheral vision or my mind’s eye, I saw large, rough hands push him onto the pile of bags.
We saw each other every day for the next 18 months or so, but we never spoke again.