The green display of the digital alarm clock clicked over to 6.50am, setting the radio off and a local station blared out banalities at breakfast. Lloyd robotically rolled back the duvet, reached out a long, lanky leg and levered himself off the bed, all crinkled and creased and half asleep. He stooped and shuffled out of the bedroom, mindful of the top of the doorframe.
Making his way across the landing, Lloyd smelled the warm, damp air rising from beneath the bathroom door. Mum was in the shower, la-la-laaing to herself. From the occasional muffled ‘writing on the wall’ he guessed it was a Stevie Wonder number.
A shout came from the bathroom. “I’ve left out some cereal on the table for your breakfast, I’ll be down in a minute and sort you some toast out,” said his Mum, making her voice heard over the splashing sounds of the shower and through the door. He had no idea how she knew he was up but he’d come to expect his mother’s acute sense of hearing.
Catherine was Lloyd’s Mum. She had been for the 14 years he’d been alive. She was also very much his Dad, brother, sister, and guardian angel. She listened when Lloyd stood in stoic silence, provided a shoulder to lean on when his head got too heavy, kept him in clothes and provided the food for his insatiable appetite. She was always bright, cheery, and full of chatter, especially in the mornings. In comparison Lloyd was sullen and introverted, rarely breaking into voice, and never forming a sentence if a grunt or nod would do. To many, Lloyd’s quietness was put down to being a typical surly teenager and that he would ‘grow out of it’. In many ways he was probably just a typical 14 year old; except he was six feet six inches tall and still growing.
While most children had a growth spurt, Lloyd’s had been steady and relentless. It had taken him from an average height secondary schoolboy at the age of 11, to a giant in less than three years. He’d grown well over a foot in those three years, all of it upwards, tall and thin like a telegraph pole. A beanpole of a child, Lloyd dwarfed not only all the other pupils in the school, including those in year 11, he also towered over the teachers, dinner ladies, and even the caretaker.
But with this tallness came pain and problems. When the pain was at its weakest Lloyd could feel a dull throbbing in the marrow of his bones. When it was at its worst, the pain burned like a bonfire, feeding a fire at the very core of his bones. Lloyd was sure he could feel his bones growing inside his body, his skeleton pushing out from his skin like an acorn sending out its first shoot through the soil to the world above. His skin was as tight as a snare drum against his bones, every under-developed muscle visible and defined through the flesh. The only respite he got was when he ate. His body devoured calories, using them to feed the fire that burned within his bones. Because of it, Lloyd saw food as fuel, he gave little thought to taste and texture, what was ‘good for you’ or healthy. He ate through necessity, so he could think of something else instead of the pain of his limbs expanding inside.
At first the pain had been so great he’d missed days of school. But eventually he stopped complaining and focused on the pain, never ignoring it just focusing solely on it and willing it away, taking on the burden himself and never shirking the responsibility.
As food soothed the pain, his Mum prepared him an arsenal of food every day. Lloyd would take boxes of sandwiches, party-sized bags of crisps, chocolate bars, fruit and sweets to school just to get him through the day. He grazed constantly, focussing on keeping the pain at bay and giving scant thought to school life going on around him.
But this intense focus on the growing pains meant Lloyd was missing out on growing-up. He no longer hung around with his primary school friends, didn’t play football on the playground or hang around the library with the geeks. Instead he found a quiet corner and ate, his legs furled beneath him to keep him camouflaged and out of people’s line of sight and eventually people had learnt to leave him alone.
As he made his way into the kitchen, he saw that as ever Mum had been there already, leaving out Weetabix and cornflakes along with his breakfast bowl. In most households this bowl would’ve been used for mixing cakes but it was the only size that could fit Lloyd’s daily first breakfast of six oblongs of Weetabix covered in cornflakes and drowned in pints of milk.
Like a combine harvester wading through a field of ripe corn, Lloyd made his way methodically through the milk and cereal mixture. His face close to the bowl, rhythmically shovelling spoonfuls into his mouth, before drinking down the last sweet, wheaty concoction in one long draught as his towel-turbaned mother appeared at the door of the kitchen.
“Shower’s free, love. I’ll make your toast for the walk to school for when you’re done. Oh and Lloyd,” Catherine pointed at her upper lip, “you’ve a milk moustache honey”. Lloyd swept the back of hand across the stain and wandered back upstairs to shower.
Most people stood in the shower. If Lloyd stood up the shower head only reached the bottom of his neck. The only way Lloyd could get his entire body wet was to sit down in the bath and let the shower fall from a height. Lloyd had come to enjoy the warm water falling onto his body. Just him and the water, his stomach full from breakfast and the warm water and suds creating scented relaxation. He would let the water fall on the back of his head, a hypnotic cascade that drummed out all the tall thoughts. It was one of the few times Lloyd would relax and let his mind wander and daydream. He wondered what it would be like to stand on a tropical island and dance in warm monsoon rain. Lloyd had never been on a plane. He’d never even left England and could only remember seeing the sea twice. They’d never had much money and what extra Mum had now was spent on new clothes and all the extra food it took to keep Lloyd’s fire quenched. On the odd occasion that he thought about it, Lloyd felt guilty that Mum gave him so much yet there was so little he could do to help. It took nearly all the effort he had to keep the pain at bay.
Now dressed for school, Lloyd was in the kitchen helping his Mum pack his three lunch boxes for school. Being 14 and six and a half feet, finding school uniform to fit was difficult; the shirt was fine for length on the body and the arms but you could’ve got two of Lloyd in the gaping collar and Catherine had sewn an extra set of buttons on the cuffs to make sure they fastened tighter at the wrist. The pains of being a shooting sapling were hard to hide.
Catherine was buttering toast for Lloyd’s second breakfast that he would eat on the walk to school. While they now had a routine going, it was always a lot of work and endless worry about money and Lloyd’s condition. She had never been more frightened as when Lloyd had first started growing and being in constant pain. It had been scarier even than when Lloyd’s dad had walked out when she was seven months pregnant. He said he was just going out to play football, carrying his usual holdall. When he hadn’t returned a few hours later she presumed he was in the pub. When he wasn’t back in the morning she knew he’d gone, even before he checked his clothing.
“Your Grandad will be here when you get in, as its Thursday and we have late night opening. He’ll have something good for your tea,” said Catherine, handing him the last of his toast, buttered sides together so as not to get his clothes greasy.
Lloyd bent at the knees so Mum could give him a peck on the cheek. At only five feet two inches, Lloyd was nearly a foot and a half taller than her. He’d tried to rebel against the daily peck, but had given it up as a fight he was never going to win. She may be smaller, but she was still to be obeyed.
A duck under the frame and a step out of the front door and Lloyd was striding out for school. Along rows of terraces and under a canopy of satellite dishes encroaching into his headspace. Row upon row of houses receiving their invisible signals, invading front rooms, bedrooms and kitchens where couch potatoes cooked ready meals and drank fizzy drinks, growing ever outwards as Lloyd would only grow forever up. Down alleyways and across shortcuts and cut throughs; avoiding silent dogs and passive cats, Lloyd’s long lope ate up the yards.
He hadn’t always walked to school. Like a lot of the other kids, Lloyd used to take the bus but as his height grew and the pain worsened, so did the bus journey. He struggled to get into the seats, his long legs protruding into the aisle. The upstairs soon became a no-go area for someone of his height as even when he bent down, his shoulders still came up to the roof. After a while it was simpler just to walk the mile or so to the school gates. He even realised that he was saving his mum money on the bus fare, which when he thought about how much she sacrificed for him, made him feel as if he was giving something back.
Joining the stream of fellow pupils through the open gates, Lloyd finished the last of the toast, rubbed his hands together then on the back of his trousers to get rid of the buttery grease and wandered off to his silent corner of the playground to await the school bell.
PART 2 IS PUBLISHED TOMORROW (1st FEB) at 9.30am