The relentless growing started midway through year seven. The first year had been the worst, when he was unaccustomed to the pain. Lloyd would cry and scream and had endless visits to the local hospital to be poked and prodded by doctors. When they were stumped for an explanation, Lloyd had been referred on up the knowledge chain to the bespectacled professors at the big children’s hospital in the city. Here they took samples and measurements, endless x-rays of bones and joints, hours spent under the stuttering and hammering of the MRI scanner, his young body pounded by every weapon in the clinician’s arsenal, but nothing was conclusive. Nothing definite came from the blood or the biopsies, no solace was found under the microscope and nothing was turned up in the mass spectrometer. The consultants and nurses couldn’t prove anything and Catherine finally got fed up with their endless requests for ‘more tests’ which meant more days off work to accompany Lloyd. Eventually she told them ‘no more’ and they returned back to their life and learned how to cope.
Between them Catherine and Lloyd eventually realised that food sated the growing pains for a while which gave Lloyd a chance to learn to deal with it himself. He began to learn how to blank the pain from his mind but it took most of his concentration and came at the detriment of his school work and friendships. Since then, they’d both settled into a routine; Lloyd’s day was centred around food and school, while Catherine’s was centred around Lloyd, making sure he was fed and had food to keep him going and then working to buy food and clothing for Lloyd.
At school, Lloyd tried to keep his head down and out of sight. For someone who was a foot taller than anyone else in the school, including the teachers, it was quite difficult to do. Learning to ignore the name calling, the looks and the laughing was quite easy as he was so focused on ignoring the pain, he had little time for other taunts. However, this introspection came at a cost and Lloyd’s friends drifted away one by one, the taller and less communicative he became. He’d become so good at the silent treatment that even the bullies had given up picking on him and the PE teacher had stopped asking to try out for the goalkeeping position for the football team, play in the second row in the rugby team and any position he wanted in the basketball team. Lloyd had become the tallest but most invisible pupil the school had ever had.
However, Lloyd did fit into the school in one way. Like every pupil, Lloyd had a nickname and on the odd occasion that he came into view he was invariably called by it.
Lloyd got his following a history lesson. It had been a double period in which the growing pains had been so unbearable that he’d briefly passed out while sat in his chair. He was sure that this time his phalanges would break out of his skin, he could sense them pushing against the very tips of his fingers; he expected the bones to burst through. Somehow, he’d made it through the class and as the bell rang to mark the end of the lesson Lloyd staggered to the door. On the way into the room he had been able to fit through the door just without banging his head but on his exit the rapid growth he’d felt in the previous hour had been the difference being too tall. On his leaving he had connected with the frame, fallen back into the classroom and sprawled out on the floor. It was one of the many painful lessons Lloyd was learning.
As he came to, the history teacher Mr Hopkins had said: “It would seem Lloyd, that you’re just too tall for my room.” And with that, Lloyd was known by all at school, from the pupils in the playground to the teachers in the staff room, as Too Tall Lloyd.
And so Lloyd’s life meandered along for a time, a mix of long numbed days, punctured only by food and and half-hearted attempts at homework, just managing the bare minimum to scrape by with minimal interference from teachers. Just scraping by as teenage life sauntered past with a pubescent swagger; as his peers where having first experiences with booze, drugs and the opposite sex, Lloyd was to engrossed with growing to notice.
With a new school year came change and the start of year 10 brought a new pupil into the school, John Bradshaw. New to the area, the rumours were rife that he’d been expelled from two schools already, the last one following an attack on the headmaster.
But being new didn’t stop John Bradshaw from instantly imposing himself on the rest of the year and interfere with lives that had grown up together. From the first day he was all lip and jip, attitude and aggravation, a one-child crusade against organised education. An early developer himself, John just scrapped six feet tall and was used to being the biggest fish in the pond and wasn’t afraid to tell people that he was.
Because of this he predictably took an instant dislike to Lloyd if only because of his height: John was accustomed to being the tallest tree in the wood. From almost day one, John was over-friendly with Lloyd, sitting next to him in lessons, trying to talk to him, share jokes and stories and ideas, seeing how the land lay and trying to manipulate Lloyd to his advantage. John took Lloyd’s taciturn nature as a threat; it was as if Lloyd’s aloofness was an affront to his own machismo. Having not grown up with Lloyd and his troubles, and being too self-absorbed to read more into Lloyd’s situation, John sensed that Lloyd was vulnerable and no threat to him but he still needed to be made an example of to prove to his new audience that he was top dog.
It started with the verbal taunts and subtle knuckle-punches to the arms and deadlegs, done jokingly at first but filled with sting and venom. Compared to the incessant burning pain in his bones, the physical attention was only a minor irritation to Lloyd. However, the extra attention made it difficult to concentrate on ignoring the pain.
At this point Lloyd was touching six feet eight inches tall with no respite obvious. It had been a long, difficult summer, which Lloyd had mostly spent led on the floor in the front room (he was much too long to lie on the couch). Even eating as much as he could didn’t keep the pain at bay as it once had, and neither did it make Lloyd grow in any way except up. Still painfully thin, Lloyd was no match physically for John’s stocky build.
About six weeks into the term on a breezy, grey October day, the first real skirmish in the one-sided war between John and Lloyd happened.
It occurred during morning break in the year 10 locker area. Lloyd was taking out one of the three packed lunch boxes his mum prepared for him every day when Bradshaw sauntered up and tried to snatch the box from Lloyd’s grasp but Lloyd wasn’t giving up his oral analgesic without a struggle. As the wrestle for the lunch box began, “No” was all a scared Lloyd could say to his unwanted opponent. Like a junkie, he was scared of losing his fix, frightened that his pain relief was being taken from him so Lloyd held on tightly while John pulled at the container; what Lloyd gave away in strength he made up for with grasp.
“Let you go you lanky twat. No-one can eat all you do in one day, I just want to see what you got,” said John. But Lloyd would do no such thing. The commotion had attracted a small crowd around the locker area. John started trying to jerk the box, trying to break Lloyd’s glue-like grasp, but Lloyd’s massive hands were so large that his grip was absolute and his hands swamped the box.
Sensing he wasn’t going to win this round, John pulled back sharply and as hard as he could so all of Lloyd’s weight was over the box, then let go suddenly, sending his opponent stumbling backwards into the lockers and falling backside first to the floor. Lloyd’s grasp on the box was lost and it fell to the tiles below and John quickly picked it up before Lloyd could react. He removed the lid and peered inside. An exaggerated look of disgust came across John Bradshaw’ face. “Tuna butties. Is that it? I fuckin’ ‘ate tuna,” he said.
He then emptied the contents of the lunch box on the floor in front of a horrified Lloyd, squashing them with the heels of his shoes. Lloyd stared forlornly at the bready mess on the tiled floor, wondering how he would last the day with one of his meals gone. Bradshaw laughed at Lloyd and let fly with the container.
From the edge of his vision, Lloyd saw the lunchbox arrowing towards him and turned his head to one side. The corner of the solid plastic container caught the side of his head where cheekbone met forehead. Lloyd winced and put his hand to his face immediately, feeling a sharp little lump forming the edge of the box connected with Lloyd’s face. John Bradshaw was laughing as he watched.
The bell sounded, marking the end of the skirmish as well as the break. The mass of pupils that had gathered to watch swiftly and noisily emptied the corridors like bathwater gurgling down the plug hole.
“I don’t know why you take his nonsense, Lloyd.” The words came from Joanne Stills, a pretty brace-wearing girl who Lloyd had known since primary school when they’d been friendly. But as with everyone else, Lloyd had grown apart, his extreme introversion withering all friendships.
“Look at you, sat there, feeling sorry for yourself, like you’re the only one with problems. We all have to deal with growing up, y’know. Just because your issues are more obvious than everyone else’s it doesn’t mean you have to shut yourself off,” she added.
Lloyd was unsure what to say, he remembered being friends with Joanne and how she was kind but knew how to stand up for herself. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d spoken to her, so he defaulted to his stock position and said nothing.
Joanne shook her head and let out a small sigh. Before walking off, she said: “You need to start looking after yourself if you’re going to do anything other than grow.” With that she left Lloyd to the lockers.
The corridor was empty now, the classroom doors had closed and the noise of transient students was encased behind breeze-block, wood, and toughened safety glass. Lloyd led down on the tiled floor and the cold ceramic was comforting on the expanding welt on his head. The adrenalin surge had slowed but provided a euphoric relief; Lloyd enjoyed the lull in the aches and pains this brought and soaked up the endorphin- high.
He stayed with his head on the floor, swimming in the silence and the new perspective this view was offering him. He wondered what life would be like to be so small. A life in miniature, ant-sized and immune from what was happening up at his current level. No worries about banging your head in a world designed for people much shorter than yourself. So much space to see with no feeling of being hemmed in under a classroom desk, standing awkwardly in ill-fitting PE kit, or sitting inelegantly on a toilet designed for normal people.
At home on the sofa sat Grandad James, where he was every Thursday when Lloyd came home from school. He was Catherine’s father and would mind the house and make Lloyd’s tea each week as Catherine worked late at her branch of high-street chemist.
While Grandad James very much loved his daughter and his grandson, he never quite approved of some of the big decisions that Catherine had made with her life, though he had never come out and say it. His disapproval came through gesture and sigh; a slight shake of the head or an exhaling of air at a critical moment. Catherine was just like her late mother had been: a chatterbox and a double checker – she’d always ask twice if you wanted something, just to make sure. Grandad James thought he saw more of himself in Lloyd, but it was so hard to get through to the boy that it was difficult to tell. He did see much of Lloyd’s father in him but had never told him this as talk of Lloyd’s father had been banned by Catherine when it was apparent he wasn’t coming back, placed on a high shelf and forgotten about.
However, seeing Lloyd retreating into himself so much over the last few years, maybe Lloyd did need a father-figure in his life who could get more of a response from the child. James had barely heard ten words from Lloyd in the last six months and was at a loss about how to fix this.
“Afternoon Lloyd. How was school?” chirped Grandad James, as Lloyd dropped his school bag in the front room.
“OK” muttered Lloyd as he stripped off his coat whilst wandering to the kitchen and setting upon some cereal, trying to avoid showing his Grandad the welt on his face from today’s scrap. Grandad James followed him into the kitchen with his newspaper opened at the crossword.
As ever he tried to involve Lloyd: “Can you help me with this crossword clue – a clean flight through evergreens – two words, six and five.” He looked up for a reaction from Lloyd, who was sat at the kitchen table, demolishing a bowl of cereal and saw the lump on his face.
“What happened to you?” asked Grandad.
After not getting a response, he asked again, “What happened, Lloyd?”
By now, Lloyd had stopped chewing and was staring hard at the wall, resolute and with no response for his Grandad.
“Have you been fighting?”
Still no response came.
The frustrations of watching this kid growing up in an adult body became too much for Grandad James. He put the newspaper down and sat at a chair, sighing a little as he did so. Running a hand through his thinning hair, he repositioned his fine comb-over.
“Lloyd, I know you won’t tell me what happened and I’m sure it’s nothing, but you need to know that things need to change round here. Though she won’t tell you, your mother needs a life for herself, she can’t spend her entire life looking after you…”
Lloyd interrupted the lecture by scraping back his chair across the lino and quickly leaving the kitchen for his bedroom. After he heard a slam from the bedroom door, Grandad James shook his head to no-one in particular and picked up the newspaper. After a short glance, he wrote ‘spruce goose’ into the crossword.
The third and final part will be published tomorrow (Wed, Feb 2, 2011)