Billy

6 Mar

A short story, written to be performed at Illicit Ink on 3 March 2013.

I had a boy in my class called Billy. He was a thin wee thing, a bit smaller than the others, and liked dancing. This, it seems inevitably, led to accusations of ‘gay’. I recognised that tune – no-one trusts a man who wants to teach primary school, either. They bullied him something terrible, but it was hard to know what to do. I never saw anything, I never heard anything; I could just tell from the way he was with them: terrified all the time – particularly of Ross Jones, who we all knew as a terrible bully. Ross had been suspended twice. I’d tried to understand why he behaved that way, but I was coming up against a brick wall. I had to concentrate on helping Billy instead. I desperately hoped that one day he’d talk to me, and I could help him. But it was always ‘I left my lunch at home, sir’; ‘I didn’t like those trainers, sir’; ‘I just fell over, sir.’

I was quiet kid myself at school – and I’d have been bullied a lot more if it weren’t that I always got picked for the football team. I didn’t particularly like football, but I’m right for it because I have very long legs. I found out in later life that this is actually down to a genetic condition: Klinefelter’s Syndrome. It causes me all sorts of problems and I have to inject testosterone every day. It also means that I’ll never be a father.

My own father never came to see my football matches. He’d take me out to MacDonald’s, and make all sorts of promises, but they soon fizzled out. The promises and the burgers.

One man came to almost every match, though, and that was the local community policeman. When we won a match he’d ruffle my hair and tell me I’d done well, and I’d feel proud of myself. It’s a memory that’s always stuck with me.

It’s what made it all the worse when I was brought in for questioning.

***

One day, I was headed to the car park when I spied Billy hiding behind the toilet block. He was crying.

“What’s up, Billy?”

The fight had gone out of him. “They called me a pouf, sir.”

“Oh.” I sat down next to him, letting him talk at his own pace. I noticed a cut on his knee, bleeding quite badly.

“Am I a pouf, sir?”

I told him that he was probably too young to know that, but that even if he was, that was ok. I told him there was nothing wrong with it. I told him that just because he was small and didn’t like football, that didn’t mean anything at all. I told him he could be or do whatever he wanted to, and that he shouldn’t let people like Ross tell him otherwise. I told him that he was brave and strong for not wanting to be like everyone else. I promised him that we’d do something about this, that we didn’t stand for anyone behaving that way at St Margaret’s. I put a plaster on his knee, and I told him that everything was going to be ok. I was proud of him for telling me, and wanted to ruffle his hair, but of course we’re not allowed to touch the kids.

But then he put his arms around my waist and hugged me. I felt so bad for him, but rules are rules, so I gently pushed him away.

That’s what happened.

But when Ross, hiding round the corner, posted the picture on his brother’s Facebook page, even I’ll admit that’s not how it looked.

The policeman did not look proud.

But even then I figured it would be ok. The photo looked bad, but everyone knew Ross as a troublemaker, and once they spoke to Billy they’d see they’d got it all wrong.

But of course. They had spoken to Billy.

I don’t know what Ross had done to him; stuck his head down the toilet, stolen his bus money – maybe just threatened to tell everyone what a pouf he was, if he didn’t back up what was already all over the internet.

Whatever it was, that was Billy’s story now.

The press, typically, put two and five together and made a juicy scandal. The parents turned on me in a heartbeat. ‘Never trusted him – a single man teaching kids. Not right. No kids of his own, you know.’

I didn’t leave the house for days.

A friend who I have to kindly assume was trying to be helpful told the press about the Klinefelter’s. Then the more ‘sympathetic’ pieces in the local paper tried to excuse me. ‘An excess of testosterone, who knows what effect that might have?’ Well, do you know, a doctor might, for one, I thought. It certainly doesn’t list ‘accidental child abuse’ as a side effect on the packet.

It all came to nothing in the end; Billy’s story didn’t add up. (I always told them that lies will come back to get you.) ‘Cleared of all charges,’ said the policeman, never meeting my eye.

‘It’ll all blow over soon,’ said The Head.

But she felt it might be best – for my own sake, of course, for me to ‘make a fresh start’. Of course I’d get a good reference.

***

I saw Billy the day I left town; bumped into him and his Mum in the supermarket, as she hurried him along.

I was sorry not to have been able to talk to him. I wanted to tell him I knew he was sorry, and that everything was going to be ok.

I hope he gets over this.

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