“I’m not going, and there’s nothing you can do to make me!” Toby said, slapping his spoon down into the middle of his Cheerios.
Milk erupted in a fountain and the breakfast cereal flew from the bowl and across the table. Waldorf and Statler, their two pet cats, scrambled away across the floor from the table where they had been patiently waiting for any stray morsels which might have come their way.
“That was stupid!” Maria exclaimed, coming across from the kitchen sink and wiping away the mess that Toby had created. “I don’t spend all my time cleaning up after you; you’re going into school and that’s all there is to it. Now go and get ready; you’ll be late if we have any more of these tantrums!”
“But why me?” Toby asked, his bottom lip jutting out like some diving board. “Why is it always me?? Why can’t somebody see what the bullies are doing!?”
Tobias Milligan had been at Walker Street School for just over six months since he had moved to Bradford following the repossession of their Leeds home. The mortgage on the house had fallen into arrears on several occasions but, under Maria’s careful financial handling, the building society had relented in their threats until the latest round of failures to keep up the payments. They had been forced to leave the three-bedroom detached property in Armley, and Tobias had relocated to an inner city school which was undergoing Special Measures. He was not at all happy at the move.
The bullying had begun a couple of weeks after he first appeared at the school. At first it was not too serious; as a new face amid the thousand or so at Walker Street, he had become the focus of a few snide remarks made behind his back and he had chosen to ignore them, believing that time would wear away his tormentors’ enthusiasm. He had been incorrect in that assumption.
The taunting soon escalated into some of his property disappearing while his attention was elsewhere, and when that failed to gain the desired response, he came out of school at the end of one day to find that his bicycle had been vandalized. Both tyres had been punctured in several places, his pump was missing, and all of the bike’s lights had been smashed – he had been forced to push the cycle all the way home, running the gauntlet of laughter and jeers all the way down Walker Street until he was clear of the area.
“It’s not fair!” he said, stomping away from the breakfast table and into the lounge where he threw himself down on the sofa to sulk. “They pick on me because they know that they can get away with it!”
“Who are ‘they’?” Maria asked, wiping her hands on a towel as she followed him from the kitchen.
“Well, there’s a group, and a boy called Stephen Pickersgill seems to be the leader. He’s a big lad and the rest just follow him around like sheep. He’s the one who started it all when I first went to the school.”
“Can’t you tell anyone at Walker Street?” she asked. “What about the Headmaster? Mr…”
“James?” Toby sneered. “He’s about as useful as a chocolate fireguard. You never see him out of his office – he must think that Special Measures don’t apply to his school. I tell you, the place is a joke. Can’t we move somewhere else?”
“You know that’s out of the question. We only got this rented house by a stroke of pure luck. I showed you the letters from the building society – they just lost patience and I can’t really say that I blame them. We’re stuck here until we get back on our feet financially.”
“Well, I’m not going back into Walker Street – they can shove it!” Toby said, crossing his arms in defiance.
“Look,” Maria said, her voice softening with the hardening of his resolve. She brought his bag and placed it by the side of the sofa. “There’s a bus from the end of the street in about ten minutes. It’ll get you to school just in time – we can always look at getting the bike mended at the weekend…”
“No!” he shouted, throwing his bag across the room. “I’ve had it with the place. What can they possibly do to me that’ll make things any worse than they already are?”
“Listen to me!” Maria wagged a finger in his face. “You need to grow up and face the problem head on. Tell someone at the school about it!”
“I’d like to punch Pickergill’s lights out,” Toby said, ignoring her remark. “If I could just get him on his own…”
“Don’t even think about that!” Maria exclaimed. “They’ll kick you out of the place and we’ll have to move again. Where do you think we’d end up then? This place is fine until we can sort out something better. You need to make more of an effort!”
“Why me?” he whined. “Why is it always me? Why do I have to go back into that school?”
“Because you’re one of the teachers Tobias; that’s why!”