I was thinking back to schooldays, doing some psycho-archeological research for my current project. There was a kid in my year, picked on, persecuted, really, just because he looked a bit odd. I never joined the tormentors, but I never quite had the guts to stick up for him – he wasn’t one of my friends, so I wasn’t prepared to risk a beating on his behalf, or even that other, less tangible danger of acquiring some of his loser/outsider taint. Plus there were other kids who had it much worse, and he was never entirely alone – he had a little group of friends, someone to talk to at break, someone to say ‘are you all right?’ when one of the hard kids gave him a dead leg, or daubed shit on his schoolbag.
But over the years I’ve worried about him, and hoped he was OK. So I just looked him up on Facebook, and found him, still up there, in Leeds. Rather handsome, now, in early middle age, with four smiling kids. Things worked out for him, it seems. His resilience and fortitude saw him through.
And then I remembered how in the last school sports day of our lives he made a bid for glory in the 1500 metres, not pacing himself, but sprinting from the outset, somehow marshalling his gangly limbs into a semblance of athleticism. And suddenly the school saw him for the first time, not as a victim, nor yet quite as a hero, but just as a kid, an actual kid, and began to cheer and yell, and I pushed myself to the front of the crowd and screamed him on (we were in the same House for sports – St David’s, I think …) and it looked like he was going to win, but he was caught, just on the line, by the year’s champion runner, Martin something, Gilpin, perhaps. And the yells tuned into a sigh, because we knew that something amazing had almost happened.
So he lost that one, but he didn’t stop running – not away, like some of us, but towards.