Waiting For Gonzo

Strand in Nowheresville? – check. Stalked by Isobel, the school psycho? – check. Befriended by a kid who dresses up as a hobbit in his spare time? – check. Oz likes a laugh. It’s not his fault some people have no sense of humour. But when a joke backfires, it triggers a chain of events that messes up everything BIG TIME.

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3. KECKS

When I got to the next lesson, I had to explain all over again why I didn’t have any of the things I needed. Gareth kindly supplied the details I missed out—such as the fact that my bag was full of girls’ underwear.

I had to get rid of the rucksack. It was like a beacon of shame hanging off my shoulder.

At break time I found the locker I’d been issued. I was expecting it to be empty, or maybe contain a pair of old trainers or PE socks, but what I saw inside made me stop. In the very centre of the metal box was a pen. One of those fat, smelly markers, standing on end. Now when I say centre, I mean exactly that. I was fairly sure that if I measured the distance from the object to each of the four walls, the numbers would be equal. For some reason it made me think that the pen had been put there on purpose, for me—which was ridiculous, of course. The marker had been left like that as a joke. So slipping it into my pocket made no sense at all. But that’s what I did.

Then I stuffed the rucksack into the space and slammed the door.

Just before lunchtime the fire alarm went off. I followed everyone out onto the field, looking for smoke, hoping the school might burn down and the rucksack with it. But of course it was just a drill. By the time we were allowed back inside, the queue for the canteen was longer than it should have been. If the line hadn’t been so long, it wouldn’t have stretched all the way down the corridor to the noticeboard with all the photographs.

There were loads of them, pictures of school teams and house captains, kids receiving awards and acting in school plays. I wasn’t really interested, just trying to avoid eye contact with the group of girls from my art class who were in front of me in the queue.

‘Where’s your bag at, Kecks?’ I pretended I hadn’t heard. Then the nearest girl prodded me with a finger. ‘Askin’ you a question.’

‘What?’

‘What?’ she repeated, doing what she obviously thought was a great impression of my accent. All her mates fell about laughing like it was the funniest thing they’d ever heard. Then they all started up—‘What? What? What?’—it sounded like a flock of seagulls.

‘Look at his shoes!’ said another, pointing.

I looked down at my feet, wondering for a moment if I’d accidentally come to school in Dad’s plastic clogs—but I was just wearing my school shoes. Admittedly, they were slightly more pointy than most people’s, and had the classic D-tag logo embossed on the side. All my mates had a pair back home.

‘You never seen a pair of ’tags before?’ I asked the girl.

She frowned and looked at her mates.

‘What’s he say?’

And then she said something else that I couldn’t make out and they all laughed.

I didn’t realize Gareth was behind me until he spoke. ‘Where d’you say you come from again, Kecks?’

‘Hardacre—near London.’

‘Right, that explains it. Lots of blokes wear women’s undercrackers down there do they?’ The What? What? Girls thought this was hilarious.

‘You know, they’re actually a lot more comfortable than you’d expect,’ I said, smiling at Gareth, even though my heart was playing pinball against my ribs.

He frowned.

‘I like a good strong gusset though—for extra support, yeah?’

Gareth blinked, and then he laughed.

‘You should try it, honestly,’ I said. ‘It’s all about achieving a balance—comfort and style. You know, the choice of underwear tells you a lot about a person.’

Ryan was in the line behind Gareth, watching me through his hair while his jaw sagged in disbelief. I pointed to the freckle-faced kid standing next to him.

‘Now, at a guess I’d say you were a traditional briefs man. Am I right?’

Gareth snorted and the kid blushed.


I noticed other people in the queue were listening now.

‘Did you know that you can tell the underwear someone is wearing, purely by looking at their face?’


‘Go on then,’ said Gareth.


I pretended to think, frowning up at him. ‘Skin colour suggests good circulation, so I’d say boxers?’


He laughed. ‘See, I knew Kecks were the right name for you!’


The What? What? Girls giggled.

I looked around for another target and that’s when the photographs on the noticeboard caught my eye. I pointed to a girl holding a trophy and squinting into the camera. ‘This one looks in pain,’ I said. ‘G-string riding high, no question. Might need to send in the retrieval squad for that one!’ That got a laugh. ‘Briefs, boxers, boxers, commando!’ I said, moving along the row of images. Then my eyes rested on the picture of a girl with her arms folded, staring defiantly out of the frame.

‘Now this is not a happy face,’ I said. Which is when the image of the Mona Lisa dropped into my head like the next slide in a presentation. ‘In fact, this reminds me of someone.’

The corridor shrank back, fading as the image of the girl filled my vision and my fingers started to tingle. I knew what I had to do—what the picture was begging me to do. Then I remembered the marker pen in my pocket and realized I’d been right all along. It had been left there for me—for this very purpose. It was like a confirmation: here is the tool with which to complete your task.

I knew before I popped the cap that the pen would work. I watched it moving towards the photograph, drawn by a force I was powerless to resist—the Wheel of Destiny rocking on its blocks, anxious to get moving.

‘What you doing?’ I recognized Ryan’s voice, but it sounded distant, like somebody shouting a warning from far away.

All my attention was fixed on the thick black line curling out from beneath the girl’s nose. I drew a matching swirl on the other side, taking my time, making sure they were even. Then I filled in the outline with broad vertical strokes, the ink squeaking and glistening on the surface of the paper. For a final flourish I added a pair of glasses—and it was done.

The moment I finished, the clamour of the corridor rushed back in, and Ryan was suddenly at my side.

‘You shouldn’t have done that,’ he whispered, his eyes wide.

‘It’s just a joke.’

He looked like he was about to say more, but then Gareth put a heavy arm around my shoulders and laughed.

‘Now that is funny, Kecks,’ he said. ‘Dead funny.’

 

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