“Tony… are you awake?” Linda slowly opened the door to her son’s bedroom, careful not to make too much noise as her son stirred in his bed. It was a big day for him, she knew. She did not want to cause him any upset. “Tony?”
“Mmm.” he muttered in response.
“I’m going to turn the light on, you need to get up now.”
Linda switched on the light and saw a heap under the Star Wars bed covers as Tony protected his eyes from the sudden light. There was no movement.
“I’ll give you five minutes and then I’ll be back to check. Your uniform is hung up ready for you in the cupboard. Give me a shout if you need help with the tie.” She hung on waiting for a response, but there was no sound from the heap. “Tony?” She said, with a bit more authority.
“Yes!” He called back, his voice still breaking from the impending adolescence.
“Five minutes, come on. I’m making breakfast.”
Linda left, leaving the door slightly ajar. Tony fought off the urge to go back to sleep, knowing he would need to face this day sooner or later. There was no avoiding it. He slowly pulled back the duvet from his face allowing the light to hit his face. His eyes naturally squinted as he felt the pain of the bright light, quickly putting his hand to his face to rub the sleep which had gathered in his eyes overnight. He let out a moan as he turned to his side, freeing one leg from the warmth of his bed. He managed to pull himself up and sit on the edge of his bed, his eyes not quite fully open.
Tony could hear the commotion downstairs of his younger siblings squabbling over their breakfast. He could not bear the noise today of all days.
Rising from his bed he walked towards his cupboard, slowing pulling the doors open to reveal his new uniform. The crisp white shirts were all neatly hung together, next to them were two pairs of freshly ironed trousers, and at the back was his navy blazer proudly showing off the logo for Queensfell Secondary School. Tony scowled at the blazer, remembering his simple green jumper from his Primary School, wishing he could have one last year there with all his friends who had all been sent to a different school to him. Tony would be facing this day alone.
“You’ll make new friends.” His Mother had promised him. “Just you wait, they’ll be your friends for life.”
Tony had known his current friends since nursery. He could not imagine anyone new in his life. They had become closer over the last few years on the school’s football team, but now that was over he did not know what he would do with his weekends. They’ll forget about me, he thought, they won’t remember me soon.
“Are you up yet?” Linda shouted from the bottom of the stairs.
“Yea.. I’m up.” He muttered back.
“Ok, your breakfast is ready. Hurry before Aimee and Ben eat it all.” She tried to sound jovial, but it did not work on Tony this morning. The butterflies in his tummy were blocking any hunger he would normally have felt on a school morning.
Tony pulled one of the shirts from the hanger with too much force, pulling the hanger from the rail so it clattered on the floor. Too many buttons, he thought as he began to undo them. Halfway through, he got frustrated and pulled the shirt over his head like a jumper, fastening the buttons back up. The trousers were next. His mother had to buy trousers two ages too high because of Tony’s quickly growing legs, resulting in them being too long now. He left the blazer in the cupboard, not wanting to wear it at all, deciding he will put that on before he set off for the school bus.
Tony picked up the tie and looked at it in bewilderment. He had never worn a tie before, let alone owned one. He had lied to his Mother that he did not need to be shown how to fasten it, but he knows that she knows the truth. Mothers know everything, as she always liked to remind him.
Tony walked down the stairs, tie in hand, to get his breakfast. His brother and sister were still making a lot of noise but stopped as he walked in to the kitchen. They looked at him in the baggy shirt and too-long trousers and laughed.
“Ha-ha! Look at your pants! Ha-ha!” Ben called out, making his younger sister laugh too.
Tony did not respond as he knew this would be the kind of taunting he would get once he arrived at the school. He felt ridiculous in his new attire.
“Shut your mouth, your brother looks very smart, and it’ll be you next year don’t forget! And I’ll let Tony poke as much fun as he wants if you don’t stop it.” She turned and smiled at Tony. “Pass me your tie, love. I’ll do it for you now and then show you how to do it tonight.” Tony passed her the tie and sat at the table. “Here’s your breakfast, make sure you eat it all.”
She handed him a plate. There were two slices of toast, two fried eggs and beans. The smell of hot food managed to defeat the butterflies which had been waging war in his tummy and he suddenly felt a huge pang of hunger.
“Eh why does he get that and I’ve had cornflakes? That’s not fair!” Ben complained to his Mother.
“Because your brother has a big day today. He will need a big breakfast. Now go get dressed, you have school too today.”
Ben and Aimee left the table and made their way upstairs. Linda handed Tony his smartly fastened tie. Without the audience of his brother and sister, Tony allowed his Mother to put it around his neck and neatly under his collar. With a tear in her eye she stepped back to look at him.
“You look so grown up. Eleven already, you look just like your Dad.”
Tony turned back to his breakfast, embarrassed by the sentimentality. He finished the rest of his food and quickly downed his cup of tea. The realisation suddenly hit him that he did not have long before he had to leave for the school bus. His school bag had been prepared the night before. He had money for his lunch and his bus pass was ready in his coat pocket. This was it.
Tony arrived at the bus stop in plenty of time. He was first to arrive but soon he was crowded by excited kids who were all older than he was and a lot bigger. Discussions of summer holidays flooded the bus stop. Girls talked about their sun tans and boys talked about the girls they had spied on in their bikinis. No one seemed to notice Tony, standing there all alone. He kept his head down and stared at the floor, not wanting to make eye contact with anyone. He just wanted this day to be over and done with.
“It’s here!” One of the older girls shouted to her group of friends. “Tilly better have saved us that back seat!”
“Ey up ey up!” One of the lads shouted. He was a few years older than Tony. “It’s that miserable sod driving.”
Tony looked up and saw the driver as the bus pulled in to the stop. It was an older gentleman. He had grey hair, a face full of wrinkles and a scowl as though he did not want to be there any more than Tony did.
Tony allowed everyone else to go ahead of him. He watched as they had their passes scanned, making sure he knew which way around he needed to present his own. Beep, beep, beep. One after another they all boarded the bus and Tony’s turn came at last. He stepped up, careful not to trip on the stairs.
Beep. He was on the bus. He saw an empty seat near the front and quickly sat next to the window. He could barely even hear his own thoughts over the noise behind him. Tony wondered if the noise would ever stop, and then contemplated whether he wanted to arrive at the school or not.
“New years! This way please.” A plump woman called out by the bus stand on the school grounds. It reminded Tony of the first Harry Potter movie. All she was missing was a lantern and a great beard, as well as the height. This amused Tony. He began to relax as he was surrounded by other kids his own age looking just as lost. “All first years, please all gather here. We can go in together.” Her voice was high and plummy.
Tony looked around at the other kids. There was no one that he recognised but they seemed to know each other. They probably all went to Queensfell Primary School together, he thought. Tony was only just out of the catchment area and was sent to Woodgate School which was several miles away. Now he was completely on his own.
The plump lady led them all in to the great hall. There was no enchanted ceiling or sorting hat to be seen as he made his way with his fellow students to the seats which had all been neatly lined up.
“Just take a seat anywhere you like and your names will be called out to your classes. Your teachers will then lead you to your new classrooms where you can all get properly acquainted. Oh?” she turned around as her name was called out. “I must go and meet the final bus which has just pulled in. Have a good day!” she waddled out of the doors at the back of the door.
Tony sat to the back of the hall on his own. His mother had told him to make new friends, but he had no idea how to do that. What if he talks to the wrong person? What if he makes friends with the ‘geek’ and is labelled that himself for the next five years? What if he makes friends with the bully and is forced to be mean to people? How can he make out who is who from this room?
Tony noticed that someone had sat down next to him. It was a boy of similar build to him. Tony saw that his trousers were also too long for him and he looked just as uncomfortable as Tony. They exchanged a nervous smile and looked straight ahead at the teachers that were gathered together with their clipboards.
“What school did you go to?” The boy asked.
“Parkside. My cousin went to Woodgate. Tom. Tom Brady? Do you know him?”
“Yes!” Tony perked up. “We were best mates. We played football together after school.”
“What’s your name?”
“Yea, I remember you! I’m Richard. We met at Tom’s birthday party!”
Tony suddenly remembered Richard and felt a huge weight lift off his shoulders. They had spent the whole day together for Tom’s birthday and played football.
“I remember! Did your team win you last match at school?”
“Oh yea, we killed ‘em. Five nil to us.”
“Ok, kids!” A woman at the front called out. “I’m Mrs Spencer, and I’m going to call out the names of those in my class. Please listen carefully! When you hear your name, I want you to stand up.”
Tony shuffled in his seat. This would be the class he would remain with for the next five years. Registrations, lessons, school trips, would be with the names called out. He could feel his heart beating hard in his chest. The room was now quiet enough for him to almost hear the thudding of his heart.
The teacher began to call out some names. Names that were new to him.
“Do you know anyone here?” Richard whispered to Tony.
“No, no one.”
Tony slowly stood up as his name was called out. People turned to look at who owned this unknown name. He could feel the heat rising in his face at the unwanted attention.
Richard stood up next to him and they both suddenly beamed with happiness and relief. They no longer felt isolated.
“Class, welcome to Queensfell. Please follow me.” Mrs Spencer gave her new class a warm smile as they followed her to their classroom.