Story Competition 2008, winner's story - Oscar Marshall
by Oscar Marshall
The morning takes a little longer than usual to fall into place. Memories, tasks and sequences hover and float like leaves spiraling to a forest floor and I need to wait for them to lie still so that I can fit them together to make sense. And like some leaves that flit and dance, some of my thoughts are hard to grasp especially when they are disturbed.
This morning's disturbance comes in the form of new instructions from my mum; "Come on get dressed and take your inhaler and don't forget that it is your review today and your dad and I will be at the school at 11am. I have signed your report card so don't forget to take it or you will be in trouble again." She says all this whilst passing my bedroom door and I have forgotten the first two things she has said by the time she reaches the bathroom. I untangle myself from the quilt and sheet that have twisted and tightened around me during the night and then wait for the room to settle before standing up.
My toe stubs on my school bag and that fires an exciting memory in my brain.
‘Mum! Mum! There is a new boy starting today, I wonder what he will be like? He might be a bit like me because I heard he has been to three other schools before this one!" I am determined to help the new boy to settle in, if I can get to him before the others, then perhaps he will like me and be my friend and then we could hang around together. I lie back down and begin to think about the new boy. I yawn and close my eyes.
"Now class this is Morgan." My teacher, Mr. Johnson, is standing at the front introducing the new boy. He looks scared; in fact he is as white as a sheet. His eyes are darting about the class studying everyone's faces. I smile, his anxiety is familiar and he reminds me of myself when I start a new school. Mr. Johnson tells Morgan to sit in the work station next to me, which is just what I was hoping he would do.
"Hi," I said with a grin going from ear to ear. "I'm Oscar, don't look so worried." "Why did people snigger when I walked in?" Morgan asked in a nervous soft voice as he sat down. "Well it's probably because you... well... we are not used to people walking in without bumping into the door frame. What do you think all the bubble wrap is for? You didn't go anywhere near it, you just looked a bit odd that's all." I spoke gently and tried to sound light hearted, not wanting to make a big deal out of it.
Mr. Johnson tripped over his own feet, stumbled across the floor and then began speaking. "OK class look at the Floatyboard. We are practicing handwriting so take out your writing tools. I took out my Fatpen and a large piece of lightly blue coloured paper and I noticed Morgan take out a very thin pencil and a small exercise book. Morgan was staring at my paper and pen. "What‘s the matter?" I asked.
"Why have you got such a big piece of paper and a mutant pen?" Morgan said.
"Well I was going to ask you about your strange little book and that funny looking pencil. How can you write with such small things?"
The Floatyboard sprang into action. Large letters appeared in different shades and moved slowly about the surface. The board itself began to rotate, different sections slid back and forth and I copied down the words that formed in front of me. Morgan wasn't writing anything, "Why is the board moving and changing colour?" he asked.
"It makes it easier to read doesn't it?" I replied.
"No, it makes me feel sick and the letters are all confused. I can‘t see any words!" Morgan sounded desperate and he did look a bit queasy. He stood up. "Sir," he said "I feel sick!" and he ran out of the class.
Whilst Morgan was out of the room, Mr. Johnson came over; he lowered himself down next to me and elbowed me in the ribs. "I suppose you have realised that Morgan has some specific learning difficulties Marshall. I would like you to do your best to try and help him settle in whilst we assess his needs. It is difficult for us to understand how Morgan sees and hears things. His brain doesn't quite interpret things the same way as ours and he can appear... well, a little strange. He is going to need some special friends to support him. These children become targets for teasing and bullying from other children, and teachers for that matter." An NNS (Not Normal Support) teacher ushered Morgan back into the room and Mr. Johnson got up, banged his knee on the table edge and returned to the front of the class.
"Mathematics everyone and today we are doing seven multiplied by eight," Mr. Johnson paused for the announcement to reach everyone in the class and then repeated it slowly as usual. Morgan raised his hand. Mr. Johnson glared at him, "just shout out Morgan if you want to ask something, if you put your hand up like that you'll have the whole class doing it and I wouldn't know where to start!"
Morgan lowered his hand and said quietly "fifty six."
"Speak up boy, did you say you feel sick again?". Morgan took a deep breath and shouted, "No sir, fifty six is the answer to your question."
"I'm sorry," Mr. Johnson was becoming exasperated, " you will have to raise your voice Morgan, and I thought you said that the answer is fifty six when you haven't even used the Articulator yet! Perhaps you can help us out with this problem Marshall." Mr. Johnson said and he went to turn the lights down.
I flicked on my Articulator and my thoughts started to float on the screen above my head. "Tell us what you are thinking Marshall," Mr. Johnson said. The Articulator showed numbers and images from my mind. Scenes from last night's television, a range of colours and an embarrassing image of our Head Girl, Jenny Templeton, which made the class laugh. "What was the question again sir?" I asked and Mr. Johnson looked at his notes, "Good question Marshall, it was 7 multiplied by 8." Numbers became more prominent in my thoughts and the numbers seven and eight floated before me. "I am thinking seven and eight and I am thinking they are next to each other. Seven and eight need to multiply so I need more of them," and more seven and eights appeared in the air. "Excellent, stay focused boy," I heard Mr. Johnson say. Immediately, an image of 7 x 8 appeared above me.
"Ah! I know I need seven lots of eight!" The seven disappeared and the number eight split into seven pieces that formed themselves into more figure eights. "Now I have seven lots of eight and I need to add them up!" I said excitedly and then my Articulator went blank.
"Well done Marshall! We are well on our way to working out the answer. Soon, maybe by the end of the week, we will actually know how to get the answer." Mr. Johnson said as he went to turn on the lights again. Morgan looked gob smacked. He stared at me and tried to speak but nothing was coming out. "What's the matter mate?" I asked.
"I don't get it," he said. "You went through all that just to find the answer to a simple sum!" He started to bang his head on the table. I felt really sorry for him, "don't worry, you will get help if you need it," I said just as the bell rang.
We packed our stuff and stood up then sat down again. "What's going on?" Morgan asked. "Why what's wrong?" I asked, puzzled. "Well usually when the bell goes people move classrooms." Morgan said whilst making little walking movements with his fingers. "Think about it Morgan, why would you want to risk being late and getting lost? It would all be very confusing! This way is much quicker and easier," I said trying not to sound too patronising. I realised he really was struggling and I wondered what it must be like for him to have such difficulties.
Later that day, Mr. Johnson came in to the classroom reading ‘An Idiots Guide to Helping Children with Learning Difficulties'. He walked straight into his desk, winced and then spoke to the class. "Now class I want you to understand something and I am going to ask Morgan to come up to the front to help me explain." Morgan stood up slowly. "That's it, don't be shy,". Mr. Johnson smiled kindly and ushered him forwards. "I am going to ask Morgan to read something. He is going to read an extract from his diary, he's decided to share it with us all so that it might help us to understand more about his difficulties. OK lad, when you are ready."
Morgan looked nervous and began to read. " They haven't decided what label I should have yet but I know that I'm not normal. There's no point moving schools again because it's not them it's me, there's something wrong with me. I wish I didn't feel so lonely and I hope that even though I am different that at this school I will get the help I need to be able to make friends which is the most important thing to me." Morgan put his funny little book down and continued. "You see, I don't think like you all do and I don't work things out like you can. I feel sick when I look at your Floatyboard and I can't make out any words. I see words better when they are in a straight line and the blue or green papers that you use make words less clear for me to read. My hand wrecks when I try and write using such large hand writing." His voice was trailing off and it was difficult to hear him. Mr. Johnson interrupted "You will have to listen carefully everyone, part of Morgan's ...er ...condition, for want of a better word, is that he speaks quietly." He gave Morgan a reassuring nod and Morgan continued. "Unlike you, I walk through doors with out bumping into them and I don't get so close to things.
In fact I seem to have an over developed sense of where I end and where you begin and I feel a bit scared of you all coming up so close to me. I struggle with your rules in P.E. and it takes me longer to change as I don't have a clip-on tie or Velcro fastenings on my clothes and shoes. The sloping floor in the hall make me feel unbalanced and I tend to throw things, or bat things in straight lines." Tears were welling up in his eyes and he continued "I've never used an Articulator before and I feel stupid. I know that I am different and that you might not know how to talk with me or might loose friends yourself if your seen hanging around with me because it's happened before." He looked up as tears began to run down his face. "But all I ask is that you give me a chance."
"Oscar, why are you crying?" My mum's voice was gentle and she was stroking my forehead. I realised that I had been dreaming, "It's OK mum, I‘m getting up now and I know what I'm going to say in my review."