Striking Back

by Philip Gardner


Patrick Griffin was a nobody; he had about as many friends as a blowfly at a barbecue. He always looked in need of a bath; his clothes were obviously cheap and always grubby. In class, he sat on his own, chewed the top of his pen, rocked back on his chair and stared vacantly ahead. But every dork has his day, and Patrick's came when he beat Robert Manucci in an almost-fair fight.

Robert Manucci was a much-feared person. He walked around the school with a couple of hangers-on, chatting up the girls or pushing the boys around. Like all bullies, Robert knew who he could pick on and who to avoid. He knew he could pick on Patrick. He usually started with insults:

"Hey, stupid! Where'd you get the coat? Looks like it was on special at the op. shop!" said Robert one day, then he pushed Patrick and laughed. His hangers-on thought it was a huge joke. Patrick grinned and took it - there wasn't much else he could do.

Sophie Burton and Lisa Miceli were watching. They looked at Robert, their mouths thin-lipped in a subtle expression of disgust. It was as if they were looking at some particularly repulsive creature that had recently crawled out from under a rock. They watched as Robert swaggered across the yard.

"Hey, Patrick, why don't you dob him in to Mr Monro?" they asked, although they knew the answer. The thought of an angry and vengeful Robert was too terrible to contemplate, and even the authority of Mr Monro might not be able to prevent violent revenge being taken. The bus trip home would be a real problem if Robert was more upset than usual. Patrick, with shoulders drooped, just kicked at a crushed can which was lying on the ground.

As he did this, Mr Monro appeared from around the corner of the building. "It's not a football, Patrick!" he boomed. "Take it to the recycle bin."

Oh, no! thought Patrick. Where are teachers when you need them? What is it about them that means that when you want one they're nowhere to be found, and when you don't want one they're right behind you, looking over your shoulder? Patrick picked up the can and trudged over to the large bin used for aluminium cans. He threw the can towards the high-lipped bin, but was so irritated that he threw it too hard. It missed the bin and clinked into the wall behind.

"I said put it in, not throw it," came the booming voice again. "You obviously need some practice at putting cans in bins. Walk with me until you find another ten which you can put in the bin, Patrick. Let's go!" Patrick plodded around the yard looking for empty cans. This wasn't a good day.

The bell rang and he was released from his search for cans. He went to get his books. If he were quick, he could avoid Robert, who had a locker near his. Patrick raced to the locker room, quickly opened his locker, took out his books, and turned to go. He ran straight into Robert.

"Look out, thickhead!" said Robert, then flipped Patrick's books out of his hands all over the floor. A chorus of cheers came from the hangers-on. One kicked Patrick's maths book further along the floor. They all thought this was enormous fun.

"Leave him alone, Robert!" said Lisa (one of the few people whose words seemed to have any effect on him).

"He's hopeless!" said Robert with a sneer, and turned his attention to other things.

Mr Monro appeared. A quick scan took in the scene: Patrick's books on the floor; a laughing Robert; an exasperated Lisa. But he knew from past experience that nothing would be said; no-one would be blamed.

"I want to see you after school, Robert," said Mr Monro as he walked past Robert and tapped him on the shoulder.

"Me? What for? I didn't do nothin'. "

"Anything. Didn't do anything," muttered Mr Monro automatically. "Be that as it may, I still want to see you after school. Go straight to my office before you go to your locker."

Patrick picked up his books and got out of there. He didn't want to be the one Robert turned to when he was looking for someone to take out his inevitable bad mood on. Patrick scuttled to class and assumed his accustomed position. The pen went into his mouth, the chair rocked, the eyes stared vacantly. At least in class nothing much could go wrong. He was safe there.


In Mr Monro's office after school, Robert sulked. He resented being picked on all the time. If anything happened, he was blamed; if something was broken, he must have broken it; if someone was hurt, he must have hit them; if something was stolen, his locker was searched. He wondered what the trouble was this time.

"I'm worried about you, Robert," were Mr Monro's opening words.

What for? thought Robert. Why doesn't he worry about someone else for a change? Why is he sticking his nose into my business? Hasn't he got anything better to do anyway? Why doesn't he go home like everyone else? Why does he hate me? The thoughts raced through his mind, but didn't show on his face, which remained blank and sullen.

"If you spend your days fighting against the world, the world will always want to fight back," continued Mr Monro.

Fighting against the world? What is he talking about now? I'm not fighting against anyone! Mr Monro's words were hitting the brick wall Robert had built around himself, and then bouncing off. His thoughts were concentrated on the time, and how long he had to put up with this lecture. Having already missed the first bus home, he hoped he wouldn't miss the second. He'd just humour Monro and get out of there as quickly as he could.

"I might need to talk to your father again, Robert."

Here's trouble! thought Robert. He knew his father wouldn't care about anything Robert had done, but he would be humiliated by being called up to the school because of complaints about his son's behaviour. That meant a beating.

"What for, Sir? I didn't do nothing. Who says I did?"

"Anything, Robert, you didn't do anything."

"Yeah. That's right. So why am I here?"

"I'm not accusing you of anything in particular. I said I was worried, and that's all at the moment. I'm worried that you are making other people's lives miserable. You frighten people, you bully them. You seem to gain positive pleasure from making other people unhappy. You smile when other people are hurt or upset. People don't feel safe when you're around. It all has to stop. Something has to change, Robert. You either have to change yourself, or I have to change you. If we both fail, if you don't change, you'll be out of this school. I don't want any more reports about you. I don't want to hear that you've been causing trouble in class; I don't want to hear that you've broken something or hit someone. All I want to hear is that you've settled down and are behaving yourself. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, Sir," replied Robert unconvincingly. Mr Monro continued.

"Sometimes I feel sorry for you. The only friends you've got are Steven and Michael, who are weak themselves and are therefore attracted by your power around the school. But feeling sorry for you won't stop me from taking whatever action I have to to see that you aren't a danger to others. Be warned. Be careful. I have my responsibilities, too."

Mr Monro paused and examined Robert. He saw an angry, twisted boy; warped from his natural growth. He didn't really know what to do with him. He did know it was no use calling his father. He remembered the last interview. Mr Manucci, on being presented with a series of accusations, had turned to Robert and hit him on the side of the face. "You have shamed me!" he roared. Hitting your son because he'd been fighting didn't seem logical, and Mr Monro knew it would only mean that Robert became a bit more calculating in the way he went about things. That parental visit hadn't make things better; Mr Monro didn't seriously contemplate initiating another one.

"I want you to think about your behaviour in the school, and what needs to be changed. See me tomorrow at lunchtime, Robert. You can go now."

He went. He took his books to his locker, opened it and threw the books haphazardly inside. He gave Patrick's locker a thump as he walked past it, hoping he would jam the lock. He ran to the bus-stop looking for something or someone to damage.


At recess the next day, Patrick sat talking to Lisa and Sophie. He couldn't call them friends, but they would tolerate him for a while because he was funny. He was a constant supply of stories to tell the others. He was telling them how he had found a broken chair leg in the garden, and had taken it to Mr Monro. Patrick couldn't see anything funny in Mr Monro asking him to keep looking for the other three legs, but for some reason Lisa and Sophie thought it was hilarious. They giggled to eachother at the thought of Patrick spending the rest of the day cruising round the school looking for broken furniture.

"Hey, stupid. I wanna talk to you." With these words the atmosphere changed. Robert's arrival often had that effect. Patrick blinked at him uncomprehendingly. "You told him, didn't you?"

"What? Told who?"

"You told Monro I threw your books on the floor, didn't you?"

"No I didn't. I didn't tell him anything. I only told him I found the chair leg. He didn't even know about the books."

"Yeah? Well, why did he make me go to his office? It's your fault, you weed."

Robert took a step forward, and pushed Patrick hard in the chest. His mates were, by this time, standing behind Patrick. They pushed him forward, intending to give Robert another go. But here the unpredictable happened. Lisa went to stand up to get out of the way, and as she put her foot forward, she tripped the catapulted Patrick. He bent double and shot forward at an even greater speed. His head rocketed into Robert's stomach. Robert, seriously winded, also jerked forward. Unfortunately for him, he was too close to the pole which was part of the seat the girls had been sitting on. With a sickening whack his nose hit that pole. The soft flesh flattened to one side, and blood spurted from it. Robert let out a moan, starting loud then diminishing, in synchronisation with his teetering, inevitable drop to the ground. Steven, Michael, Lisa, Sophie and Patrick stared.

Then Lisa took control. "Get a teacher!" she directed Steven and Michael, who were so used to following orders from Robert that they just accepted any instructions. They ran to Mr Monro's office. Teachers arrived, and Robert was carried away. He was driven to the local doctor's surgery. He wouldn't be at school for a while.


As a result of all this, Patrick became notorious. Everyone wanted to hear the story of how he had flattened Robert Manucci. One of the first was Mr Monro, who, having heard the story, didn't say much. He just looked at Patrick and shook his head. He did, however, handle the interview with Mr Manucci when he came up to complain about the injuries to his boy.

So Patrick was able to enjoy a time of temporary peace and relative popularity. He knew there would be more said and done about this when Robert returned, despite Mr Monro's reassurances. But whatever happened, as he rocked on his chair and chewed the top of his pen, he could always take pleasure in the mental picture of Robert Manucci flattened and bleeding at his feet.


¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤