Tap, tap goes the ball on his foot, regular and even. Right, right, left, left, flick: catching it snug in the crook between foot and shin.
Just a little longer until lunch is over, then it’s the home straight. He holds the ball still in the line, gets inside to his place fast – blend in, never draw attention. Most days are manageable. He gets his work done then draws or reads. Sometimes he passes notes across the desk with James. As long as there’s no drama or presentations or dance lessons. Mr Graham at least gets it, and doesn’t push him. He lets James say here for him at register and order his lunch.
The worst is music – that woman has it in for him. Everything he does – or doesn’t – is a personal offence to her. She got right up in his face once, in her flappy skirt and stupid dangly earrings, screaming at him, open your mouth, clap your hands like everyone else, what’s the matter with you!? Really – a teacher.
They get angry that he can’t speak and explain. Can’t comprehend that he has no choice. A big bubble lodges in his throat, his jaws stick, body and brain frozen. The thoughts and words won’t link up. He is trapped in his head.
Until later, slipping through the door and into the warm kitchen where his brother is snacking. Hey Alfie, what you having? You ready for some proper playing now your big bruv’s in?
Effortless, it flows and he loosens from himself.