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Authors: Keren David

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BOOK: Almost True
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‘No one ever forgot about you,' she says, but I've had enough. I push past her and stomp up the stairs.

Patrick is talking to Helen and Archie. I pause outside and I hear him say, ‘Tyler's come here with almost nothing, Archie, and you're not to interfere with his possessions,' and then I push open the door. Everyone's looking at me, and I can see Archie's annoyed that I heard him being told off.

‘Sorry Helen,' I mumble. ‘Sorry Archie.' I drag his name out and sound as un-sorry as I can.

‘I think you can do better than that,' says Patrick. ‘Try again.'

Jesus. It's like being back in reception class.

‘Ummm . . . I'm really sorry, Helen, I shouldn't have taken your mobile without asking. I only did it because I needed to make an urgent phone call and it won't happen again. Maybe I can repay you for the cost of the call. I promise never to take your stuff without asking again.'

She looks a bit stunned and says, ‘Thank you for
the apology. Of course you can use the phone whenever you want, darling.'

‘No he can't,' says Patrick, ‘Don't you remember what Louise said? No calls.'

I'm hoping that he'll have forgotten that I haven't apologised properly to Archie, but oh no, that would be too much to hope for.

‘And next, your cousin,' he says. I think he's really enjoying this. Sadist.

‘I'm very, very sorry Archie that I pulled your hair and I do hope you are not seriously hurt and I'll try never to pull your hair again,' I say through gritted teeth.

‘Much better,' says Patrick. ‘Notice, Archie, that Tyler has left himself a large escape clause. You'd better be careful how you approach him in the future. Now, what have you got to say to him?'

‘Sorry for touching your scarf and laughing at you,' says Archie. ‘I hope I didn't hurt your feelings too much. I was only joking.' He might as well have called me a pathetic over-sensitive crybaby. Patrick lets him get away with it, though.

‘Excellent,' he says. ‘I can see we're going to have great fun together. Now I'm going to take Meg for a walk. Archie, maybe you'd better come with me.'

I'm pleased when they all leave me alone. I need some breathing space, some time to get used to the ideas
that I've got to share a room, that I have a cousin, and an aunt, that Patrick has decided that I need boundaries and discipline. I need to sort out my territory, make sure all my stuff is safe, make sure the bed is made properly. But when I hear them in the hallway, Meg barking excitedly, the door banging behind them, I feel empty and sad and left out and even a bit jealous. I'm just not sure exactly why.


Archie has a laptop. Archie has a Nintendo DS and about fifty games for it. Archie spends 100 per cent of his time playing cool-looking stuff and he never offers me a go. I carry on cleaning and ironing, but the attraction's wearing off fast. In fact, I can't really remember why I started doing it in the first place.

Unfortunately, I'm only halfway through a huge job. There's a room full of books on the first floor and I stupidly decided to take them all out one by one and wipe away the dust that clings to them. It's really bad to have so much dust in your house. I'm almost certain it can give you lung cancer.

So I'm wiping books and probably catching cancer and Archie's sitting in the middle of the room hunched
over his DS, chasing monsters and making shooting noises like he's about six.

I put up with it for at least ten minutes and then I say, ‘Go away, Archie, you're too noisy.'

Archie laughs and says, ‘But I want to stay here. I've never seen a boy do cleaning before. Isn't it a job for girls? Pretty, blonde, Polish ones?'

‘Shut up, you moron.'

‘What sort of boy does cleaning?' he says, ‘I'm trying to work it out. Are you special needs? Or gay?'

I'm holding a large hardback book –
A History of Medieval Canon Law –
and I watch it arc across the room and crash onto Archie's DS. Annoyingly, Archie dived sideways a split second before impact. I hope he got a lungful of deadly dust.

‘Temper, temper,' says Archie, wagging his finger at me. ‘Better watch out, because if you hurt me, Grandpa will make you apologise again.'

I grind my teeth and start on the next shelf.

Archie switches off his DS. ‘I can't believe you're my cousin,' he says, ‘You're such a chav.'

‘No I'm not,' I say. I'm not even that insulted because it's clear to me that Archie has no idea of the dress and behaviour code associated with chavs. He thinks it's just a general term for anyone poorer than he is, which is about ninety per cent of the British population. There
were a lot of boys like him at St Saviour's.

He crows with laughter, ‘You so are. And my mum says your mum—' but he doesn't get a chance to finish because I'm across the room in a flash slamming
Great Military Failures of the Nineteenth Century
splat onto his head, like I'm swatting a fly.

‘Ow!' he yelps, and then he clatters off down the stairs, shouting, ‘Grandpa, Grandma . . . he's hurt me again.'

Oh well. Here we go again. Meg's barking her head off, Helen's clucking over him as she examines his head – I'm hoping I've fractured his skull – and Patrick emerges from his study, and says in a bored voice, ‘What was it this time?'

Archie squawks, ‘He slammed a book on my head . . . it really hurt. . .' Patrick just says, ‘He certainly reminds me of his father. Think yourself lucky you've still got a nose.'

Then he yells for me and I come downstairs and I have to apologise to Archie again. I couldn't care less and I can see that Patrick knows it. ‘Archie, I am so sorry to have hit you with a hardback book,' I say. ‘I will use a paperback next time.'

To be completely honest, fighting with Archie is about the only thing keeping me sane. I'm going crazy, cooped up in the house. I feel hot and cold and headachy most of the time and my body is sore and stiff with lack of
exercise. Meg sometimes starts whining when she wants Patrick to take her for a walk. She paces around and scratches the front door. That's how I feel.

Patrick yawns and says, ‘Tyler, come and talk to me.' He stomps off into his study again. I think about ignoring him and going upstairs – I mean, what would he actually do? But it's not worth the hassle. Louise would kill me.

‘Sit,' he says, and I obey. I might as well be wearing a collar and lead. At least I'd get to go out.

‘Tyler,' he says, ‘you're going to have to try and control yourself. Stop lashing out at Archie just because you're fed up of being in hiding.'

Why should I? ‘He's really annoying me,' I say. ‘He's got no respect. You should be talking to him.'

‘I will. But you should know that if you respond with violence, you are always in the wrong. Always. Automatically. It doesn't matter who started it or what happened.'

I think back to the mud and blood of that park in London. The knife that Arron waved as he set out to mug the boy Rio. The knife that Rio pulled out of his back pocket. The two of them struggling in the mud. And the way I slashed my own knife at Arron when he wouldn't do what I wanted and run away from Rio's dead-meat body.

I can't bear to think about it. ‘Leave me alone, old
man,' I mutter, in Portuguese.

He says, ‘Eh? What?' as I meant him to, and then, ‘Who taught you Portuguese?' which wasn't the idea at all.

‘Umm . . . it wasn't Portuguese. . .' I say, but he says, ‘I may be an old man, but I haven't lost all my marbles yet.'

‘I'm sorry,' I say, ‘I didn't know you'd understand.'

He says, ‘Of course I understood. Languages are my hobby. Excellent accent. Clear as a bell.'

‘I don't really know much. I just had a few lessons before we had to leave London.'

‘They're teaching Portuguese at St Saviour's? The place has changed a lot since Danny was there.'

‘Not at St Saviour's. I got a Saturday cleaning job at the tattoo parlour and Maria the receptionist was teaching me. What I said to you – Maria used to say it all the time to Leon, the tattoo artist.'

‘Indeed?' he says. ‘Intriguing. Cleaning at a tattoo parlour, eh? Did you get a discount?'

‘No. Leon said I was too young.' I had one of a massive python all planned out for my eighteenth birthday and I bet I would've got a discount.

‘And was the appeal mostly Portuguese or Maria?'

That's actually quite clever of him because no one ever knew I had a crush on Maria.

‘Both . . . but mostly Portuguese. It's a really important language for what I want to do.'

‘And what's that . . . no, let me guess . . . something to do with the Brazilian football team perhaps?'

He's actually really clever. ‘No, but nearly. I want to learn lots of languages and be an interpreter for a Premiership team.'

‘Really? Excellent. Excellent. So Portuguese with Maria was your starting point, eh?'

‘No, I learnt Urdu in the shop downstairs and Turkish in the kebab shop and French at school.'

‘French, eh?' he says leaning forward. ‘How do you like French?' He's speaking in French now and he's got an amazing accent.

‘Very much, but the teachers at school are not very good. I would like to learn by talking to someone French,' I reply, slowly and carefully, trying my best to say it properly in French, and he's beaming all over his gruff face and asks, ‘Have you spent much time in France?'

‘I've never even been abroad,' I say gloomily – I was always nagging mum to take me to Paris on Eurostar, but she never thought we had the money.

‘You must go to France,' he says, like I can just go and buy myself a ticket any time I want. And then he switches back to English and adds, ‘I'm sure you won't remember, but this is not the first time we've spoken in French.
When you lived with us I had just retired, so I was around a lot. You were only just talking, so I put a lot of effort into trying to make you bilingual.'

When I lived with them? What does he mean? I'm about to ask, but then I remember something I haven't thought of for a long time. When I was really little I used to like a story – I'm not sure if it was a book or a video – about a giant called Grumpy who could talk in a special language that only I could understand.

I asked my gran once to tell me the story and she said sorry, she didn't know that one. Grumpy the giant was what first made me think that I could go out and learn lots of languages, that just by talking to people you could open a whole new world of words and ideas.

Now I'm wondering if Grumpy the giant wasn't a story or a video after all. Maybe he was actually. . . ‘
I say uncertainly, and my big, tall grandad says, ‘It's a long time since I heard you say that.'

I don't get a chance to ask any more, because Helen comes into the room.

‘I've had enough of you and Archie bickering and fighting,' she says. ‘You're not getting any education, and it's not good enough. Come and sit down at the kitchen table and we're going to start GCSE Maths.'

Could my life get any worse? I'm a constant prisoner, I have to share a room with my vile cousin, I don't have a mobile or a computer or any friends and now she wants me to do
? Unbelievable. I come and sit down at the kitchen table, but I'm skulking under my hoodie, and my arms are crossed in a way that Mum and Gran – my
family – would recognise as signalling that I'm not happy at all.

She's bought some books which set out the GCSE syllabus, and she has exercise books and pens for us, which all looks a bit worryingly serious, and she starts explaining how to solve equations. My mind usually goes into a bit of a panic when teachers start talking about a + b – I mean what is the
– but she explains it brilliantly. It's crystal clear all the way. Archie's yawning and saying, ‘But I know all this, Grandma,' but I'm with her every step. And I manage to solve the first problem she sets us before he does.

She's smiling at me. ‘Do you like Maths?'

‘Umm . . . no, not usually.'

‘That's a shame. I generally manage to turn people around so they can tolerate it though.'

‘What do you mean?' I'm incredibly shy around Helen. This is as much as we've managed to talk. When I'm with her I start feeling all anxious, and I can't speak properly, the words get all knotted up. She seems to feel the same, and although I can see she wants to get to know me, I can't imagine it happening somehow.

Archie's laughing, ‘Didn't you know? She was a Maths teacher.'

‘Oh, OK.' And she sets us both a page of equations to complete. It's something to do, I suppose, although swapping an actual life for Maths is a bit tragic.

I'm just finishing the last one – and hoping passionately that I've beaten Archie – when Patrick comes into the room. ‘I've just had a call from Penelope in Chicago,' he says, ‘Archie, you and I have to go and see a school, Allingham Priory, this afternoon. They have a place in Year Eight, apparently, and the head teacher, Father Roderick, wants to meet you.'

Archie looks really upset and I kind of smirk. We're obviously both thinking the same thing: Allingham Priory sounds like it's going to turn out to be a strict Catholic nightmare of a school.

He goes upstairs to get changed. I follow. This is my chance to wind him up, and I'm certainly going to take it.

He's buttoning a clean white shirt and I clamber up on to the bunk bed. ‘So. Allingham Priory, eh?' I say. ‘Sounds Catholic to me. Ever been to a Catholic school?'

He shakes his head gloomily. All his normal obnoxious bounce seems to have left him.

‘The monks hit you every day,' I say. ‘For the smallest thing. Beat you until blood pours down your legs.
And you'll be getting up at 6 am to pray . . . for hours. . .'

BOOK: Almost True
3.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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