Bertram wiped the sweat from his brow. The scratchy woollen trousers of his hideous grey and scarlet school uniform, making the backs of his knees itch. Ordinarily he might have enjoyed the geography field trip, but today he simply wasn’t in the mood. His face turned the colour of beetroot as his blood boiled with anger.
‘Haha, look at Bertram. He’s fallen in a big stinky pile of dog poo’. Bertram’s worst enemy, a mousy haired, gangly looking boy called Angus sneered at him, as the rest of the class joined in.
Bertram clenched his teeth, a tiny vein protruding and pulsating in his temple. Why did these things always happen to him? Wasn’t life tough enough, without the universe throwing more problems his way?
The stench of the dog poo was overpowering. Worse still, there was nowhere to wash or change in the open field, and the smell was sure to follow him around for the rest of the day.
It was only 10:00 am as they stepped off the coach into what seemed to be the middle of nowhere; a countryside lane in Gloucestershire, England. Their objective for the day, to find the source of the River Thames and examine any river features they might find.
‘Gather around everyone’. Yelled their bad tempered geography teacher Miss Petrenko.
‘Bertram Bile! Would you STOP messing about for once in your life. Otherwise you’ll be back on that coach and on your way to school before you know what’s hit you. Seriously, sort yourself out lad. I’ve had enough of you already’. But it was too late for Miss Petrenko’s threats. The bus driver was gone; keen to get back to the bus shelter at the end of a long and tedious shift. He hated kids at the best of times.
Miss Petrenko had it in for Bertram. He was in trouble, even when he hadn’t ACTUALLY done anything wrong. Just his presence was enough to get him in her bad books. He let out a long but silent sigh of frustration.
Today was going to be a terrible day. He had known it from the moment his mother was rushed to the maternity hospital in the early hours of the morning, to pop out another sibling for their already bulging at the seams family. Still exhausted, he had rolled out of bed, and as he passed through the kitchen, grabbed a cold, unbuttered, slice of toast from his sister’s plate. She shouted obscenities at him, but was not quick enough to catch him as he flew out of the door, determined not to miss the school bus.
With all the commotion of the new baby’s imminent arrival, Bertram had forgotten about today’s geography field trip, and as a result was now the ONLY student wearing school uniform.
Why did he have to be so forgetful, and why oh why did his mum have to have the baby today? Couldn’t she have waited until the weekend? At least then he might have remembered not to come to school in his uniform. The other students looked so relaxed in their shorts and t-shirts, and he was sweltering in his three layered, heavy and scratchy uniform.
Molly smiled at him gently as the students gathered around Miss Petrenko. Molly was his best friend, though he didn’t really understand why she wasted her time on him. He had been a popular kid when they had met on the first day of primary school and he felt annoyed that she should see him in his lowly status, at the bottom of the class pecking order now he was a full 11 years old.
At primary school he had been the apple of his teacher’s eye. The school prefect. A shining example of a model student, someone to look up to. He was smart and caring, and life was so, so happy and full of fun. But now, after his parents’ divorce, starting a new school, and mum’s on and off boyfriends, and not having any money, life was just doom and gloom. Everything that could go wrong for the family did. His mother lost her job, the washing machine broke down, and Saturdays were frequently spent hiding behind the couch so the landlord couldn’t find anyone at home to pay him his over the top rent.
Miss Petrenko bored holes into Bertram with her eyes as he returned a little smile to Molly. Seriously, how could that be wrong, all he was doing was reciprocating a friendly smile to a friend who was trying to make him feel better. Miss Petrenko’s eyes widened and Bertram felt himself shrink a little.
‘Something funny Bertram Bile? Perhaps you want to share the joke with the rest of the class?’ Miss Petrenko pouted her lips and raised a rather severe eyebrow at him, her face growing into a long and pointed frown. Bertram hoped the wind would change direction and Miss Petrenko’s face would get stuck like that forever. That would teach her. Maybe then she would know how it felt to have people laugh at you and tease you all the time for being somehow different.
‘No Miss.’ Bertram whispered, as he lowered his head and looked at the ground in shame, trying to make himself disappear into the surrounding hedges.
‘What was that Bertram Bile? Speak up boy. I can’t hear you when you mumble. Didn’t your mother teach you any manners at all. No, I doubt she ever did knowing her lot. Waste of space the lot of them’.
Miss Petrenko inhaled sharply. When she spoke, she spat out her words. Saliva flying in all directions as if it was venom from an evil snake. It was ironic that she claimed she couldn’t hear him. Usually he couldn’t so much as breathe without her complaining about him being too noisy.
‘I said I’m sorry Miss’. Bertram exaggerated each word, so he could push down the anger brewing inside him.
The rest of the class were laughing at him so much, that the boys had to cover their mouths with their hands to stop their pig like snorts escaping their bodies. Bertram was sure that Angus might just wet himself from giggling so hard. Why did Miss Petrenko never see or hear the other children when they were the ones ACTUALLY being naughty? Why did THEY never get in trouble? What had he ever done to upset her?
But it wasn’t so much Bertram that had upset Miss Petrenko. His dad had dated Miss Petrenko when they were teenagers, long before his dad met Bertram’s mum, and even longer before Bertram was born. Miss Petrenko and Bertram’s dad were childhood sweethearts, but his dad had dumped her when he met Bertram’s mum and it wasn’t long before they married and the first of the children came along.
Miss Petrenko had never forgiven Bertram’s dad for dumping her, but since his dad wasn’t around, her hatred would be vented on Bertram instead. It wouldn’t have mattered if Bertram had been the greatest angel from heaven, he would simply never be good enough to gain an ounce of praise from Miss Petrenko.
Sometimes Bertram felt as if Miss Petrenko were staring at him. He even thought he saw a tiny drop of water or sadness in her eye, but he must have imagined it, he wasn’t sure that Miss Petrenko had any feelings. Just think, if Miss Petrenko had married his dad, she could have been Bertram’s mum, or he might not even exist at all. Bertram gave a shudder. Life really would be terrible if you had Miss Petrenko as your mum! His mum might not be the best mum in the world, but at least she always tried her best and he knew that she loved him very much, even if she was always busy with the newest baby of the family. They might not have much money, but they were rich when it came to the love they had for each other, even if they did fight and squabble on a daily basis.
There hadn’t been much at all to look forward to today so far, but at least Miss Petrenko had said they could choose a partner to work with in pairs for the field trip. Molly was already waving her arms towards him excitedly and grabbing his arm to make sure they would be partners for the day. Bertram knew that Molly would help him snap out of his grumpy mood, and she was certain to have an idea for how to get rid of the sticky brown dog poo that had attached itself to the back of his school trousers.