Authors: Michael Morpurgo
To the Foreman family
Robbie Ainsley, 10, of Tiverton was in a coma tonight in Wonford Hospital, Exeter, after being knocked down by a car outside his house. Doctors at the hospital say his condition is serious but stable. The driver, a man in his forties, is helping police with their enquiries.
think a lot about Lucky, and I wish I didn’t, because Lucky’s dead. It makes me so sad. It was me that chose his name, too. But Lucky turned out to be not so lucky after all. I want to cry, but I can’t. What’s worse is I don’t know why I can’t cry. I just can’t.
Sometimes I tell myself that maybe I’m in the middle of a bad dream, a terrible nightmare, that soon I’ll wake up and Lucky will be alive and everything will be just as it was. But dreams and nightmares only end when you wake up, and I can’t wake up. I try. I try all the
time, but I can’t. So then I know it can’t be a dream, that what happened to me and to Lucky was real and true, that Lucky is dead and I’m locked inside my head and can’t get out.
I can’t wake up. But I
hear. I can feel, too. I can smell. And I can remember. I remember it all, every moment of how it happened. It was Saturday, just after breakfast. I had the whole weekend ahead of me. Footie in the park with Marty and the others. Then I’d be going out with Dad on Sunday. We’d be going sailing again at Salcombe. I couldn’t wait.
The phone rang. Dad. It would be Dad. He always rang on Saturday mornings. As usual, Mum didn’t pick it up at once. She just let it ring and ring. And when she did pick it up she wasn’t at all friendly. It was
a long time now since she’d been friendly with Dad. Lucky yapped at the phone. Lucky yapped like a puppy at just about everything – the postman, the milkman, a fly on the window, a dog on TV. He wasn’t actually a puppy at all. He was even older than me. He’d just never grown up, that’s all. Always busy, always bouncy.
Mum had the phone in her hand now, and I could hear Dad saying, “Hello? Hello?”
“Take him for a walk, Robbie,” said Mum, ignoring Dad on the phone. “I want a word with your father.” She was always ‘having a word’ with Dad, but they never sorted things out between them. I sat where I was because I wanted to hear what was going on. “Robbie! Do as I say. Take Lucky for a walk!” I pretended I hadn’t heard her. “Robbie,
dog for a walk. All right you can get yourself an ice-cream.”
“Cool,” I said.
Then she got really mad. “Don’t say ‘cool’. You know how I hate it. Out!”
“OK. Cool,” I said, just to irritate her. “Come on, Lucky. Walkies.”
Ellie called out from upstairs, asking if she could come with me. I said no because she’d be ages putting on her boots, and because she always wanted to stop to feed the ducks. Lucky was jumping up and down, yapping. After all, he’d just heard the best word in the world –
I opened the front door and Lucky shot off down the path, still yapping. We were going walkies in the park and he was loving it already.
Normally, I put Lucky’s lead on and he
jumps up and down while I open our front gate. But the front gate was open already. Someone had left it open. Then I saw the cat – Mrs Chilton’s big tabby cat. She was sitting on the wall in the sunshine, licking herself – on the far side of the road. It all happened so fast after that. Lucky was gone, skittering down the path, his little legs going like crazy underneath him, growling and yapping all at the same time. And I was laughing because he looked so funny. Suddenly I stopped laughing because I saw
the danger I should have seen in the first place. I shouted, but it was too late.
Lucky was out of the gate and into the road before I could stop him. I ran after him. I heard the car, heard the squeal of brakes, saw Lucky disappear underneath the wheels. But I never saw the car that hit me. I felt it though. I even heard my own scream. I was flying through the air, and falling, tumbling, rolling.
Then I was in the ambulance. But somehow I couldn’t wake up. Nothing seemed to work. I couldn’t move anything, not my fingers, not my legs. But
my head I
woken up. Inside I was wide awake.
I remember thinking in the ambulance, “Maybe I’m dead. Maybe this is what being dead really feels like.” I’ve thought
a lot about that ever since, and it doesn’t worry me any more, not often anyway. I know I can’t be dead because my leg hurts all the time, so does my head. I feel like I’ve been walked all over by a herd of elephants. I mean, you can’t hurt if you’re dead, can you?
I could hear Mum crying, and the ambulance man telling her I would be all right, that she wasn’t to worry, that it wasn’t far to the hospital. I remember he put a mask over my mouth. When we got here, I felt the cold air on my face. Mum held my hand the whole time. She kept kissing me and crying, and I wanted to open my eyes and tell her I was fine. But I couldn’t, and I still can’t.
She’s here in the room with me now, with Ellie. There were times I couldn’t stand
the sight of my little sister – she could be so annoying. Now I’d give anything, anything in the world, just to be able to open my eyes and see her again.
Mum and Ellie don’t cry as often as they did, thank goodness. Dr Smellybreath told them that crying would only upset me, that they should talk to me, that I can hear them if they do. But from the way they talk to me, I know they don’t really believe I can hear them. They just hope I can. They do try to talk to me sometimes, but mostly they talk
me, not to me, like they’re doing now.
“He looks very pink,” Ellie’s saying, and she’s touching my cheek. I can feel the sharpness of her little fingernail. “And he’s very hot, too.” She’s sitting on my bed now. She’s playing with my fingers like
they were toys. “This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed at home…” She’s done this before. She’ll do the whole nursery rhyme including the tickling bit at the end. Here we go: “And this little piggy cried ‘wee wee wee’ all the way home.” And she’s running her tickling fingers all the way up my arm. They do tickle too, but I can’t giggle like she wants me to. I want to wake up right now and tickle her back, tickle her till she bursts. I love to make her giggle. But I can’t do it. I can’t.
“What’s Robbie got that pipe thing in his mouth for, Mum?” she asks again. And Mum explains, again, and tells her not to touch my tubes, again. “Why doesn’t he wake up, Mum?”
“He will, Ellie, he will. When he’s ready to, he will. He’s just sleeping. He’s tired.”
“Why’s he tired?”
Mum doesn’t answer, because she can’t.
There are so many questions I want to ask them. I want to ask what all my tubes are for. I’m full of horrible tubes going into me and out of me. I want to ask about Lucky. Is he really dead? Tell me. I have to know for sure, one way or the other. And also, I want to know if Chelsea won on Saturday. Did Zola score? I bet he did. Coolest player in the whole world. The best.
And another thing. How long have I been lying here in this bed? The trouble is there’s no night or day for me, no yesterday, no today, no tomorrow; so it’s difficult to know how long I’ve been here. I’m guessing it’s about three days, maybe four. But I can’t really be sure.
I doze a lot, but I never know for how long. I feel like dozing off right now. I ’m so sleepy. When I wake up Mum’ll still be here, with Ellie, and with Gran probably – Gran’s just gone off shopping. Or maybe Dad’ll be here instead, or Doctor Smellybreath will be sticking something into me or pulling something out of me. Or Tracey will be with me again, making me comfortable. She’s my nurse and she’s really cool. She smells nice too. She smells of flowers. Not like Doctor Smellybreath. He smells of garlic.
Tracey often sings as she works. She’s got favourite songs and favourite singers – John Lennon and Kirsty MacColl. She says Kirsty MacColl is just the best. She plays me the CD sometimes. Tracey tells me secrets, too. That’s one really good thing
I’ve discovered about being in a coma; sometimes people tell me secret things. Maybe it’s because they don’t really believe I can hear them, that I’ll ever wake up. But I can and I will. Tracey’s always going on about her boyfriend, Trevor, where they went last night, what he said to her when he said goodnight. Trevor! What a name!
She was angry with him again this morning, because he forgot her birthday. Either she’s furious with him or she loves him to bits. Can’t make up her mind. I reckon Trevor must be a nerd, a right nerd. I’ll tell her so when I wake up.
I’m dozing off now, drifting away. But Mum won’t let me. She’s bending over me. She’s still here. She’s close to me. I can feel her warmth, feel her hair falling on
my face as she kisses me. “Your dad’ll be in to see you later, Robbie. And I’ll be in again tomorrow.” Now she’s crying. “Please wake up, Robbie, please.”
I’m trying, Mum, I’m trying. And Ellie’s kissing me too. I’ve got a wet ear now.
“I brought you Pongo,” she says. “He’ll look after you. He’ll help you wake up.”
Pongo is her flop-eared, cuddly rabbit, pale blue with pink eyes. He’s her absolute favourite cuddly toy. She hates being without him. I want to hug her. I want to say thank you. I want to tell her that Pongo’s cool, really cool. But they’ve gone, and I’m alone.
Prayers were said this morning at the primary school in Tiverton for Robbie Ainsley who was knocked down by a car last week. Headteacher Mrs Tinley said: “Robbie is a very popular boy at school with children and teachers alike. He plays centre forward in the school football team, sings in the choir, and only recently played Oliver Twist in our school production of Oliver.”
Robbie Ainsley remains in a coma and on a life support system in Wonford Hospital where doctors say his condition is unchanged.
ad’s here. He comes most days, but never with Mum. They don’t do anything together any more, not since he moved out. He’s reading to me.
again. It’s always
I like it, but not that much. I know why he’s doing it, though. Doctor Smellybreath’s always saying it, to everyone who comes to visit me. He says anything could wake me up at any time – a voice I recognise, a book I know, a song I like, or some big surprise. He says everyone’s got to try to find a way through to me, and one of the best ways is by jogging my memory.
So Dad sits here reading
I know it by heart, Dad, and it’s not waking me up. Talk to me, Dad. I just want you to talk to me, like you used to. But he doesn’t. He always says exactly the same thing when he first comes in to see me. “Hello, Robbie. You all right then?” Silly question, Dad. Then he gives me a kiss on my forehead, pats my hand, sits down and starts to read. He doesn’t even tell me who won the football.
Sometimes he stops reading for a while and I hear him breathing, and I feel him just sitting there looking at me. He’s doing that now. I know he is. He’s moving his chair closer. He’s going to talk to me. He’s going to say something.
“Robbie? Robbie? Are you there?” Of course I am, Dad. Where else would I be?
My nose is itching, Dad. I wish you would scratch it for me. I wish I could scratch it for me.
“Say something to me, Robbie. Move a finger, or anything. Please.” I can’t, Dad. Don’t you think I would if I could?
“I’ll finish the chapter then, shall I?” He’s closer still now, so close I can feel his breath on my ear. “It’s
, Robbie. Your favourite.” I know it is, Dad. Please don’t read to me, Dad. Just talk to me. But I hear him turning the page. On he goes. I shouldn’t complain. He reads it brilliantly. Well, he should. He is an actor after all. His BFG voice is really cool, all booming and funny, like laughing thunder.
Great! Tracey’s come in again. She’s singing. I love to hear her singing.
Days I’ll remember all my life.
It makes me feel all happy and warm inside. “Hello, Mr Ainsley,” she chirps. “How are we today? How’s Robbie doing?”
“The same,” Dad says. “Much the same. Sometimes I don’t see any point in this. I don’t think he knows I’m even here.” I wish he wouldn’t sound so gloomy.
“Don’t you believe it,” says Tracey. “He knows, don’t you, Robbie? I know he knows, Mr Ainsley.” She’s changing the dressing on my head. “He knows a lot more than you think, I’m sure of it. He’s doing just fine, Mr Ainsley. What he doesn’t need is people around him who are worrying themselves silly about him.” You tell him, Tracey. I can feel the warmth of her hands on my head. “Well, the bump on his head is going down very nicely, and that’s just what
we want. But it’s swollen on the inside, Mr Ainsley. That’s the big problem. All we need is for that swelling to go down too, and with a little bit of luck, and with a lot of encouragement, he’ll come out of his coma.”
“Mrs Tinley – she’s Robbie’s Headteacher,” Dad’s saying, “she gave me this tape to play for Robbie. The kids in his class have sent messages to him – you know, get-well messages. She thought it might help, help him to wake up. What d’you think?”
“I think that’s really sweet,” Tracey says. “And what’s more it’s a great idea. I’ll go and find the cassette machine. We’ve got one somewhere, I know we have.” And she goes out, leaving Dad and me alone again.
There’s a bit of a silence, and then suddenly Dad starts to talk. For the first time he’s actually talking as if he really believes I might be able to hear him. “Robbie, it’s about your mum and me. We both feel really bad about this. She thinks that if she hadn’t sent you off to walk Lucky in the park, then none of this would have happened. And I know that if I’d been at home, then I’d have been there to take you and Lucky to the park myself. I’d have been there to look after you.
And there’s something else, Robbie. About your mum and me splitting up. I should have said something before, I should have explained. It was my fault, not Mum’s – mostly anyway. I couldn’t get work, Robbie, and I got all down in the dumps, and fed up and depressed. I thought
I wasn’t any use to anyone – not her, not you, not Ellie. She had enough of me moping about the place, feeling all sorry for myself. I don’t blame Mum. We both said things we shouldn’t have said. Now I’m upset and she’s upset.”
talks to me like this. He isn’t talking to me as if I’m a kid at all. I like that. I like that a lot. “I’ve got a job now, Robbie. It’s not much, just a little part on TV, in
But it’s something, a start. I’m getting back on my feet. I’d come home like a shot, but I think I’ve blown it and I don’t know if Mum’ll have me back.”
Course she would, Dad. Ask her. She misses you like anything. We all do. Ask her, Dad. Just ask her! I want to shout it out loud. But I can’t even open my mouth to talk.
Tracey’s back. “Here it is,” she says. “I’ll plug it in, shall I? Not too loud now. Good luck.” And she’s gone again.
“It’s your friends from school, Robbie. They all wanted to say hi. That’s nice, isn’t it?” All of them? I don’t think so, Dad. Certainly not Barry Bolshaw, him with the big mouth, who has a go at me whenever he can, just for the fun of it. I hate his guts, and he hates mine. I can’t say my ‘r’s very well, so he calls me ‘Wobbie’ or ‘weedy Wobbie’, just because I’m a bit on the small side.
Dad’s really hopeless with machines, always has been. He keeps pressing the wrong buttons. Ah, at last. Here we go.
“Hello Robbie,” Mrs Tinley’s voice. “This is Mrs Tinley.” Well, I know that, don’t I? “Class 6c are here with lots of
messages to help you feel better. First a song to cheer you up. Ready children? One. Two. Three.”
“Food, glorious food…”
They sing the whole song, and I sing along with it in my head. I know it off by heart. I can hear Marty droning along in the background. He’s useless at singing. He can only sing one note, but he doesn’t seem to know it, and the trouble is he always sings really loudly.
Marty’s my best friend, ever since Infants. He’s got sticking out ears and sticking up hair. That’s the thing about
Marty – he sticks out. He’s got huge great feet, like his Dad. I tried on his Dad’s shoes once when I was little. Like clowns’ shoes they were. I often go round to Marty’s place. I love it there. No one ever tidies up, and his Mum and Dad laugh a lot, and so does Marty. Sometimes I take Lucky with me. They’ve got a big garden, and Lucky races around and digs in the sand pit, and they love him to bits. Marty dog-sits for us when we go away. It’s like a second home for Lucky – or it was. Marty’s a brilliant footballer, too – he’s goalie in our school team. He’s got great big hands, like spades, and the ball always seems to stick to them.
The song’s over and Mrs Tinley’s banging on about how much they all want me to get better. “Now, Robbie. Here’s Marty with the first message.”
“Hi, Rob. We played St Jude’s on Saturday, and we won, of course. We hammered them 4-1. And the goal they got was a penalty, which wasn’t fair – I never touched their centre forward. He dived. Get better soon because we miss having you around. And we need you back in the team, too. See ya.”
“Hiya Robbie. It’s Lauren. I’m the new girl who sits at the back and has coloured braids in her hair. You’ve got to get better soon, because we all get very sad when we think of you in hospital. Bye for now.”
“Robbie, it’s your
mate, Morris.” Morris, a real boffin, the school chess champion – looks like Harry Potter – brain like a computer. I only ever beat him once, and then I cheated. Bit of a weirdo. He’s always making jokes, and then explaining
them as if you’re stupid or something. He’s doing it now.
Come back soon, so’s I can
you again. Right?”
“Hey Robbie. This is Barry. Remember me?” Not likely to forget you, am I? Barry being friendly? Barry being nice? “Listen, I just want to say get better, that’s all. When you come back we could be mates, yeah?” And he sounds as if he really means it, too. Maybe he’s not as bad as I thought after all.
“This is Freya. Can you hear me, Robbie?” That’s Freya Porter, who’s very quiet and always wears those mules – sort of clog-type shoes. I think her mother’s Dutch. She speaks with a bit of an accent, but she’s better at spelling than any of us. “I think what happened to you was terrible. I say prayers for you each night
and hope that will help. I hope you come out of your sleep very soon.”
“Imran here, Robbie.” Bill Sykes in
“You’ve got to open your eyes and do stuff, ‘cos if you don’t, you won’t get to be in our next show. I just came back from my holiday in Spain when I heard about your accident, and my mum and my dad and me hope you get better very soon.”
Then Sam. Then Juliet. Then Joe.
of them. Everyone in my class. I just want to jump out of this bed, run down the road, across the playground, into the classroom, and shout out: “Here I am! I’m back! I’m better!” But all I can do is lie here and cry inside. Now they’re singing another song from
Oliver – You’ve got to pick a pocket or two.
I love that one. Inside I’m laughing and crying all at the same time.
“Did you hear all that, Robbie?” Dad again. “They’re all rooting for you, just like all of us are, me and Mum and Ellie and Gran. Wake up, Robbie.” He’s shaking my shoulder now, gently. “Please, Robbie. Listen, I’ll try to put things right with Mum, OK? Would you get better if I did that? I can’t promise anything, but I’ll try. I’ll really try. Would that help?”
Yes, Dad. That would help. That’d be cool, really cool. The best. But all my words are inside my head. I want to let them out, so Dad can hear me. But somehow they can’t escape.
Dad’s going. He’s hugging me. He’s been crying. I can feel the tears on his cheeks. I wish I could cry. I wish I could cry buckets.