Monkey Bars and Rubber Ducks (4 page)

Leavers’ Week

I was last to the Tribehouse for the Wednesday meeting because Mum was trying out a new recipe and it took longer than she thought. I don’t know why she bothered. No one ate much of it, not even her. She says we need to vary our diet. I completely disagree. Varying means adding strangely shaped vegetables in different colours and changing the meat bit into something unrecognisable. The good thing is Mum always gives up with her ideas after a few days and we go back to normal. I said that to Amy, my know-all big sister, and she said Mum feels guilty about spending so much time at work and so every so often she makes a big effort to be a better mum. Flo, my know-all small sister, said she thought Mum would be a better mum if she gave up work and just looked after us. I can’t think of anything worse. If she only had us to think about, she’d always be fussing about something. Flo said she’d have more time to make cakes. See, that was all she was really interested in -cakes, not Mum.

‘What took you, Keener?’ said Fifty. He held out his fist and we all rapped knuckles. It’s the fist of friendship. We’re meant to start all our meetings with it, but sometimes we forget and sometimes we do it twice. It’s a random rule, which is fine, because we make the rules, so we can break the rules. (Except the one that says no one can join Tribe, and no one can leave.)

‘I got held up by some evil slurry dished up by my mum.’

Fifty laughed, which was nice. No one usually laughs at anything I say.

At last! We’re all here. Now, do you realise it’s school camp next week?’ said Bee.

‘It can’t be,’ I said. We had the letter ages ago, but I didn’t remember the date we were going.’ No one’s said anything.’

‘Same,’ said Fifty.

‘It is,’ said Bee. ‘It’s the week before half-term. I heard the other class talking so I checked on the calendar.’

Another thing for me to worry about,
I thought. I won’t like the food. I won’t like the activities. I don’t want to spend all day every day with no escape from Callum and I’ll miss my hammock.

Fifty didn’t want to go either. He’s too small to do all the climbing and survival stuff – the girls manage better than Fifty. And he can’t take Probably Rose, his baby sister.

‘But what about Big Jim? Who’s gonna look after him when we’re away?’ said Copper Pie. I hadn’t thought of that. It was Fifty’s turn on Monday and that meant he was going to get away with it because we’d be at camp.
So unfair.
I looked over at Fifty. He was grinning. He’d worked it out too.

‘Maybe he’ll be much better by Monday,’ said Bee.

‘Let’s decide at the weekend,’ said Fifty. ‘If he still needs help, maybe we could ask . . . Amy?’ Fifty obviously doesn’t know my sister that well. She’s back together with spotty-face boyfriend so she’s too busy snogging to get an old man’s lunch.

‘Maybe,’ I said, because I didn’t really want to talk about Big Jim.

‘What exactly do we do at camp?’ asked Jonno.

‘We’re in teams and we build bridges and do an assault course and canoe and have a campfire and sleep in a tent,’ said Bee. ‘Things like that.’

I reckoned she wasn’t as keen as she sounded. Bee sleeptalks and sleepwalks which is not ideal on camp – she could end up wandering into a teacher’s tent, or Callum’s.

‘Can Tribe be a team?’ said Jonno.’ Or do the teachers pick?’

‘We choose. So yes, Team Tribe. But I can’t share a tent with you because you’re
boys.’

‘Will you go with Lily?’ asked Fifty.

‘Yes. I rang her and sorted it out.’

‘It sounds good,’ said Jonno.

‘It is,’ said Copper Pie. ‘No mum. No dad. No brother.’ Copper Pie was desperate to go – no washing and an army assault course to play on.

‘No dog,’ said Bee sadly. (She loves Doodle, but she doesn’t love the way her mum babies him, because then he starts thinking he’s not a dog but a person and wants to sit on the sofa and eat takeaways.)

‘No lessons,’ said Fifty.

I didn’t say anything. I still had to get through Friday.

Anyway, we’ve got work to do,’ said Bee. I waited to hear what it was: demand a recycling tent at camp, insist on organic cereal for brekkers . . . but it was a complete change of subject.

‘You know Jonno and Lily are going to be on the Leavers’ Week Committee?’ I nodded. ‘Well we’re going to come up with some ideas so that it’s not the same old stuff.’

‘What is the same old stuff?’ said Jonno.

We always forget he only came to our school this term. He’s so part of Tribe that it feels like he’s been here as long as us.

‘Do you want the bad stuff or the good stuff first?’ said Fifty.

Jonno pushed his glasses up his nose so he could actually see through them rather than over them. ‘The bad.’

So Fifty filled in the details of the last week of term, our last week of being juniors before we all go up to secondary school. The week that’s meant to be a ‘Celebration of Our Time at the School’ – gross.

‘OK. There’s a leavers’ assembly on the last afternoon and we all get given a certificate that says something good about us, like,
He always opened doors for people
or
She was a good citizen.
All the girls cry, I don’t know why. There’s a disco.’ (No way was I going to a
disco.
) ‘And the girls stand one side and the boys stand the other and the idiots dance in the middle. And the girls wear make-up and look awful.’

‘How do you know that?’ said Jonno.

‘Year 5s get to go too,’ said Bee. ‘But only me and Fifty went last year.’ She paused and looked at Fifty. ‘Why did we go?’

‘I think my mum made me go and you said you’d come with me.’

‘I’m nice, aren’t I?’ said Bee.

Everyone shook their heads.

‘Anyway,’ said Fifty. ‘Worst of all, there’s a yearbook. We have to give in a photo and write something cheesy to go underneath, and everyone gets a copy. It’s pure puke. People write stupid things like,
Thank you so much to all my classmates. I’ll miss you so much. Hattie. Kiss Kiss’
He made kissing noises to make the point. I cringed. I mean, who wants a picture of Callum to take home and treasure? I’d rather just have a Tribe yearbook.

‘Is that the end of the bad things?’ Jonno asked. Bee answered before Fifty could. She never lets anyone talk for very long without interrupting.

‘Yep, that’s about it, unless the committee comes up with some more tortuous ideas, like a prom night with girls in ridiculous dresses and boys in suits, which they won’t because
you
won’t let them.’ She gave Jonno the stare. He nodded like one of those dogs people have in the back of their cars.

‘So, on to the good stuff,’ said Fifty. ‘We get two film afternoons. They make the hall like a cinema and we get to have popcorn.’ He grinned to show that a cinema afternoon was definitely the top event of the week. ‘We get to vote for which films, and there are always two because the girls and boys can never agree.’

Silence.

‘Is that it, then?’ Jonno was obviously expecting more. ‘Is that the end of the good things?’

We all looked at each other. And then we all said, ‘Yes’ within a nanosecond of each other.

‘Right. Looks like we need to come up with some way of having some fun in Leavers’ Week.’ Jonno looked around. ‘Any ideas?’

Too right there were, but as usual they were mostly rubbish, and a few were lunatic.

IDEAS FOR LEAVERS’ WEEK

  • An eating competition – if you’re sick you’re knocked out
  • A graffiti competition – first one to be caught gets to clean it all up
  • A show, Year 6s mimic the teachers and the rest of school guess who’s who
  • The whole week off school
  • A sponsored silence – for the teachers
  • Wearing jeans to school, and free cakes for afternoon break
  • Bring your pets in
  • Take over the staffroom at lunch and make the staff play in the playground
  • Year 6 run the school for the week
  • A bonfire (Fifty’s idea of course)
  • Recycle everything school uses for a week, so they keep on doing it (Bee’s)

‘Can we forget about Leavers’ Week for a bit? It’s not for ages,’ said Fifty.

‘But this is our chance to make sure we have the best time, and maybe even change what happens after we leave,’ said Bee. ‘Jonno’s meeting the other class reps on Friday lunchtime.’

‘But it’s only Wednesday,’ I said. ‘Why don’t we all think about it on our own? Someone will think of something good by Friday.’

‘Same,’ said Fifty.

Everyone agreed, so we stopped making plans and did what we usually do – talked about random stuff, laughed about all the amazing things Tribe’s done, watched Fifty and Copper Pie play fight, and ate some biscuits left over from the last meeting (they weren’t very nice – that’s why they were left over) and some raisins Fifty had brought with him.

There were still two days till my turn to go to Big Jim’s. I did the ostrich thing – head in the sand.

Bee’s
Turn

I woke up on Thursday – only one more day till my turn. Time to think of ways to get out of it, I decided. I may be a Triber but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid. And bunking off is stupid. I moved from my bed to my hammock – swaying is good for thinking.

WAYS TO GET OUT OF VISITING BIG JIM

  1. Be off sick.

    • Except with a mum who’s a doctor it’s difficult to fake illness.

  2. Get Big Jim to say he doesn’t need any help.

    • Ideal but impossible.

  3. Tell my mum, or Fifty’s, all about it.

    • But Tribe wouldn’t forgive me if Big Jim got carried off to a home and left there forever. (And what about Carlotta the cat?)

  4. Invent a dentist’s appointment at lunchtime so I wouldn’t have to creep out. I could forge a letter from Mum, if I dared. Or Fifty could do it for me.

    • Best idea so far. Although means I’d still have to do the bunking off.

  5. Swap with Fifty.

    • Except Fifty would have to be stupid to agree as he won’t be doing it.

  6. Faint at lunchtime and get sent to the school nurse.

    • This idea rocks.

By the time I’d bolted my breakfast I felt much better. Anyone can pretend to faint. The Tribers might suspect I was putting it on, but I could cope with that. Last mouthful – I scraped the bowl a couple of times with my spoon to annoy Amy – and then I headed off to meet Fifty.

We talked about Probably Rose (which means he talks and I agree). I know better than to have an opinion of my own about her. Ionce said she’d hate him when she was older and I reckon it nearly broke our friendship. Although Fifty goes on and on I can listen and think at the same time, so it’s not that boring. I just say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ or ‘Umm’.

‘Probably Rose ate all her Weetabix.’

‘Umm.’

‘Do you think Probably Rose will be in top set for maths? She can count raisins already.’

‘Yes.’

‘Mum says Probably Rose is going to start doing full days at nursery. I bet she’ll be home-sick. What if she wants to come home but they don’t understand what she’s saying?’

I scrolled through my normal answers: yes, no, umm. None of these were right. So I said, ‘I expect the nursery is used to dealing with babies that can’t speak properly.’ Oops! I could tell from Fifty’s face I’d said the wrong thing.

‘But she can speak properly for her age, can’t she, Keener?’

It’s safer when I stick to yes, no, umm. ‘Yes,’ I said.

As usual, the others were there before us. Jonno was studying the tree stump on our patch. He keeps an eye on all his insect friends. They love rotting wood. Bee and Copper Pie were doing nothing.

‘We’ve been waiting for you.’ Ah! Not doing nothing -waiting for us.

‘Why’s that?’ said Fifty.

Because we’re friends,
I thought.
Duh!

‘Because there’s a problem,’ said Copper Pie.

My danger sensors weren’t working at all. I was blissfully unaware that my life was about to fall apart. I was thinking: broken mobile phone, homework left at home, Copper Pie’s brother’s got the flu, Doodle has diarrhoea . . .

What I wasn’t thinking was . . .

‘Bee’s cracked her tooth. Her mum’s made an emergency appointment at the dentist. It’s 12.30 today. That means she can’t help Big Jim at lunch. So it’s your turn, Keener. You’re bunking off today. Bee’ll do it tomorrow.’ Jonno’s voice sounded very grown-up and serious, like the announcement made by Neville Chamberlain in 1939 that the British were at war.

‘I am speaking to you from the cabinet room at 10 Downing Street. This morning the British ambassador in Berlin handed the German government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.’

Miss Walsh played the recording in class. It’s scary. And scared was exactly how I felt. I thought back to my ‘Ways to avoid having to visit Big Jim’. The dentist excuse was obviously out of the question – Miss Walsh would never believe we both had sudden toothache – so I had to faint. And to make sure the other Tribers didn’t suspect I was faking when I collapsed at lunch break, I had to convince them that I was prepared to bunk off (even though I wasn’t).

‘OK,’ I said.’ Me, today. Bee, tomorrow. That’s fine.’ Fifty gave me a funny look, so I added, ‘Gets it over with, anyway,’ to make me seem reluctant but resigned to it. I had to put on a good show. Fifty knows me too well.

‘Good on you, Keener. Copper Pie said you’d bottle it,’ said Bee.

Oh great! That’s all I needed.

‘No way,’ I said, trying to look determined. The bell went and I made a quick escape. The less interrogation, the better. The more time to think things through, the better.

Keener
Bunks Off

The morning disappeared. One minute I was in the queue to go into school for morning registration. Then I was handed a kit list for camp next week. And the next thing I knew, Bee’d gone off to the dentist and I was in the lunch queue – the Tribers had let me in at the front so that I could scoff and go. I wonder if I can explain how I felt. I wasn’t in a panic, like when you’re nervous and there are things jumping around in your tummy, it was more like I’d been anaesthetised ready for an operation. I was numb.

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