Read Tao Online

Authors: John Newman


4.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

For my three children,
Astrid, Frank, Sean.
In no particular order!
Table of Contents

Part 1

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Part 2

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Part 3

Chapter 28

Chapter 29


Part 1
Chapter 1

The Big Thing:
I bet when the
hit the iceberg they didn’t think anything of it. It’s only an itsy-bitsy iceberg, they probably said, nothing to worry about. They thought that it was just a little thing. But they were so wrong! It was a BIG thing.

I didn’t think at all about the phone call that I answered on the evening of my tenth birthday. I thought that it was just a wrong number. A little thing. But it wasn’t a little thing! It was a BIG thing.

Jo had dropped me home late. Then she drove away. Kalem and David were already waiting impatiently in the hall for me.

“You’re late,” said David. “Let’s go!”

“Go on. Go on,” said Kate (that’s my mum). “Cake and presents later.” She shoved a twenty-pound note into my hand and pushed me towards the door. But then the phone rang and without thinking I picked it up.

“Tao!” shouted David. “We haven’t time!” Kalem just sighed. Kalem doesn’t get ruffled easily, but David is always freaking out about something.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hello,” answered a girl. She sounded nervous.

“Who is it?” whispered Kate loudly.

“I don’t know,” I mouthed. “Who is this?” I said.

“I’m Mimi,” the girl said.

I didn’t know any Mimi.

“Come on! Let’s go!” hissed David. “We’ll miss the whole film.”

“Sorry, but you’ve got the wrong number,” I told her. “Bye.” I put down the phone and ran out the front door with David and Kalem.

“Who was it?” called Kate. “Enjoy yourselves!”

“Someone called Mimi,” I shouted back.

And that was it. I forgot about it straight away. I just thought that it was somebody getting a wrong number, but I was the one who was wrong.

Chapter 2

That was the Big Thing … but this was the First Thing:
That morning I had jumped out of my bed the minute I woke up … because it was my birthday! Taa daa! Ten years old. And ten is my lucky number. I looked in the mirror. I had grown taller during the night. No doubt about it. Anyone could see that.

Then Kate came in with my present.

“Happy birth— Would you put on some clothes please, Mr Tao? Really! Admiring yourself in the mirror in your knickers at this hour of the day. I know it’s your birthday, but still…”

Of course I was not admiring myself in my knickers.

“They are called boxer shorts,” I told her and started pulling on my tracksuit bottoms.

“Well, whatever. Happy birthday. Now give me a birthday hug.”

My mum is big into hugs. She hugs everyone, except for Dad, of course. And, this is a bit embarrassing, she sometimes even hugs trees.

“Try it, Tao,” she says, her arms around a great big oak. It’s a special feeling – to be at one with nature. And the tree feels it too, Tao, right down to its roots.”

Sometimes if there is nobody around I give a tree a hug to keep her happy.

“So how does it feel, Tao?” she asks.

“Hard and lumpy,” I tell her.

A birthday hug is like an everyday hug multiplied by ten. It’s a real squeeze-the-life-out-of-you hug and it goes on for ages, and for special added extras Kate kisses me all over my face and chants, “IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou!”

I doubt if other boys have to put up with this kind of stuff.

Kate had a parcel in her hand, all wrapped up in newspaper with a blue ribbon holding it together. Kate believes in recycling – she says a small forest is probably cut down every month to make wrapping paper that people just rip up anyway in their rush to see what present they’ve got. So she uses newspaper instead.

“Open it!” she said. “You’re going to love it.”

I wasn’t so sure about that. I still remember the homemade playdough chess set she gave me last year when I was nine. I was supposed to love that too. So I got my smile ready and tore the parcel open.

It was a Wolverhampton Wanderers football shirt – my favourite team. Not bad at all!

“Thank you.” I smiled without having to pretend.

“Put it on,” she said, so I pulled it over my head and it fitted. It wasn’t three sizes too big so I would get years out of it – it was just right.

“It fits!” I laughed.

“Well of course it does,” said Kate, “but not for long unless you stay the same size.”

I had to tell her that it was too late for that.

“I started my growth spurt last night.”

She gave me that funny look that adults give when they don’t believe a word you’re saying but don’t want to say it right out.

“Do I get a kiss then?” she asked, tapping her cheek with her finger. “And a hug?”

So I gave her a kiss and a hug and she nearly squeezed the life out of me.

Then the doorbell rang and I was saved.

The Second Thing:
“It’s your father,” called up Kate in the tired voice she uses to talk about Dad.

“Coming,” I shouted, and pulled on my trainers without bothering to tie up the laces.

“Happy birthday, Tao,” Dad called out cheerfully as I raced down the stairs. “I’m just dropping in for a minute with your present.” He handed me a big wrapped-up box. “Go on, open it. You’re going to love it!”

Dad is always sure about things. If he says I’ll like it, I probably will. But Kate had to mutter, “That’ll make a change.”

“Why do you say that?” I snapped at her. “I always love Dad’s presents.”

She folded her arms across her chest and made her thin mouth. I didn’t care. I just ripped off all the wrapping paper and … it was a cage and there was a fat little white mouse standing holding onto the bars and looking right at me, twitching his nose.

“Yes!” I shouted and punched the air. I’d always wanted a mouse, but Kate was afraid of them so that was that. Dad was beaming.

“Happy birthday, son,” he said and we high-fived.

“Thankyouthankyouthankyou.” I smiled and gave him a quick hug.

But Kate wasn’t a bit pleased. She had stepped right back to the other side of the kitchen.

“How could you?” She almost spat the words at Dad. She looked like she was going to cry. “You know how I feel about rats.”

“It’s not a rat, Kate,” sighed Dad and, turning his back on her, put his little finger between the bars of the cage and petted the mouse’s tummy.

“How could you stoop so low?” Kate’s voice was getting louder. “Using Tao’s birthday to get at me.”

“It’s not always about you, Kate,” said Dad in his cold voice. “Tao’s always wanted a pet. He’s been asking for ever.”

That was true, but now I was just fed up. Stuck in the middle again. Ever since Jo took my Dad away to live with her, I feel like I’m the knot in the middle of the rope in a tug-of-war between my mum and my dad. Pulled this way and that. That’s why I hate HER.

“No – it’s always about YOU YOU YOU!” yelled Kate. “You are so—”

“But it’s never about ME, is it?” I interrupted her. “Even on my birthday!” And wiping the tears off my face with the back of my hand, I picked up the cage and the red envelope that came with it and ran out of the kitchen and up to my room.

The Third Thing:
“Well done,” I could hear Dad saying in a sarcastic voice. “Another big day ruined for the boy.”

“Just go, James,” said Kate through her teeth.

The front door closed. Then his car pulled away.

“Welcome to my world, mousey,” I told my new pet as I put the cage down on the bed and lay down beside it. Then I blew my nose hard. I could hear Kate downstairs, banging cupboards and clattering cups. I opened the catch on the cage door and slowly reached in my hand. The mouse had moved back into a corner and was very still. Its heart was beating wildly and I could see its whole body quivering.

“It’s OK, little mousey,” I said quietly. “I won’t hurt you.” The mouse sniffed at my fingers, its nose twitching. Very gently, I petted its back with my finger. It didn’t move away.

“You are the best little mouse,” I whispered. His heart was already calming down, but I knew I had to go slowly in the beginning until he got used to me. I pulled my hand slowly back out of the cage and closed the door.

The Fourth Thing:
The mouse started sucking on its water bottle. That is, until my mobile phone went off.

ANSWERMEANSWERMEANSWERME, it roared and the mouse ran for cover into its nest of hay. I jumped too. David had downloaded this new ringtone for me and I wasn’t used to it yet.

It was a text from Dad.

Glad you liked the present. I’ll pick you up at 2 outside Happy Pear

As if nothing had happened. Dad never mentions rows. Kate says that it’s because he doesn’t care, but that’s not true. He just wants to forget about them. Kate never forgets rows.

The Fifth Thing:
I opened the red envelope. Inside was a card that sang Happy Birthday in a squeaky voice when you opened it and it was signed by Dad. He wrote, “Welcome to double figures.” SHE wrote, “When I was your age, Tao, I was … ten!”

“Which SHE probably thinks is very funny, ha ha,” I told Mousey, who was peeping out of his nest again. “But I don’t. It’s a stupid thing to say.” Mousey put his head to one side and looked at me in a funny way. The twins, Roger and Rachel (who are only two), had drawn pictures of me with fat crayons. Well, I guess it was me because SHE had written “Tao – by Rachel” under the crooked circle with the arms coming out of the ears and no legs, and “Tao – by Roger” under the black smudge.

The Sixth Thing:
Kate pushed open the door and stuck her head in.

“Tao?” she said quietly.

I didn’t answer her. I was still cross.

“Sorry,” she whispered. I could hear in her voice that she had been crying.

“Who is the card from?” she asked, even though she could have easily guessed.

“Dad. And the twins,” I told her without looking up.

About now Kate should have crossed the room and tried to hug me and I would pull away for a bit, but then I’d let her and then we’d be friends again. But this time she didn’t come any further than the door.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” I said. I still sounded angry. That’s because I was. “It’s only a little mouse, you know.
the one who should be scared of you.”

“I know, I know.” Kate braced herself and moved slowly into the room.

“He won’t eat you!” I told her and she laughed nervously. Then she sat on the end of the bed as far away from the cage as she could. The mouse stood up holding the bars and looked at her curiously. Kate tensed up. Then she took in a big, deep breath right down to the toenails and let it out slowly. That’s one of the calming tricks that she learnt in one of her classes.

“Sorry, Tao,” she said again, and because it was my birthday and I really didn’t want it spoiled, I let her hug me.

“Sorrysorrysorry,” she said, and there was a crack in her voice.

“I’d better go,” I said, wriggling out of her arms. “You know Willy isn’t to be trusted on his own in the shop.”

Kate smiled when I said that. It’s what she always says.

Chapter 3

The Seventh Thing:
The Happy Pear was quiet when I got there. I parked my bike around the back and went to see where Willy had got to. He wasn’t in the shop and there was Mr Kelly waiting patiently at the till with a basket full of vegetables. This was not unusual. Kate had warned Willy about this … lots of times.

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