Drowning in sky
Sky. Everywhere. He’d never seen so much of it all together in one place like this before, unbroken by buildings or trees. It seemed to go on forever and for a moment it seemed he might fall into it and drown if he kept on staring up into it.
Then Keith kicked him behind his knees so his legs buckled and he fell down the coach steps and onto the gravel.
“Anthony, get up” sighed Miss Mitchell distractedly as she tried to count heads. Keith snickered and Anthony pushed himself back onto his feet. His trousers were dusty and his palms were grazed, flecked with blood where they’d scraped along the floor.
The wetlands centre was unlike anywhere Anthony had ever seen before. Reeds as tall as giants stretched up all around him and the air had a stillness that not even the chatter and shrieks of 25 inner-city ten year olds could penetrate.
The day was dry and cold. Miss Mitchell handed out worksheets and asked them to put themselves into groups for the work. Naturally, Anthony was left to work alone. He didn’t mind. He concentrated on being inconspicuous so that Mis Mitchell wouldn’t notice and force him onto a group who’d only resent him for it.
At lunchtime they sat in the picnic area, pulling packed lunches out of bags, sharing out cola cubes and jelly babies and blackjacks. Anthony had a limp little cellophaned parcel of bread smeared with his father’s diabolical home-made pâte. He hoped nobody could smell how disgusting it was, but ate it anyway, because he had nothing else.
Afterwards, the others piled into the gift shop to see what their pound coins would buy them, but Anthony slipped away to stand alone beneath that endless sky one last time. He walked quietly down the wooden boardwalk, listening to the rustling and chirruping from the reeds and wondered what it must be like to live in so much space.
He stared out across the parkland and nothing but trees and grass and reeds interrupted his view. For the first time in his life he felt like he could be the only person in the world and the thought was breathtaking. He forgot his teacher. He forgot his squabbling, bickering, spiteful classmates with their glossy hair and expensive backpacks. He forgot everything except how it felt to be alone, here, in this wonderful place.
Anthony turned when he heard the bell of the gift shop door and saw his classmates piling noisily out and being shepherded towards the coach. He pictured himself climbing back onto it, enveloped by the smells of stale crisps and petrol, driving back to where buildings caged you in and blocked out the sky.
Then he turned back to stare out across the scene before him again, taking in its muted greens and blues and greys stretching endlessly on. And, without thinking of what he was doing, Anthony began to run as fast as his legs would carry him, trying, for just a few moments, to lose himself in all that open space.