I remember every incident of a child being sick in class from my school days. I see it in my mind’s eye playing in slow motion. Thick, chunky vomit splashing onto the floor of the assembly hall. Bright yellow bile staining a white PE vest. Sawdust soaking up watery carrots and peas.
Of all them I guess Lesley Ramsden was the most noteworthy.
Lesley was one of those kids none of the other kids like. They called her gypo even though she lived in a house on Watergate estate and didn’t remotely have any connections to the travelling community.
So Lesley’s family were poor but no poorer than Clare Peacock’s or Barry Morgan’s. I guess it was tough being Lesley Ramsden, especially in 1991. 1991 was a tough year for everyone but for Lesley it was especially bad. I saw her one lunchtime wedged behind the tree that grew next to the wall, weeping and scratching at the bark. I felt like I should ask her what was wrong but I didn’t want anyone to see me talking to her. So I just walked straight past. I was a cowardly child and my position in the playground hierarchy was precarious. My parents owned their own house but my clothes were hand me downs and I only got a chocolate biscuit in my packed lunch once a week (Monday). I couldn’t risk talking to Lesley so I just left her there, crying to herself.
She had a head of thick, blonde tight curls and they were always tangled and frizzy, they looked like a dirty cloud on her head. She was fat but I couldn’t understand why, sometimes all she had for her lunch was white bread and margarine. Her face was large and round and pale and she had tiny little black eyes, the sort where you couldn’t see a line between the pupil and the iris. Her skin was shiny like plastic covered in grease.
It was an unseasonably warm day. We sat hunched over our mental arithmetic, quiet except for the clock ticking its way towards lunchtime. Lesley’s stomach started to rumble, a growling echoed in the old Victorian classroom. A few of us started to snigger. The rumble got louder and Jason Wilson said:
“Lesley is farting inside herself. I can smell it.”
Lots of laughter. Mrs Turnbull said:
“Jason, don’t be so vulgar.”
By this time Lesley was crying. She’s sat with her head on her desk and her body shook with sobs.
“Lesley, go to the toilet and wash your face. Jason, say sorry.”
“No, say sorry to Lesley.”
She went off to the toilet to wash her face. She was gone for a long time. She came back quietly and no one looked at her but she smelt weird.
When the bell rang for lunch the school dinner kids went to the dining hall and us packed lunch kids went to the cloakroom to get our lunch boxes. But all the boxes were empty. Instead of washing her face Lesley had eaten all of our lunches. She’d eaten 17 packed lunches in less than 10 minutes.
Kids started crying from hunger. We didn’t know what had happened. Lunch boxes were scattered all over. Crusts of bread and crisp packets and biscuit wrappers littered the floor. My own Roland Rat lunch box, the one I was so embarrassed by, lay discarded by the bins, the remains of my cheese spread sandwiches were crushed nearby.
Mrs Turnbull acted swiftly. She herded us crying lunch boxers into the dining hall, got us the standard school dinner and spirited Lesley away.
We filed back into the classroom after lunch and Lesley was standing at the front with Mrs Turnbull.
“Now Lesley has been a very naughty girl and she has something she wants to say to you.”
Lesley opened her mouth but instead of the standard apology we were all expecting she let out a huge belch followed by a thick and fast flowing stream of vomit. It was like a solid column of pure sick, endlessly pouring from her mouth. The worst thing was it was bright orange. Maybe she’d stolen a few bags of wotsits and some cartons of orange juice. Or maybe that was the colour of her own insides. It seemed to go on forever and no one could take their eyes off it.
When it finally finished and her eyes looked up at Mrs Turnbull they were neither pleading nor malicious. This was just something that had happened to her in a long line of unfortunate things that had happened to her. She didn’t speak or move until Mrs Turnbull said:
“Sit down please Lesley.”
She sat down and stared out of the window. Even after the caretaker had cleaned it up the smell was overwhelming and later Mrs Turnbull said we could play outside instead of doing spelling. We were elated and someone shouted “Go on Lesley!” A new kind of energy overtook us and our little limbs vibrated on the concrete of the playground. Still, no one played with Lesley and, as usual, she took her place between the tree and wall, scratching at the bark until home time.
Victoria Manifold is a writer from the north east of England. She has had work published by The tNY Press, Squawkback, Ether Books and Steak Night amongst others. She has a sideline in obsessing over Columbo and blogs at http://victoriamanifold.tumblr
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