I am jack, p.1

I Am Jack, page 1


I Am Jack

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I Am Jack

  Malcolm Babbage, an inspirational teacher who has made a difference to the lives of his students.

  Table of Contents

  Cover Page


  1 Mum, will you listen?

  2 Burping

  3 Wipe Your Bum

  4 Late for School

  5 Nanna Discovers her Underpants

  6 Karate Kid

  7 Anna Tells

  8 Bright Yellow Sunflower

  9 Surf’s Up

  10 Mr Angelou’s Bald Head Shines

  11 Goodbye to Orange Cupboards

  12 Jack’s Back

  13 I Can Fly to Jupiter

  Super Jack

  Other Books from HarperCollins


  Other books by Susanne Gervay


  1 Mum, will you listen?

  Mum’s talking to Nanna. She said she’d only be a minute. That is such a lie. A minute means an hour in Mum time.

  Oh no, I’m right. Mum has put the kettle on. She’s going to the cupboard. Two mugs, crackers, cheese and tomatoes. Poor Nanna. Mum is always on a diet. Nanna won’t like those crackers and cheese. That doesn’t mean Nanna is thin, or even sort of average. No, she is definitely round and walks with a wobble and she loves cookies. I love cookies too. Mum is average in height and weight, except she hates her thighs and the top of her arms. She is very funny when she starts to do star jumps in the middle of making chicken soup. Mum’s short blonde hair fluffs up when she jumps. My sister, Samantha, loves it when Mum does that and she jumps with her. It wasn’t so funny when Mum did it in the car park the other day. What if someone from school saw her? I told Mum that I wouldn’t help her with the shopping if she goes nuts like that in the car park.

  ‘Mum. I’ve got to talk to you.’

  ‘Yes, Jack.’

  I give her the stare. She knows it is private.

  ‘Jack, Nanna and I are talking about something important. Can it wait?’

  No. It can’t. ‘Mum, I need to talk.’ I grit my teeth. Mum can see I’m stressed.

  ‘All right, then.’ Mum and Nanna look at me.

  This is PRIVATE, Mum. Nanna’s grinning at me. It is VERY private. I give Mum the eye. Like she has to know. I want to speak to her alone. But what does she do? She just sits there with Nanna waiting. Mum always says I can talk to her anytime about anything. It doesn’t look like it, does it?

  Nanna interrupts. ‘What is it Jack?’ She smiles with her brand new teeth. Her last ones fell out at the dinner table. She was so embarrassed when we went teeth hunting under the table. I found them but two of the front ones had fallen out and the left front tooth was cracked.

  ‘It’s nothing Nanna.’ But it is not nothing. It is really hard to talk about this and it has taken me ages not to feel guilty about bringing it up. I sigh loudly, but Mum just eats crackers and Nanna’s a bit deaf. They start talking again. I give up. Mum doesn’t care about me and I’m in a rotten mood. I may as well bother my sister. Samantha’s one year younger than me. That means she’s ten and a good person to bother.

  Samantha’s bedroom door is open. She’s doing her hair. She’s always doing her hair. How stupid is that? How can someone do their hair for hours?

  ‘Just go away, Jack. What are you laughing at? Go away.’ Samantha’s ears have gone red. You can see her red ears really well, because she’s put her hair back in two bunches. She ignores me. I run my fingers through my prickly hair. Mum’s boyfriend, Rob, cut my hair two weeks ago with his new hair clippers. It didn’t take long and it looked great. He shaved it close to my head. Sort of bald really. Mum was so mad and that’s really rare for Mum.

  Rob always gets a number two cut, which is quite short. Mum doesn’t mind it on him. Why is she worried about my haircut? Usually I’ve got straight, brown, ordinary hair. My hair is growing out a bit and when I put gel in it, it stands up. I really like that. Mum has been better about my hair and laughs every time she sees it now. She calls me Prickly. Samantha says it looks great and she’d know. I think Samantha is going to be a hairdresser when she grows up.

  I’m going to check if Mum and Nanna have stopped talking. I stick my head through the doorway. Notice me, notice me, pleasssse…‘Yes, Jack darling.’ Mum looks at the doorway.

  Mum knows she is not allowed to call me darling. The last time Christopher heard her call me darling, he kept repeating it for ages. ‘Darling Jack, come and have a look at this.’ ‘Jack, darling, let us play ball.’ ‘Darlingest, let us go to the park.’ Eventually he stopped, because I ignored him and he got bored with calling me darling. When I told Mum NOT to call me darling, she said she wouldn’t, but she doesn’t understand why and she breaks down and forgets.

  ‘Mum, don’t call me darling. You promised.’

  ‘But you are my darling.’

  ‘Mum, we’ve had this discussion before and just, please don’t.’ I look at Nanna. ‘Is Nanna going home now?’

  ‘Soon, Jack. Do you want Nanna to leave?’ That’s such a mean question. As if I would hurt Nanna’s feelings like that. Luckily Nanna didn’t hear the question. I told you she’s a bit deaf.

  ‘No, Mum. I want Nanna to stay,’ but just NOT NOW. Oh no, Mum makes another cup of coffee.

  They go back to their endless talking. It’s about Rob. This could take hours.

  ‘Rob changed the oil in my car on the weekend.’ I can do that too, Mum.

  ‘Rob helped carry up the groceries.’ You know I do that Mum.

  Rob took Mum to the pictures on Saturday night, and left us at home to mind Nanna.

  Mum is thinking of letting Rob move in. He already lives with us four days a week. That’s enough. I like Rob a lot, but it’s always been Mum and us before and, of course, Nanna visiting. Mum talks so much about him. I think she is sort of lonely. Not lonely for kids or Nanna or friends, but lonely for a dad. I don’t want Mum to be lonely.

  Rob, Rob, Rob…BORING. I’m going back to see Samantha. ‘Knock, knock.’

  ‘Go away, Jack,’ Samantha says.

  ‘Say, Who’s there.’

  Samantha huffs. ‘Will you go away if I do?’

  ‘Yes,’ I lie.

  ‘Okay. Who’s there?’


  ‘Samantha who?’

  ‘Don’t you know your own name? Ha. Ha. Ha.’

  ‘That was very unfunny, Jack. Very, very unfunny. And you think you’re a comedian!’ Samantha goes back to combing her hair.

  Samantha is in for it now. I make great jokes. ‘Look at your hair. Ha. Ha.’

  ‘What’s wrong with my hair?’ Samantha lifts up her chin. ‘Jack, you’re being irritating.’

  ‘Oh yeah. Who’d wear their hair in pigtails? Only a pig. Squeak. Oink.’

  Samantha flicks the ends of her pigtails up, making her light brown hair bounce.

  ‘Leave, Jack. LEAVE.’

  I slump onto Samantha’s pale blue doona and make a big lump up one end and a big hole in the middle.

  ‘Get off my bed, Jack.’ Samantha turns her back on me and concentrates on sprinkling gold sparkles into her hair.

  I make myself really comfortable and lie back on the doona looking around. Samantha’s room is the most colour-coordinated, tidy room I’ve ever seen. Everything is in pastel and creams and pale blue. Her CDs are lined neatly on her shelf next to her CD player. Her schoolbooks are piled on one side of her desk and her writing paper is right in the middle. Perfectly-framed pictures of a dolphin, a seal and a photo of Puss, our cat, hang on the wall. I look at the photograph. Puss looks great in it. Her eyes stare at you and her coal-black fur shines. Mum bought me a second-hand camera last Christmas. Not the new automatic kind that does everything for you; a professional one. I can adjust the lens,
focus on the background or the foreground, make pictures dark and mysterious, or light and funny. I can take double exposures. I took the best photograph of Mum holding up the sun.

  My room is not very tidy, but it has character, definitely character. There are my schoolbooks piled on my desk. On my windowsill there are two jars with various life forms in them. I’m combining a few organic things. One jar smells. Something’s not working, but the other one is the best. I’ve grafted an onion shoot onto an old wrinkled potato. Imagine how famous I’ll be if I make a new vegetable. I already thought of a name. Jack’s Po-onion. Samantha said the name sounded like poo. She’s so stupid—but I have had second thoughts. There could be other people as stupid as Samantha, so maybe I will call my new vegetable, Jack’s Ponto.

  I’ve got all my detention cards framed on my wall. Twenty-two detentions this year. A record. There is a toolbox in one corner. That’s the neat corner. Anyone who touches my tools is dead meat. I’m making a coffee table for Mum at the moment and have had a few problems with the height. One leg is shorter than the other three and it is a bit wobbly. I know Mum doesn’t mind, but it would be awful if she and Nanna always have spilt coffee and Nanna is a bit clumsy these days.

  My joke collection, car manuals and photographs are on the top of my bookshelf.

  Mum’s voice makes me jump. ‘Kids, Nanna’s going now.’

  Samantha puts away her ribbons and brushes, then runs to hug Nanna. I follow her. My job is to help Nanna down the stairs. Our unit is up three flights of stairs. Nanna finds it hard to walk these days. Last year she had a bad fall and broke her arm. Sometimes I get sad, because I remember Nanna playing ball with us and pushing Samantha on the swings. She can’t do that anymore.

  At last, Mum to myself. ‘Mum, Mum.’ She is making dinner already and Samantha’s helping her with the pasta sauce.

  ‘Later, Jack darling. When I’m finished making dinner.’

  ‘Don’t call me darling, Mum.’ I slump onto the lounge. Later. That’s a joke. Rob will be here soon and then there will be dinner, washing up and I have to have a shower and there’s homework and television. Mum will be tired. There’ll be NO time and I HAVE to talk to Mum.

  I think I’m in BIG trouble.

  2 Burping

  It’s morning. I go back to bed. Moan. My head is a volcano of burping lava. Oh no, I feel a big burp coming. Groan. It has blown up in my head. Can’t move. Ooohhhh.

  ‘You haven’t got a temperature, Jack.’ Mum puts her hand on my forehead. Her hand is hot. I look up at her. All I can see is her blonde hair fluffed up like it has exploded. It always looks like that, except when she tries to smooth it down. Then it looks like a flat explosion with bits out the side.

  ‘Do you think it’s something you’ve eaten? You might have an allergy.’ Mum’s hair is a fuzzball.

  Ooooohhh, I feel another burping lava attack. I hold onto my head and look up pathetically. ‘No,’ I whisper. It couldn’t be breakfast. I didn’t eat anything different, just the usual bacon, eggs, two sausages, fried onions, grilled tomatoes. I only had one piece of toast with honey. I had wholemeal bread to be healthy. The two raisin muffins had nothing on them except margarine—oh yes, and a bit of cinnamon and sugar. I squeezed two oranges in Rob’s special old-fashioned juice squisher, to wash it all down. He lets us use his juice squisher when he’s not here. I did have a green apple afterwards. It was pretty sour. Maybe that gave me a headache. I look at Mum. She bought the green apples from Mr Napoli’s fruit and vegetable market next door to where we live.

  Mr Napoli’s fruit and vegetable market used to be called a fruit shop, but he has spent a lot of money renovating it. Mr and Mrs Napoli and my friend, Anna, worked like hyperactive ants, painting and pulling out shelves. I helped with the shelves. Now you can walk around the aisles and pick your own fruit and vegetables. Plus there is bread, juice, nuts and eggs that are for sale. We always get the farm fresh eggs, even though they cost a bit more. That’s because of this documentary we saw on battery hens. Thousands of hens were kept in huge barns with no daylight, crammed into cubicles, pecking each other. I’d really hate that. No place to get away from everyone. Nowhere to escape from other pecking beaks. Mum and Samantha closed their eyes, which is typical, but Rob watched the whole thing, like me. Actually, Rob put his arm around Mum. I don’t know if I liked that.

  Mr and Mrs Napoli’s shop is now called the Super Delicioso Fruitologist Market and he is a fruitologist. When Anna told me that, I tried not to laugh. I couldn’t help making a couple of jokes about it. Mum says I’m a comic. I do find things pretty funny sometimes and I’m always collecting jokes. I’ve found a few good ones on the Internet, but I mostly like to do original stuff.

  This fruitologist joke is mine. ‘Is your dad a tomatologist? Or an orangologist? Or a pumpkinologist? Or an eggologist?’ I have to admit that I went on a bit. Anna was getting pretty mad. Her curly black hair started bouncing up and down as she shook her head. From experience, that is a dangerous sign, but I couldn’t stop. The jokes sort of had a life of their own. ‘Onionologist, carrotologist, melonologist…’

  ‘You’re a complete idiot, Jack.’ Anna’s big brown eyes sort of looked like cannonballs aimed at my head. ‘Those jokes aren’t even smart.’ She turned up her nose at me. She’s a bit like that. ‘I can’t be bothered with you.’ I know I shouldn’t have asked her this, but with her nose turned up and her yelling at me that I was an idiot, what could I do?

  ‘Anna, your Dad’s not a fruitologist, geologist, proctologist. I know. I know. Peanuts, walnuts, coconuts.’ I was laughing so hard by then. ‘That’s it. Nuts. Ha ha. A nutologist. He’s a nutologist.’ She got so angry that she stormed out of her parents’ shop. She wouldn’t talk to me for four days. That was pretty tough because Samantha and I go nearly every second day into Mr and Mrs Napoli’s Super Delicioso Fruitologist Market. Anyway, I told her twenty times that I was really, truly sorry. I wore her down until she eventually said it was okay, except I am never allowed to mention nuts around her, which is pretty difficult when I have to buy pistachio nuts for Mum.

  Anna is eleven, like me. We’ve known each other since we were five when Mum, my sister and I moved into our third-floor unit. Mum had to take on a huge mortgage, which meant she was always working to pay off the loan and Samantha and I were always sent to the Napolis’ fruit shop to play with Anna. So, even though Anna’s a girl, she’s nearly my best friend. I hardly tell anyone that, except Samantha knows.

  Ohhh, my head. Moan. It hurtsssssss. I feel exhausted and slide deeper under my covers into my bed. I like my bed. It’s new. Well, sort of new. I got it when Rob bought Mum a king-size bed and Mum gave me her old double bed. Samantha has a single bed. Rob said I would need a double bed soon because I’m going to be nearly two metres tall one day. I’d like to be over two metres tall. It would mean that no-one could push me around. I think of George Hamel. A shiver wriggles down my spine. Everyone knows you have to keep out of George Hamel’s way unless you are in his gang. Who’d want to be in his gang—unless you’re stupid or a loser?

  Mum puts the blanket over me. ‘Just close your eyes, while I get some medicine.’ Mum always has something in her kitchen cupboards that will cure me and everyone else. It’s a pretty wild kitchen. Everything is bright orange, except the benches. Mum says the orange cupboards were the only thing Dad left us. Mum took them with us to the unit, but she bought the benches. Mission Brown benches—the colour is supposed to represent earth (that’s the brown bit) and soul (that’s the Mission bit). To be honest the benches look like mud. Mum says it was a very meaningful colour when she was a hippie. I think Mum is still a hippie.

  I’ve seen photographs of Dad and Mum when they were younger. They’re funny. Dad wore small, round metal-rimmed glasses like John Lennon and multi-colored shirts and shorts, and open leather sandals. Mum wore crazy-bright long dresses. She still wears crazy colours. It’s a bit embarrassing sometimes. Mum talks about changing the kitchen colours, bu
t has never got around to doing it. She hardly ever looks at those old photographs or talks about Dad. I’d like to ask her about him, but she goes quiet when I do and I can see that she wants to cry. Dad married someone else and we don’t even know where he lives. I can’t remember him much except he liked to use methylated spirits for cuts. It kills the germs and nearly killed me. It really stung.

  Mum doesn’t use methylated spirits. I don’t know if it’s because of Dad, or because she hates stinging (I do), or because she’s got her own special cures. She uses tea-tree oil for itchy bites, talc for the rash I sometimes get from my belt rubbing against my belly button, sorbolene cream for sunburn, hot salty water for red lumps anywhere on me, and lemonade for headaches. I don’t know how it helps, but Mum is back with the lemonade. I half sit up to drink it, then lie back again. Mum kisses my cheek, then strokes my head. It makes me feel better. ‘There’ll be no school for you today.’

  No school. No school. I can feel the volcano simmering down, except for a stubborn throbbing in my eye.

  Mum starts patting down her hair. That means she is upset. ‘Darling, I’ve got to go to work.’ Mum used to be a library assistant, but it was only part-time. Since we moved into our unit, she has always worked full-time at the twenty-four hour, seven-day-a-week supermarket attached to the service station. If I stick my head out of my bedroom window I can see the petrol station and the Napolis’ Super Delicioso Fruitologist Market. Our unit has two and a half bedrooms—one room for Mum, one room for me and half a room for Samantha.

  Samantha’s room used to be a dining room. Samantha doesn’t need more space because she is short. She’s not going to be really tall like me. Our unit is at the front of the building. I really like my bedroom. I can see everything that happens on the street—kids hanging around, people buying hot bread from the old bakery, car crashes, fire engines screaming down the road…

  We know most of the shopkeepers. Mrs Jonah always gives Samantha and me a caramel each when we buy milk, and Mr Green always gives us the best bacon, and Joe always gives me the best deal when I hire videos. The other day he put in The Lion King for Samantha and an action-packed movie for me for nothing. Mum hates action films. Too violent she says. Luckily Rob watched it with me.

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