TREE OF LIFE BOOK I
"Okay. I guess that about does it for today." Big Bobby clapped the dust off his hands. He reached up and wiped his nose, snorting. As he turned, he began to lead his gang back out of the washroom. "We'll see you around...Daddy Short Leg!" Everyone in the gang laughed.
After Big Bobby and his boys had gone, Julian wandered over to the stall and fished out his left shoe from the toilet bowl. He wrung it out the best he could. Well, at least this time, there had only been water in the bowl.
He bent down, worked his shoe back on and tied it up. He rose to his feet. It was squishing with every step. Sighing, Julian slung his bag up onto his shoulder and began to limp out of the washroom to join the rest of his class.
About three years ago, Julian was involved in a serious car crash. His father was driving at the time. Julian was not wearing a seatbelt, so when the two cars hit each other head on, he was thrown clear through his own windshield and then bashed against a tree some ten feet away. This broke his left femur, or thighbone, in three different places. Multiple surgeries to the area did not help. In fact, a few times, infection set in to the bones and made the problem worse. In the end, despite everything that the doctors could do, Julian was left with one leg that was a good four inches shorter than his other one.
He was nine at the time and already felt like an old man. He was completely spent in body and spirit. At that point, the doctors told him and his mother that they should hold off on more surgery. Let's give it some time, they said. Let Julian's body recover a little first. We can come back and review the case when he is stronger.
That was three years ago.
Meanwhile, they had made Julian a left shoe with a lift built in, so he wouldn't have to walk around all day with a limp, which would lead to hip pain, they said, back pain and many other problems too.
Well, it was worth a try, anyway. But in the real world, any leg length discrepancy of more than two inches always produced a limp, even if just a small one, no matter how well your shoes had been made. And of course, limp or no limp, it didn't really matter in the end. There was still your obviously shorter left leg and if not that, your fancy shmancy medical shoes. Children being children, would always flock to the kid who wasn't one hundred percent like all the other kids, and then make fun of him based on whatever it was that made him different. For Julian, this was what he had found to be true over all of the last three years, whatever the neighbourhood, whatever the school, whatever the class. Yes, the other kids always found out about your leg. And they would always tease you. It was just a matter of how far the local bully would take the teasing on any given day.
Well today, Julian thought, at least they didn't take my glasses. They could have thrown them down the toilet too, along with the old left shoe. But now, at least he could see. Julian was blind as a vampire in the sun without them. The eye doctor had told Julian and his parents that Julian's eyes were the worst he had seen in a long time. While Julian could not be classified strictly as an albino, he definitely had a pigment problem that not only gave him sensitive skin but also turned his eyes red. He shared both of these features with his father.
It took Julian another two minutes to find the rest of his class in the museum. They were on a field trip today, and when he spotted the other kids, they were crowded around the nice lady tour guide, Ms. Holmes, with her horn-rimmed glasses and fine English accent. As Julian shuffled over to them, she was just gearing up to ask the group another question.
"How many of you have heard of the Neanderthal man?"
A dozen hands shot up.
"And how many of you know why we call him the Neanderthal man?"
The hands drifted back down.
"Well, I'll tell you a little story." She pointed to the display behind her. "Once upon a time, back in 1856, workers were digging for lime in the Neander Valley of western Germany, when they found some strange bones in an old cave and thought they belonged to a dead bear from long, long ago. It was only after much research and eight years later, did they finally realize that what they had found, in fact, were the remains of a previously unknown species of human. They decided to call this new found human, Homo Neanderthalensis."