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."
Someone sneezed. Others laughed at this.
Ignoring the distraction, the guide went on to tell the kids more information about the Neanderthal man exhibit, and then some of the other displays in the same room as well, which included artefacts found from all over different parts of Germany, because that was the theme in this new wing of the museum.
"And how many of you have heard of St. Boniface?"
Julian's gaze wandered over to the group's edge and he couldn't hear Ms. Holmes anymore. He couldn't hear her, because standing off to the side nearly by the next exhibit was Nicole, with a paper pad in her hands and taking notes. She had her brows furrowed and her tongue caught at the side of her mouth as she bent the pencil to her will. Julian smiled and flushed a little. Nicole had the longest, shiniest blonde hair he had ever seen in his whole life. Even with all the people he has seen on TV and on line. Besides, those girls on TV weren't real. Nicole was real. She was right here. The only problem was...
Julian's thought was interrupted. Big Bobby had sneaked in from nowhere, stepped up behind Nicole and put his arm around her. Nicole reached up and brushed it off. Big Bobby laughed. But he didn't back away. He kept poking her and teasing her and making like he was going to snatch her notebook away.
Julian took a step toward the pair and then stopped again.
"Ahem!" Ms. Holmes had paused in her monologue and was glaring at Bobby.
Bobby stopped what he was doing. Nicole moved closer to the front of the group.
"This way, kids!" Ms. Holmes shuffled off to the next exhibit with the gaggle of Eighth Graders behind her. As the group and then Big Bobby passed by Julian, the bully stomped up to him and made a face. "Boo!"
Julian jerked back. He bumped up against a man standing by the booth behind him. Julian's bag slipped off his shoulder and its contents spilled out all over the floor.
Bobby laughed. He marched off to join the group.
Julian shook his head. He bent down to pick up his things and found that his best friend, Brian, had come over to help him. "You all right?"
Julian nodded. He glanced up at the man he had bumped into just now and noticed that he was actually a security guard who worked at the museum. He smiled at the guard. The guard smiled back. The exhibit that the man was perched in front of was different from the other ones in the area. It was actually roped off and had another guard standing on the far side too, with his arms crossed in front of his chest.
Julian finished picking up his things. He stood up, but then noticed that a few of his pens had rolled into the special exhibit well beyond the ropes. He made to go in after them.
"That's all right," the guard said. "You stay there. I'll get them for you." The guard retrieved the pens and handed them off to Julian. "There you go."
Julian smiled and nodded. "Thanks."
He shifted his gaze to glance at the poster up on the wall beside the exhibit. It was a picture of a tree, with a heading that read, 'Donar's Oak,' along the very top. The rest of the writing beneath this heading was too small to read at a distance. By the side of the poster was a rectangular glass case on a display table with what appeared to be a chunk of driftwood in it. It looked ancient and black with worn out twigs shooting off its sides at different points.
"Come on." Brian nudged him on the shoulder. "We gotta go."
Julian nodded. He checked the zipper on his bag and then the two of them lumbered off to join the group.