‘What’s wrong with trains? I like trains.’ Peter looked up from his yoghurt, concerned and defensive.
‘I didn’t say there was anything wrong with them,’ said his mother as she loaded the plates into the dishwasher, ‘it’s just they’re, well, they’re not very popular with most boys your age.’ She did not say most ‘normal’ boys his age, but it was there, unspoken, all the same. Peter was ten and he had been crazy about trains ever since he got to ride in a steam engine on his sixth birthday. And it wasn’t just the trains themselves that fascinated him, but everything to do with them, from timetables and photographs of derelict stations to model railways and, of course, trainspotting. Unsurprisingly, this fanaticism had not earned him many friends - any, even - but that didn’t matter to Peter. He wasn’t sure he wanted any friends.
‘I don’t want to go bowling,’ said Peter, ‘or go to the cinema. It’s boring!’
‘Well, Michael Jenkins has been kind enough to invite you to his birthday party, and I think it would be better than sitting at home playing with your trains. His mother told me he’s only invited children from school, so you’ll know everyone else there as well.’ Sometimes his mother despaired that Peter would ever be like the other, more typical boys. She was aware he was bullied a bit at school and that very few of the other children wanted to spend time or hang out with him. Until now, that is. He hadn’t been invited to a birthday party since he was he moved up to junior school. Surely this was a good thing. It could only help him to fit in a bit more with other children and hopefully, in time, become a bit more like them.
‘You can’t make me go!’
‘That, Peter,’ said his father, carefully folding his newspaper and placing it on the kitchen table as he delivered his decree, ‘is where you are wrong. You’re going and that’s an end to it.’ Peter knew then he had lost, knew that his attendance at the stupid birthday party was inevitable. He felt powerless and angry, but as he was ten he refused to cry - he would not let his parents see how upset he was. He quickly snatched up his Trains magazine and his copy of the National Rail Timetable and, biting his lip to keep the tears back for just a little longer, he stomped out of the room. As a last act of defiance he went to slam the door, but accidently dropped his magazine as he did so and ended up pulling the door into his foot.
In his room, Peter sat on his bed wrapped in the duvet, with its train print cover, rubbing his bruised toe. He stared at the little engines pulling the carriages around his model railway without really seeing them. He had allowed himself to cry a little, here in the comfortable seclusion of his own room, but he was still angry. He hated bowling. He hated the cinema. And he hated horrible Michael Jenkins, who was certainly not his friend. And tomorrow he would have to put up with all three, together with the others from school who were also not his friends. All in all, dinner this evening had not gone well.
‘It’s your go, Peter. Come on! You’re holding up everyone else.’ Michael and his friends did not even try to disguise their looks of scorn and dislike. It had come as an unpleasant shock when Michael’s mother told him he would have to invite Peter. She was a friend of Peter’s mother and so Michael’s protests had fallen on increasingly irritated deaf ears. In the end she had grounded him for a week for calling Peter a ‘freak’, but had then relented and reduced the sentence to a couple of days. After all, her son had a point - there was something odd about that boy.
‘I did say you could take my go if you want.’ said Peter, whose disinterest in bowling had not been diminished by taking part in the game, despite his mother’s insistence that it would. The balls were all too heavy and hurt his fingers, and no matter how hard he tried to aim for the pins the ball kept bouncing from bumper to bumper on its way down the lane, raising a chorus of sniggers from the other children.