It was my first day at my new school and the chance of a new start. My foster mum had given me a ton of sweets to share around and told me to smile a lot. The most important thing she said was to be nice and not to punch anyone in the face or smash any windows. And, if I saw a matchbox or lighter I was to walk the other way. I nodded. No punching. No smashing, No fires. Easy.
* * *
“Jesus Wept. It’s the shortest verse in the bible,” I explained to my new school buddies during morning break time. I thought they'd be impressed. I knew a lot about Jesus. I’d shared my sweets with the boys and smiled a lot like my foster mum said.
“You shouldn’t take the Lord’s name in vain, you freak,” said the tallest boy, still chewing. The others nodded.
“I wasn’t, it’s true.” I pleaded, but they stomped off without me. I wanted to follow, but I could tell by the humph in their strides I wasn’t meant to.
I watched as they walked across the yard and then around a corner out of view. I kicked the ground. It hurt. Good. I hated my new stupid shiny shoes. I hated the stupid boys and this new stupid school. I couldn’t wait to punch that tall boy in the face. I took a stone from my satchel and looked for a window.
"This must have happened with that bunch of hippies that played with you," I said to Jesus. He nodded in a 'tell me about it' sort of way. He knew what it was like to be different. He said the most important thing was not to hurt anyone or break anything and to breathe slowly. I should think about that tortoise snuggled in straw, safe in its box, like the nice lady with the glasses told me. I put the stone back in my satchel. Jesus held my hand.
* * *
During playtime, while the other boys still played draughts with each other, I played chess with Jesus. I never knocked the board over with Jesus or shouted or punched anyone in the face. Sometimes I’d let him win. He was pretty hopeless really. He didn’t know what Bishops were for and I wasn’t telling. He’d get into a bit of a sulk but eventually, he’d come around. His dad was always in a rage about something or other, so I knew where he got it from. I understood God. If I could drown everyone but my besties I would too. But I can’t make it rain no matter how hard I shut my eyes. Jesus would never tell me how to. He just smiled. His eyes always looked so bright, probably because he never got shampoo in them.
I was always picked last at football no matter how high and straight I held my arm up but that was still better than Jesus. He was more of a coach really and shouted biblical advice from the touchline. Not all of it was helpful and sometimes I had to tell him to shut up about Romans 12:1-2, or how John the Baptist was better in goal and wouldn’t have let that one in. Not many people realise just how much fun Jesus was.
He said he got on with me because everyone else who sees him wants to "hump his leg!" The kneeling, the praying, he'd complain, the endless singing of boring arse-kissing songs. “What sort of God wants to be worshipped?” he'd ask me like I knew the answer. “Who wants to gather in freezing-cold buildings on a Sunday? Not me,” said Jesus. He said he’d rather be out playing or watching cartoons.
* * *
I nearly jumped out of my skin one day, during drawing class when a girl came right up to me and spoke.
"Who are you babbling to all the time?" she said," 'cause you look like a dork."
I looked at Jesus, he had this thing about denial, but he shook his head so I didn’t mention him. Before I could think of an answer she said I could go over and draw with them. It was lovely even if she was a girl. I felt all the class's eyes on me as I followed her to their table. The girls smiled at me with gappy teeth and I smiled back. They drew childish pictures of princesses and ponies and houses with mummies and daddies, but I didn’t say anything bad. I drew the manger in the stable and the sheep and straw with Mary and Joseph and the ‘hangers-on.’
“That looks like a tortoise, “ said the kind girl. I nodded. Jesus hated being drawn. Especially on a cross. “Like I want to be reminded of that,” he’d always say, with his sad droopy beard face and hiding his hands in his pockets.
The nice lady with the glasses told me I was old enough to start taking special tablets that would make me feel better. My foster mum nodded like her head was going to fall off. I said I would take the tablets as long as I could have them with Coca-Cola. She nodded again but this time like she'd been told off and was pretending whatever she'd done wrong wouldn’t happen again. The Coke was brilliant. After a week Jesus said I should take the stones out of my satchel. He said I didn’t need to carry it around all the time anymore and something about a cross and a bear. It felt different being without it. Light.
Jesus said that if I was kind to people they would be kind back. So I started being kind. At first, they thought I was playing a trick and going to steal their dinner money again or give them a Chinese burn till they cried. But I wasn’t going to and I didn’t even want to punch them in the face anymore. Eventually, they began playing with me. Jesus made sure I didn’t do anything stupid when I lost and that worked most of the time. I didn't even take the headmaster's matches from his desk while he looked out his window and talked forever about his childhood. I caught Jesus yawning and we giggled.
I started getting better marks in class and was never picked last in football. The kind girl told me I was cool. I started seeing less and less of Jesus. Sometimes I forgot he was there. Sometimes he didn’t want to talk and said he was the one who felt left out. One day he told me that he had to go because some other little boys and girls needed him to play with. I nodded. He tried not to cry but his beard drooped more than ever and his bright eyes filled with tears. My bottom lip wobbled like jelly.
That night in my bedroom I thought I heard Jesus weeping. It reminded me of how we'd cuddle and cry ourselves to sleep. No one ever saw me cry but Jesus. I used to cry a lot but I don't need to anymore. When I asked if he was ok he didn’t answer. There was only the quiet and the dark.