“Look, the thing’s got legs,” some wise-guy sniggered. With a sinking feeling, Sjoerd recognised the voice of Maikel, his arch-nemesis from the Kerkweg.
Sjoerd couldn’t see where he was going, and his tuba kept getting stuck as he made his way down the bus. As soon as he got to a group of four seats he sat down with a sigh of relief. He carefully placed his tuba on the seat next to him and wedged his bulky leather shoulderbag between his legs. His mum had told him to keep his belongings close and he knew from bitter experience that this was better advice than even she knew.
It wasn’t long before Maikel’s spotty face appeared over his shoulder.
“He looks lonely,” Maikel said to his friends in a stage whisper. “I’d better go and cheer him up.”
A fourteen year old boy shot out from the seats behind Sjoerd, his jacket zipped up to his chin, baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, swaying to a beat only he could hear. He knocked the tuba off the chair with his knee. It fell on the floor with a heart-breaking thud. Maikel took its place.
“Yo Sjoerd my boy, my brother! You brought this thing for a little show and tell?” He gave the tuba another nudge with his toe, as if it were a dead animal.
“Music lesson,” Sjoerd mumbled – his vocal chords had seized up with dread.
Maikel grinned, then bellowed in the younger boy’s face: “Speak up!”
“Tuba lesson, after school,” he squeaked. He tried to wipe the drops of spit off his face without it looking like that was what he was doing. The older boy’s fingers started patting Sjoerd’s pockets now, feeling them, one by one. Sjoerd looked on as if there was a spider on his clothes.
“There’s a fee for that, my friend. A tuba fee,” Maikel remarked casually, pulling a flat, childish wallet from Sjoerd’s jacket. He opened it and shook it out. Two euros and thirty cents fell out. Maikel grimaced – not a great haul. He dropped the coins into his pocket anyway and tossed the empty wallet on the floor.
“Bring more next time,” he warned, and returned to his seat.
The view from the window was more urban now. Terraced houses lined the street. They passed a row of shops and the bus stopped to let more people on. Sjoerd picked up his tuba with care and held it on his lap, his arms hugging the enormous instrument tightly. Six more stops till school. Nine more bus journeys until the weekend. Eight more weeks until the autumn holiday. Two more years until Maikel finished school. Sjoerd gritted his teeth.