-- It hurt like hell. And he was just about to saw my head off when the teacher came along. Monsieur Zidane. He's a football champion too. But the worst thing was, it was me he punished. True story.
-- Why did he punish you, and not the bullies? asks Fat Perez. - Out of interest.
-- Cos bullies always win, and cos my blood made a mess. Football champions don't like clearing up other people's messes, when they've won zillions of trophies and the World Cup. When I got my head out of the vice, I left a trail of blood all down the corridor and into the toilets. Green blood. That pissed him off.
-- Why green?
-- Because I have leukaemia, and the chemotherapy turns your blood green. Didn't you know that? I thought you were trained.
- Green blood. Leukaemia. Fascinating! Tell me more, he goes. Squeak.
He should be called Monsieur Tell Me More instead of Fat Perez. Or Monsieur Stupid Creep Sucker Arsehole.
Anyway I can say anything I want, because all feelings are allowed. Children should feel free to express their feelings even if they are negative. The world is a safe place, blah blah blah.
Ha ha, only joking.
Now pay attention, Fat Perez. My turn to ask questions.
Question One: Does my mum visit you on her own, when I'm at school?
Question Two: When she's telling you things about her and my papa, does your chair squeak?
Question Three: Afterwards, do you sex each other?
And if he was there when I asked that, his chair would go: Squeak, squeak, squeak. And if Gustave was there he'd say: Steady on, Young Sir: Don't waste energy. Keep your eye on the ball.
-- We're going to do something wonderful this weekend, she says. -- For our birthday treat.
We've got almost the same birthday, see, just like we nearly had the same death-day when I was born. My birthday is on 7 April, just two days after hers, so we're sort of twins her and me, we need each other, we'd die without each other. So we celebrate them together, on the day in betqeen. I'm nine, and she's forty, which is called The Big Four-Oh. Papa comes down from Paris, where he sort of lives now, with his evil mother called Lucille, and I get lots of presents, and one of them's a new hamster. He's called Mohammed, just like the last one, and he'll live in the same cage and poo in the same jam jar as the last Mohammed. I always call them Mohammed because it's a good name for a hamster, Papa says it's a dynasty.
Mohammed the Third came with a book called How to Look After Your Small Rodent.
-- Let's hope this one lasts a bit longer, said Papa. -- You can take him with you to Paris, when you come to see me and Mamie.
But Maman gave him a funny look because Paris is a bad place.
He's a pale hamster, his fur's paler than the last one and his eyes aren't black, they're dark red, like they're bulging with blood. Maybe because he's scared. The Mohammeds are always scared till they've spent a week in their cage and started to learn the secret rules of pet-keeping. Papa calls their cage Alcatraz, which is a film about a prison where they escaped and blah blah blah.
For Maman's birthday present, I gave her some perfume called Aura that totally reeked, it was worse than cat pee and a dead rat. Papa bought it at the airport for me to give her. He gets a discount. So it was a present from me but I didn't choose it and I didn't pay for it and I didn't get the discount, I just had the thought.
-- What a nice thought, said Maman, when she sprayed it behind her ears, and she hugged me and hugged me and kissed me and kissed me, and I could hardly breathe I was coughing so much from it.
It's the thought that counts. In a year's time I will be The Big One-Oh.
Excerpted from The Ninth Life of Louis Drax by Liz Jensen. © Liz Jensen, 2003. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Bloomsbury USA. No part of these excerpts may be reproduced or reprinted without permission.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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