Berries

Sheeny is a big kid who grew a beard before he turned 13, sometimes we get him to buy us cigarettes. Today he’s got diarrhoea. Might not usually warrant a group trip to the health nurse, but today we’ve got reason to be worried and Sheeny insists. Under some duress, me and a guy called Wilko agree to go with him. Together we attempt to pacify Sheeny, who’s whimpering like a scared Chihuahua, convinced his rebellious bowel is a sure sign he’s on the way out. Honestly, his diet is mostly canteen hot dogs and nuggets. I’d be more surprised if he didn’t have diarrhoea. Wilko usually has the lanky, infectious nonchalance of a kid who was born to punch cones and go snowboarding, but today, as he asks Sheeny once again if he’s sure the health nurse is absolutely necessary, he’s starting to look desperate.

Sheeny started this — he comes up to me with some berries and goes — eat these.

Uh… no, I say. Though I’m pleased with this rare instance of good judgement, it’s brief. Eventually I eat the berries with little further prompting required from Sheeny.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the berries do not taste good. Oh my god, they are not good, they’re acrid, they burn. My dog eats millipedes sometimes and it tastes the way that smells. She hunts them around the house, and for a moment she’s an apex predator, frozen in place and stalking her prey, instead of a fat piece of shit that eats mail. Then she’ll snap it up, and start heaving and making horrible ralphing noises, and she’ll look up at me pathetically, big wet eyes full of self-loathing and defeat. As if to say, Oh fuck. I’ve done it again. It was there. I couldn’t help myself.

Once I stop coughing and Sheeny stops laughing, we are instantly bored again. Standard due diligence on a seemingly harmful mystery substance dictates we briefly entertain the notion of smoking or snorting the berries, but we eventually agree their genuine foulness makes them best inflicted on others. We practise on Wilko. It goes like this:

Sheeny: These berries are delicious Wilko.

Wilko: Piss off guys.

Me: Seriously. Look…

To throw him off the scent, I make an instinctive decision to eat some berries. I’m a man with nothing left to lose. Knowing what’s coming I expect to be prepared for the burn, but they’re just as noxious the second time. I’m hoping my faked expression of bliss is enough to convince an otherwise bright kid that we are pressuring him to eat mystery berries with the purest notions of sharing and charity in mind.

Wilko shrugs and eats the berries. It’s literally that easy, folks. And we’re off. We perfect our routine, with me noshing back another palmful of berries each time we choose another victim and making ecstatic noises like I’m eating chocolate cake and getting sucked off. Step right up, these berries are gen-you-wine-ly fucking dee-licious. Try them out and don’t forget to tell your friends. We keep going until we’ve done everyone in our whole year. Then we start nabbing kids we don’t know.

Who’s the dumbest here? Who’s the worst? Most of these kids only crime is trusting us, arguably a minor offense for which they will nevertheless not go unpunished. Wilko came along, but chiefly as a spectator, so no worse than anyone else. Sheeny, I realise now, is the only one who must have eaten berries without being goaded by anyone at all. He was, I imagine, wandering along, maybe twirling a parasol, and thought: What’s a nice summer day without some lovely berries? Then immediately ate the closest thing he could find out of the garden. Sheeny doesn’t come off well, having been patient zero of the morons who ate the unknown berries, and unforgivably, having inflicted them on me. As with all who have ever minorly slighted me, he will burn for eternity in hell.

Me though, I’m the one who decided to inflict maximum possible damage by taking the whole business on tour. It’s frankly insane that hindsight was required to evaluate the plan and find it less than completely perfect.

So — the health nurse. Flanked by Wilko and me, staring at the floor, Sheeny explains his bum trouble. She asks, have we done anything out of the ordinary today. Hmm. Depends. We look back and forth at each other for a little while.

Ate some berries out of the garden, I finally pipe up with. It’s worth noting that I’m at least 13 years old at this point, and I feel like the world’s dumbest arsehole saying these words out loud.

She calls the poisons hotline on us and sends Wilko out to get some leaves off the plant that we’ve been snacking on. There’s a gardening book she looks it up in and she tells us it’s called Hellebore. She tells them on the phone, pauses, then does an extremely hammy, warner brothers cartoon level double take.

Ambulance immediately?

We smirk at her. But a moment later, we hear the sirens in the distance, and Sheeny is no longer the only one shitting his pants.

The ambulance guys come and they mean business. The school car park has briefly turned in to the helicopter rescue scene from a war movie. They shepherd us in to the back of the ambulance as if the school is exploding behind us. They lift Sheeny on to the stretcher. He’s fine, he’s just got diarrhoea, I say, but they’re not really listening. Two of them get in the front and the guy in the back puts his hand gently on my shoulder and stares urgently in to my eyes.

Now mate. This is very, very important. Think carefully. Did anyone else, anyone at all, eat the berries?

An announcement goes out to the year 7s and 8s in double art. They’re told over the loudspeaker to hurry to the east wing. There’s a guy in paramedic blues waiting for them and looking pretty fucking serious. My friend Tim hears my name being whispered and assumes that I’ve died. They’re told that it’s crucial they put their hand up right away if they ate the berries. Many are understandably hesitant. “Avoid colourful berries that burn your mouth” is a concept so basic as to be second nature for say, a newborn turtle, so admitting as a teenaged human to letting this one past the post is humbling. One kid starts crying. Slowly, about 100 hands go up. Ambulance guy looks despondent. We’ll have to get some buses in, he mutters to the group of teachers.

The buses show up. Ambulance guy does his best to convey the seriousness of the situation to 3 confused bus drivers without causing a panic through the crowd of unstable teens. They’re herded on efficiently, shamed in to behaving, though there’s some squeals as two of the hornier kids have started making out. Off to the hospital, wondering aloud to each other if they’ll die, or get in trouble.

At the hospital I’m in the bed next to Sheeny’s. He’s got a malfunctioning heart monitor attached to his thumb and every few minutes he flatlines. Absent the usually accompanying panic, it’s just a fucking irritating noise. The nurse bolts over and Sheeny is happily eating jelly. Either the machine is broken or he’s undead now, I suggest to her. Either way, it’s not really much help.

The door in to our ward has kids coming through it like a fairground turnstile. There aren’t enough chairs for them all even though they’re spread over two hospitals. The only casualty so far is Sheeny’s butthole, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that everyone will be fine. Accordingly, the mood has turned from fear to restlessness. They tell us what happened, that they got pulled out of art class, that David started crying, that they thought someone had died. We all could have died. They were there. I couldn’t help myself.

Later that week the school hires some guys to rip up the garden.