Even though nobody bullies me at school, I’m not one of the popular kids either. You could say I'm invisible…
I have a couple of friends and several acquaintances and that’s about it. The teachers never learn my name and look surprised if I ask a question in class. That’s why, as a general rule, I try to keep my mouth shut.
My mum says I should be a social worker. She says I feel a special connection to the underdogs and pariahs. The truth is I hate those words, but I have to admit she has a point.
My best friend, Josh, is in a wheelchair. He’s a great guy and we like the same things, so how he moves around is unimportant in my eyes.
We are also friends with Obina and Dawn. Obina is half-Nigerian, half-Spanish and the children call him zebra. He doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. The black kids say he’s not black enough and the white ones think he’s too dark. So he sticks with us.
Dawn is a lovely girl, but she has Tourette’s and everybody makes fun of her when she barks in the middle of a class. Even the teachers, who should know better, are annoyed by her involuntary tics.
A month ago, a new boy came to our school. I knew from the moment the teacher introduced him to us that he was going to have it tough.
His hair was cropped short and he wore thick glasses. He was as thin as a stickman… I felt sorry for him straightaway.
At lunchtime, I saw him sitting by himself in the cafeteria and went up to him.
‘Do you mind if I sit here?’ I asked.
‘No, go ahead.’
‘My name is Julian.’
‘I’m Jay,’ he told me.
‘I know. I’m in your class.’
After that short exchange, we ate in silence. But from that day, I started sitting with him every day. Little by little, our conversations became longer. I told him about my little sister and about Dad’s job as a cleaner in the White House. At first, he thought I was joking.
‘Get out!’ he said.
Then, he told me he lived with his uncle, as his parents had died when he was a baby.
‘Mum died of cancer and Dad died of a broken heart.’
‘Is that even possible?’
‘Of course it is,’ he answered, offended.
‘What does your uncle do?’
‘He’s a scientist.’
‘Wow! Lucky you! What is he working on now?’
‘I can’t tell you, but if you come home with me after school, I’ll show you.’
I was so looking forward to whatever surprise awaited me, that the day went by extra-slowly. Each class was more boring than the previous one.
Finally, at two o’clock, Mrs Lawson closed her French book and we were free to go.
Josh seemed hurt when he saw me leaving with Jay, but I didn’t have time to explain.
We walked for around twenty minutes and Jay finally stopped opposite a derelict wooden house in a quiet neighbourhood.
‘This is where I live,’ he said, obviously embarrassed.
I followed him. Inside, it was dark and a fine layer of dust covered every surface.
‘My uncle must have gone out. Let’s go to the attic.’
We went up the steep steps and he pushed the door open.
The attic was huge and full of strange-looking equipment. It was a lot cleaner and tidier than the rest of the house.
‘Wow!’ I said.
‘This is where my uncle works.’
Behind a partition, there was a huge metal pod with two round windows.
‘It’s a time machine.’
When Jay said that, I started laughing.
‘You’re joking, aren’t you? Time travel is not possible. It only exists in films.’
‘You don’t believe me? Let me show you.’
Jay opened a door on the side of the pod that I hadn’t noticed till then.
‘Let’s go in,’ he told me. ‘There’s space for both of us.’
‘Okay,’ I said to humour him.
It was a bit cramped inside and very cold. Jay closed the doors and pressed a couple of buttons.
‘I hope it works. Uncle Tod says he has to fix a few glitches and then he’ll sell it to the government and we’ll be rich. He says he’ll buy a new house in a posh area.’
For a while, nothing happened, but then the machine started vibrating. I felt dizzy and a bit scared, but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want Jay to think I was a coward.
After five minutes, the vibrating stopped.
‘We have arrived.’
‘Open the door and you’ll see.’
I did as he told me. I expected to see the attic again, but I was wrong.