Todd and M
Since the first day of class at Bewbush Primary School in Crawley, West Sussex, Todd and M. were inseparable. They loved to kick around a filthy, old white soccer ball M. said his mum had patched together before she had died. Twas the ball, and the ball alone, that kept M. attached to his parents. They had died when he was too young to remember, and he had been in and out of foster homes and orphanages all throughout Sussex. Todd treated him as a brother, for that is what he was told to do by Bishop Atkins at Sunday’s service. Todd’s mum was fanatical about the C. of E., and his dad was extremely involved with the Labour Party. The lack of proper love from their parents was their one and only common bond, Todd and M.
During their fourth year at Bewbush, the class had gone on a weekend outing to Ashdown Forest. Night had fallen, the fire had extinguished, and Todd and M. opted to explore the woods like Eyre and Baxter. Once in these woods, they happened upon an unusual creature. Pure evil lurked in the one clearing with enough moonlight to illuminate Wembley Stadium. There it was, with birch onlookers, some winged demon of the night. The boys wanted a closer gander at this magnificent beast. Like Christopher Robin did with Winnie before, Todd and M. ambushed the surprised animal with different results. For what they had happened upon was no fuzzy bear that enjoys honey, but a Greater mouse-eared bat feasting on the blood of its latest victim, a black rat. The tables turned quickly, and this winged mammal, with a wingspan of half a meter, was now defending its hunt from would-be scavengers. The boys, now deep in the darkness of the forest, were as blind as their predator. Todd was struck from behind and pushed forward onto M. A melee ensued, most of which was fueled by paranoia and anxiety, and after a brief struggle, Todd realized they were alone again; the bat let them be. However, this marked the moment the young boys now had one more thing in common, the bat.
For Todd, the bat had bitten him, and he had been diagnosed with encephalitis, a virus that would plague him for life. M., on the other hand, had observed the irony that a Myotis Myotis (Greater mouse-eared bat) had preyed upon a Rattus Rattus (black rat), and had become obsessed with tautonyms ever since. M. had always been interested in everything going on around him, so he read books while other kids played. The only boy who could get M. to put down his books for a bit and help him practice his latest soccer moves was Todd. M. truly enjoyed spending his early evenings with Todd, encouraging him to follow his dreams of FA Cup victory. Todd always went on about how he was going to be the next top goal scorer in the whole Premier League. Deep inside, M. knew these dreams were hopeless.
M. had read exactly two books dealing with encephalitis by the time he was thirteen, and he knew the symptoms were showing. Todd had already shown signs of photophobia, a common symptom among encephalitis sufferers. It was Todd’s fear of sunlight that always brought them out in the early evening hours, the hours M. held so dear. Todd hadn’t had a seizure since his twelfth birthday party; he shouldn’t have hit the ball so hard with his head. M. just treated every day as if it were the last time he was going to see Todd, and Todd pretended as if he had no afflictions.
Late spring had arrived and that meant the final year at Oriel High School was finishing up soon. M. was awarded a full scholarship to UCL’s Institute of Neurology for an essay he wrote titled, “The Jungian Link: The Metaphysics of the Brain.” M. was determined to help Todd defeat his horrible sickness. Todd, on the other hand, had been excelling in soccer with only few signs of symptoms, a headache here and there. Todd had been too distracted to think about encephalitis. The Tottenham Hot Spurs had shown interest for the previous two years, as Todd led the Crawley Down Football Club to its second league championship. Todd was sure he would get a notice from them again, and it would be off to Tottenham for him. Todd’s father insisted he give up on waiting; Todd should work with him at Gatwick, loading baggage on to planes. M. always encouraged Todd to follow his passion; everything else would fall into place for him.
Moving to London wasn’t as bad as M. thought it would be; it was still way too crowded, though. M. would spend much of his time in Regent’s Park, a short hike away from campus. Occasionally, he would stroll through the London Zoo to see how many examples of tautonyms he could notice. Once, he counted an outstanding twenty-three, almost all from the reptile house and aviary alone. His obsession with tautonyms became more of a hobby once he entered his undergraduate studies. M. had more important things on his mind; being bogged down with a plethora of assignments and readings. He thought of Todd, and he missed him immensely. When M. tried calling, Todd’s father told M. he was forbidden to speak to his son. “Keep your distance boy, if you know what’s good for yah” was the last thing M. heard before an infinite dial tone echoed in both ears.
M. was in his second year when he finally took an Animal Form and Function course offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays. M. sat in the front row; he always found it easier to participate in discussions when he couldn’t see the field of students that occupied classroom number six, on the second floor, in the Darwin building. The professor was lecturing about medical research aided by the animal kingdom. She spoke of shark cartilage aiding in cancer studies and of cephalopods aiding in neurophysiology. “Of course,” M. thought, “why didn’t I think of that?” He hurried out of class and to his dorm. He began writing furiously; he knew then that his doctoral thesis would be on the benefits of harvesting nerve fibers from the ram’s horn squid, or Spirula Spirula. M. was quite pleased that he had found a way to incorporate two facets of his life: his studies and his hobbies. M. was reminded of Todd and was depressed. However, he was still determined to find hope for his boyhood friend, no matter the circumstances.
Ten years had passed; the scholarships and grants had run dry. M. had hit many dead ends in his research, but he was determined. Living alone in a small flat in South London, M. went down to the Dole queue to pick up his check. He was drunk when he got off the Underground near the UCL campus. The school had dropped M. the previous year, but the professors anticipated at least one weekly visit from him. It would be the same routine; he would walk to his old seat at the front of class, sit down, and usually pass out, if he didn’t soil himself first. Today was different; M. was different. M. had a distant look on his face when he pushed the doors open, letting in an unusually bright London sun. He strolled casually to the front of the class, set down a pile of papers on the professor’s desk, turned away, and left without saying a single word. The professor glanced down at the title page, “Spirula-ing out of Control: The Nonsense of Neurology.”
The phone rang, Todd answered. A gentleman on the other end informed Todd that they had reserved a spot for him on the Tottenham Hot Spurs squad. Ecstatic, Todd accepted this position gleefully. He knew he wouldn’t be far from M.’s school, and he could visit him whenever he had free time. Todd told his mum and dad the big news, but they just shrugged their shoulders. His mum tried to sound a little encouraging, “Aw ‘right then, son. Way to go, but do you really think you can handle professional football with your body being the way it is?” “Of course, mum,” Todd explained, “I haven’t felt better in all my life, not since Bewbush, and besides, it’s my decision isn’t it, then?” Todd’s father piped in, “Come on boy, you couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery. Besides, I’ve got you the job lined up at the airport, and you will bloody well do what you’re told.” Todd despised his father for not believing in him, so he packed up and left for London immediately. He figured he could eventually find M. and they would be flat-mates.
Practice started at one hour before dawn, before the city really started moving. It had gone on this way for the first four years with the Spurs. Todd hadn’t had a single spare moment to seek out M. If it wasn’t practice keeping him, it was a press conference, or an away game, or even international matches to play. Todd had been on quite a hot streak with his football club and symptoms of his encephalitis have nearly disappeared. Tottenham’s finest team physicians were befuddled; Todd had possibly been misdiagnosed. What doctors in Crawley thought was viral turned out only to be bacterial. They had been treating him since he started with the squad, making sure he stayed hydrated and such. No one could’ve guessed the effectiveness of his treatments in regards to his previous diagnosis. Todd was truly heading for the top.
The doctor told Todd his ankle wasn’t quite healed enough for today’s match against cross-town rivals, Arsenal. Todd knew this would be his final season, an outstanding twelve. Todd had promised his wife he would retire and focus more on the kids, and he intended to keep that promise. “Just one more win, mum; that’s all I ask,” he said lovingly to the sky. He left the locker-room and headed down the tunnel to the pitch. It was a glorious afternoon at Emirates Stadium; the crowd was a patriotic sea of reds, white, and blues. Ninety minutes of pure adrenaline was awaiting Todd. All that was on his mind was the game and his family.
Todd could’ve asked for nothing more, a win and a hat trick. He wanted to celebrate, but first, he wanted to walk with his wife and discuss the future. Regent’s Park was a short drive away, and the sun was just beginning to set. Todd happily ran around the car to open the door for his wife; he was always well-mannered since his mum passed. Todd saw a man lying face down in the gutter, and he hurried over to help. It was too late; the man had drowned in his own vomit. Todd rolled him over and with deep sadness thought, “How could I have forgotten about M.?” So, there the boys were, once again, just Todd and M.