Read Tall Story Online

Authors: Candy Gourlay

Tall Story

A DAVID FICKLING BOOK

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2010 by Candy Gourlay

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by David Fickling Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in Great Britain by David Fickling Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of the Random House Group Ltd., London, in 2010.

David Fickling Books and the colophon are trademarks of David Fickling.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Gourlay, Candy.
Tall story / Candy Gourlay. — 1st American ed.
p.   cm.
Summary: Sixteen-year-old Bernardo, who is eight feet tall and suffers from a condition called Gigantism, leaves the Philippines to live with his mother’s family in London, much to the delight of his thirteen-year-old half sister Andi, a passionate basketball player.
eISBN: 978-0-375-89847-1
[1. Giants—Fiction. 2. Size—Fiction. 3. Basketball—Fiction. 4. Culture conflict—Fiction. 5. Brothers and sisters—Fiction. 6. London (Eng.)— Fiction. 7. England—Fiction. 8. Philippines—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.G7386Tal 2011          [Fic]—dc22          2010011891

Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.

v3.1

To Richard

Contents
Prologue
Andi

R
ush hour.

So many armpits, so little deodorant. The whole world is heading out to Heathrow to meet long-lost relatives. I am wedged between the tummies of the two fattest men in the world.

Rank.

Mum’s practically vibrating. Like she’s overdosed on coffee. Which she probably has.

Dad’s got his arm around her like a lock. She’s fidgeting so hard and the train’s so crowded. ‘It’ll be ages yet, Mary Ann,’ he whispers into her ear.

‘I just want to make sure we’re there when he comes out.’

‘He’s sixteen. He’ll be fine!’

Dad kisses her forehead. Which isn’t a stretch because the crowd is pushing them so close together his face is practically pasted to her head.

‘But William’ – Mum glares at his chin – ‘he’s so TALL!’

Why is Mum so psycho about Bernardo being tall? She’s been going on about it since we found out he was coming to London. ‘Don’t be surprised now, Andi, your brother is tall.
Tall
, you hear me?’

Does she think I needed impressing? I mean, Mum isn’t exactly God’s gift to the human race in the height department. I’m the smallest in Year Eight and I’m still taller than her. She’s so short she needs an ID to prove she’s old enough to buy wine at the supermarket. ‘I don’t understand,’ she always argues at the Tesco Express. ‘Where I come from, there’s never any problem.’

Well, London isn’t the Philippines, Mum.

The two tummies are practically holding me up in the carriage. I could fall asleep and remain vertical. Hopefully it won’t be this bad on the return trip with Bernardo and his luggage.

Bernardo!

I can’t believe I’m minutes away from becoming someone’s little sister.

If he’s tall like Mum says, he’s guaranteed to love Michael Jordan. She says everyone in the Philippines is mad about basketball and I’m Michael Jordan’s biggest fan. And maybe with another teenager in the house, we can listen to normal music instead
of selections from Mum and Dad’s pre-Jurassic collection. And now there will be someone else to ignore the bad Dad-jokes that for some reason make Mum go hysterical.

I’m tired of being the Only Child.

And then suddenly the train is screeching to a stop at Heathrow and Mum’s dragging me out from between the two tummies. It’s miles to walk through all those long, long tunnels to Terminal 3. Then we have to wait an hour before Bernardo’s plane number shows on the arrival boards. Then it’s another half-hour before they say ‘Baggage in Hall’. Now Mum’s staring at luggage tags to see which people emerging from the gate were on the plane from the Philippines. ‘Look, look!’ she screams (and it’s no use telling Mum she’s loud: she was born with no volume control).

And then she stands there for ages holding the welcome banner up high, hopping a little on one leg like she really, really needs to go to the toilet.

Dad puts his arm around Mum’s shoulders and whispers in her ear some more. But her eyes are glazed. She’s beyond help.

And then she screams so sharply that people nearby stop kissing and hugging to stare.

‘THERE HE IS! OH, NARDO! OH, NARDO! OH! OH! OH!’

And I squint past all the huggers and kissers in the Arrivals hall, through the tiny panes of glass on the double doors, and all I can see is some geek’s necktie. But Mum’s already dropped her banner and she’s CRAWLING under the barrier and rushing towards the necktie, all the while squealing something in Tagalog. Dad’s got the banner now; he’s holding it up and grinning so broadly you can see that he’s missing a canine.

Then I finally
get
why Mum goes on and on about Bernardo being tall.

Rocky, the captain of my basketball team, is TALL.

Michael Jordan is TALL.

But Bernardo is no way tall like Rocky or Michael Jordan.

Bernardo is a GIANT.

Part One
Be Careful What You Wish For
1
Bernardo

I
have a mother. And a younger sister. And a stepfather named William.

But they live in London, on the other side of the world. And I live here, with my uncle and aunt, in the village of San Andres, a barrio so small it is barely a mosquito bite on the mountains of Montalban in the Philippines.

For years I’ve been waiting for the day when the British Home Office will see fit to write me the letter saying,
Yes please, Bernardo, come to London and be with your family.
But it’s been years and years and I’m sixteen now anyway and the letter has not come, and sometimes I think it will never come, which is just as well because the way things are, leaving San Andres is not an easy thing.

We are a village usually noticed not for what we have but for what we don’t: we have no square, no supermarket, no bar, no church – the nearest confessional being over the next hill in the barrio of
San Isidro. The houses don’t have much either: no clay-tiled roofs, not much paint left on the old planked walls, no tidy pavements outside each rusty garden gate.

Bernardo was my dead father’s name, the only thing that once belonged to him that I claim as my own. This I explain to anyone who will listen. But nobody ever does.

Your name is Bernardo? God be praised! Bernardo Carpio!

Bernardo Carpio? No, no!
I say.
My name is Bernardo, after my father. And my surname is not Carpio. It’s Hipolito. Hi-po-li-to
. Bernardo Carpio is a
giant
, everyone knows that. He’s a story, an old legend.

And then they laugh. They laugh because they look at me: they look at my feet so wide and so long I can only wear sandals made specially by Timbuktu the tailor, they look at my shoulders, rounded from the effort of squeezing through low doors, they look up, up, up to the top of my huge head … and they know better.

I’ll bet Bernardo Carpio, the giant, never used to be the smallest in his class.

The year that I was thirteen, it seemed as if all the other boys in my class had taken a dose of Super-Gro, the miracle plant food used by farmers to fatten up their crops. Everyone was suddenly shooting up like weeds, arms and legs thickening like tree trunks. Jabby too.

In fact, Jabby was a whole head and shoulders taller than me and he liked slinging an arm over my shoulders to prove the point. He even had hair under his armpits and he carried a can of Rexona spray deodorant in his bag, like a hidden weapon. His voice dipped an octave. Suddenly he was tall enough to get into eighteen-rated movies and tall enough to talk to girls. The Mountain Men, which was the local basketball team, signed him up.

Meanwhile, I remained small and squeaky and hairless as a just-born pup.

‘It’s nothing to worry about, it’s only a matter of time,’ Auntie Sofia had said. ‘We’re not tall people. Look at your ma. She’s tiny. Look at
me
.’

And I looked at Auntie’s squat pumpkin figure and my anxiety increased a hundredfold.

So when I finally started growing, it was as if my body had been held back against its will and was making up for lost time.

Two inches in one month. Four inches in two months. And so on. At night when everything was silent, I could hear a soft noise.
Creak creak creak
. My bones were lengthening, pulling and stretching my muscles like dough from the bakery.

The year I turned fourteen, Mama came to visit for a few weeks.

I was six foot tall. Taller than Uncle Victor. Taller than Jabby. ‘I told you it was only a matter of time,’ Auntie said smugly.

We took Uncle’s jeepney to the International Airport. Sitting on the rear bench used to be a peril, what with the potholes and the jeepney’s nonexistent shock absorbers. Auntie bounced around in the front seat like a Ping-Pong ball in a jar. I kept from being shaken to pieces by wedging myself firmly in place with my long legs. Being tall had its advantages.

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