In a world where traditional superpowers did not exist, Mani knew he was special.
No one in his world possessed super strength, or had the ability to take to the skies and fly off. He hadn’t heard of anyone disappearing in thin air, making themselves invisible at their own will. No, he knew that no one in the world was a superhero, or a super villain for that matter. No one had any special abilities that could change the world.
No one did but Mani.
Mani couldn’t survive a hundred foot fall or fend off malcontents by turning himself into a fierce jackal or shooting lasers out of his eyes; he couldn’t do anything like that. But he could fight off enemies in other ways.
At his will, basically at the snap of his fingers, Mani could be done with bullies and fiends effortlessly, and never have to see or hear from them again. His trolls would be gone for good, which made Mani feel at peace and safe.
How does Mani accomplish this, you wonder? Well, he manages to escape his enemies with just the press of a button…
Twitter’s report button had become Mani’s chief weapon against naysayers and bad yins.
The second Mani received negative feedback from any of his Tweets, he’d simply go to the profile of whoever bothered him and reported the bastard. Twitter’s banning algorithms were fucked – that was public knowledge – so he used them to his advantage. He would scroll for a few minutes on whoever’s profile and find a problematic Tweet from days, months or years ago. There was always something to find with these creeps: the ones with the union jacks in the bios and the profile pictures of these boys in their “hard” stances. They always had something sexist, racist or homophobic to say and they always wanted to say it publicly. These things often had nothing to do with Mani was really reporting them (he didn’t really care if Jack from Brighton thought all that all girls were slags, or if he thought bisexuals had to “make up their minds”), but he used them regardless.
This all started when he was faced with one particular troll; a boy from his school called Dan who would reply to every Tweet of Mani’s saying something rude or awful. Dan, in Mani’s replies, would remind the world of how Mani remained a virgin all through school, and of the time he got a boner in sixth year geography. Dan was relentless in his low and witless insults, but he still gained likes and retweets, and crying-laughing emojis in response to his nastinesses.
Mani enjoyed Twitter; he liked seeing the news of the world, he laughed at the memes, and he relished spilling his heart onto the platform at any available chance. He Tweeted from sunrise to sunset, and during sleepless nights he continued to his outpour through all hours of the night. He liked having his thoughts out there, where people might see them and agree with them – he thought he may even change their way of thinking as well perhaps. He loved hearing his phone go ping! and seeing that he had garnered likes and amiable responses. Because of this, Mani knew that Dan’s constant menacing could not continue much longer.
Dan had just Tweeted Mani, “you still wanking over East Africa mate?” when he called it: enough was enough. Mani clicked his way to his foe’s and reported him for bullying him. Shortly after though, Twitter sent an automatic email back to Mani, thanking him for his complaint but only suggesting that he block his bully. Twitter didn’t see Dan’s annoying behaviour as reason enough to ban him from their platform all together.
Blocking wasn’t enough. Mani could hear the sound of Dan’s laughter after realising he had been blocked. “Cannae take a joke!” he’d sneer at Mani’s expense. Mani did not want to gain the title of “bully victim”, or the reputation of being weak. Blocking Dan would not be enough to teach the dickhead a lesson – it would make things worse for him, he imagined.
Mani did not follow Dan, and did not often visit his profile either. Mani didn’t like or care for Dan in the slightest, so why would he pay any attention to what he had to say? But now Mani had purpose – he had a reason to read all the bullshit Dan spouted on a daily basis.
There were drooling emojis over an attractive girl’s selfie he shared. There was jubilation over his favourite football team winning a game. There was sadness in response to another hoax about the death of the Queen (followed by elatedness when he found out she was still alive).
Scrolling through his antagonists thoughts and feelings was starting to depress Mani. He was nearly at the point of giving up. He was about to close the app on his phone and was considering conceding and blocking Dan before doing so. But then he found it. Finally, he found it!
The most homophobic Tweet Mani had ever read.
There was a picture of a boy wearing makeup; his skin looked flawless and glowed with highlighter shining over cheekbones; his eyelids were an electric and sparkling blue; his lips were plump and glossy. Mani knew he himself would never wear makeup but he did not begrudge this boy for wearing it. Dan, however, did.
Dan shared the boy’s selfie, captioned “blue summer nights,” and was inexplicably raging. He said the f-word twice in only 280 characters and expressed absolute anger at the fact that this boy practiced something that was usually done by girls. Dan bemoaned, “aw the fuckin men are gone”, swore that if the boy were his son his face would be blue in different ways and finished the Tweet with a bunch of angry emojis.
Now this…this was an opportunity.
This was just what Mani needed. He couldn’t report the Tweet fast enough for its hate speech and the violence Dan threatened in it. Excitedly, Mani sent the report away and slept soundly after.
The next day, Dan’s profile was gone all together.
For Mani, it was like taking the first fresh breath of air when all he had been inhaling previously was smoke.
While Dan wasn’t the only troll that bothered Mani, he was the most persistent. Other guys who responded to and quoted his Tweets paled in comparison to Dan, but now that Dan was gone, Mani was all too aware of how annoying the others could really be.
The others were either random guys trolling for the sake of trolling or Dan’s pals. Dan’s pals could not accuse Mani of being responsible for their mates ban, for they had no basis to do so. So, the bullying was kept strictly to Mani’s own person and was not done to defend their fallen friend.
Each time a new bully took prominence in Mani’s mentions, he repeated the process he had undertaken to get Dan away from him. He clicked onto whoever’s profile and scrolled down, sometimes for seconds and sometimes for minutes, until he found something threatening that violated Twitter’s rules. Often, it only took him something simple like “I’ll kick fuck out ae you” from an incensed troll to ban him. A threat was a threat.
Sometimes girls bullied Mani, which hurt him even more than when his antagonise was male. It hurt because, firstly, he thought that girls were mean to be nicer than boys and secondly, because they weren’t as violent in their Tweets. Searching for content warranting a ban in a girl’s timeline was simply harder than it was in that of a boy’s.
Mani ended up confiding in his father about his practice. His father didn’t have Twitter; he didn’t bother with social media, or the internet at all for that matter. Despite that, he understood the concept of what his son was doing, and what his son had become.
“You’re a grass, Mani,” his father stated in an absolute tone.
It was completely true; Mani knew it. He just didn’t care.
If being a grass was so bad, then why did it feel so good? Why did it feel so much better for Mani to get some cunt kicked off the field than engaging and fighting back?
As a child, Mani was a watcher on the wall; he made camp at the edges of the playground rather than joining in the games. He wandered around and listened, because he always liked stories and secrets. From listening, he always heard about the infamy that came along with the reputation of “grass.” When some play fighting resulted in a harsh fall down and crying or wailing in pail, whichever child caused it would plead with their victim, “please don’t tell on me! Don’t be a grass!” Whichever girl confided in a friend, revealing that it was she that broke or lost something in the classroom, she’d preface the confession with a warning: “don’t be a grass.”
Why was being a grass such a bad thing? Mani had discovered that he loved the feeling of grassing so much that he was berating himself for having not done it as a child. He started to regret not telling on the childhood menaces that called him weird for being so quiet and pushed him down as he wandered around the school. He knew that bullies would have annoyed him further for grassing, which would feel bad, but then Mani knew he could tell on the kid again, which would feel good.
He lost himself for ages as he sat fantasising about a world where he kept no secrets from teachers, and cared not for his reputation or the anger other kids felt when they were turned in.
There was no use, he decided, on thinking back on the past when there was absolutely nothing to do about it. He started focussing all his time on the present, and getting rid of whichever idiot decided to bother him.
Soon, most of Twitter would be gone! Mani laughed at the thought
Yes, he lived a happy life then: he said what he wanted on Twitter and found bother less and less. He got more likes than negative replies and, despite what his father thought of him, enjoyed the peace that came with being a grass.
He was out one day, walking near the town centre where he lived, with his eyes down on his phone as he scrolled through the latest stories on his favourite apps. He strolled along happily, but then heard his name called. His eyes shot up to find who had called upon him.
It was Dan.
Dan wasn’t the tallest of guys around him, but he was broad. In his big jacket he stood bulkier and acted as a wall blocking Mani’s path. Mani stopped in front of his high school bully who glared at him. It wasn’t unusual for Mani to see Dan around; the two boys had grown up in this town and neither had managed to move away, but this was the first time Dan actually interacted with Mani when their paths did cross.
“Oh, hey Dan,” Mani tried his best to muster up a polite smile to greet the bully with but he felt the weakness of his lips on his face. Even though he only managed to let a few syllables fall out of his mouth, he heard the words shake as they wafted in the air.
His assailant did not smile. He had the look about him of a “hard man” posing for a photo: cold, unfriendly eyes, a furrowed brow and tightly pursed lips. Mani knew he was in the deep shit then. Before he could get more words out of his mouth (he did not know what he would say; an excuse to leave? An attempt at some friendly small talk?), Dan was barking at him: “weird how me an’ aw ma pals who speak to you get banned aff Twitter, eh?”
Mani’s head was filling fast with escape plans: should he just bolt the other way or try to talk himself out of this? Should he apologise profusely and hope for the best, or just accept the beating he surely had coming? Should he phone the police!? He started to stammer but his utterings made no complete words. Before Mani could say something that made sense, Dan continued. “An’ it’s odd how when a made other accounts, the second a Tweeted you somethin’ they just aw got closed anaw!”
Finally, Mani managed to sputter out, in the most cowardly voice his body could present (that he did not mean to put on in any way at all), “sounds like some weird coincidence there Dan! Twitter’s a disaster these days!”
“Only disaster a see here is you, mate!” Dan spat, literally spat, in Mani’s face. He was frozen too solid to wipe the saliva off his nose and cheeks. “Ye big fuckin’ grass, pure pathetic reportin’ cunts ‘cause you cannae stand up fir yersel’!”
Mani mumbled, suddenly so quiet, “maybe you just shouldn’t cyber bully people?”
Dan was red with rage. “WIT DID YOU JUST SAY TAE ME?”
Next, Mani yelped: high pitched and absolutely deplorably.
The pitiful sound pushed Dan into frenzy. He struck fast: he sent his fist, hard, rock-like and toughened from previous battles, right to Mani’s gut, winding him instantly.
He exhaled painfully as Dan taunted, “who ye gonnae tell now?”
The adrenaline came over Mani like a harsh, salty wave and he felt brave suddenly.
Through the pain in his belly, Mani managed to rise and stand tall and straight, and face Dan eye to eye. Their interaction was suddenly going so fast, the seconds were passing too quickly to keep track of. Barely moving, Dan hardened himself, bracing for a punch in retaliation from Mani, but Mani did not ball up his fists or move to strike. Mani simply decided to answer Dan’s question: who ye gonnae tell now, he had demanded. Well, Mani would let him know!
“Ma da!” Mani screamed and, as Dan processed what he had just heard, Mani was turning on his heels and sprinting in the opposite direction, homeward bound and ready to tell his dad all about what had just happened.
Mani’s outburst had benefitted him in that it confused the living daylights out of Dan: he stayed in his place for a moment or so, contemplating what Mani had just told him. Both boys were in their mid-twenties; had this fully grown man really admitted that he was going to tell on Dan?
Regardless of what Mani had said or meant, Dan knew he wasn’t done with the wee rat. He started to run after Mani, though he had eaten a salty, pizza crunch with a can of Irn Bru before his encounter with the snitch, and so was not in peak condition to give chase. He quickly started to feel breathless, too hot and sick, but it didn’t stop him from running. There was a thrill in the prospect of punishing Mani for his behaviour, and also fear in knowing that he really would be told on. At the end of the day, he had punched Mani – he could get done for assault.
Dan kept Mani in his eyesight through their whole run, though he simply could not catch up. Mani was not an athlete and hadn’t run in months, perhaps years, so he himself was not actually running very quickly either.
If there had been onlookers to the chase, they might have considered it the most pathetic sight ever.
But, finally, Mani reached home and went right for his door handle. The door wouldn’t budge.
“Fuck!” he screamed and desperately started battering on the door of his father’s house. He knew for certain that his keys weren’t on him, and he knew that Dan would be with him soon too. “DAAAAAAD! DAAAAAD!!” he was wailing. He was far too feart to even turn around and look for Dan. He was not interested in seeing how close his attacker was to him.
When Mani’s father finally emerged, he was only wearing a towel about his waist and his hair was slick and wet. There was panic and fear in his eyes. “Mani, what’s happened?”
It was then that Mani heard Dan’s stampeding footsteps approach him and his dad. He darted into his house and hit, like he was a little boy again, behind his father. “Dad, he’s trying to leather me!”
There was a mix of emotions in his father’s eyes then: of course there was concern for his boy, but there was also exhaustion. He let his body relax and finally got his first proper look at the lad following his son. Dan had stopped a few feet away from the door and was making no obvious attempt to get in. In fact, he was red in the face, sweating and doubled over, breathing so heavily that Mani’s dad thought that the boy may collapse on his doorstep. He did recognise Dan from Mani’s time at school, and remembered that he had been friends with Dan’s father as well. They always chatted and laughed at parents’ evenings at the school together.
“Dan,” Mani’s father finally addressed the wheezing boy. “Are you harassing my son?”
Between desperate breaths, Dan said, “he had it coming to him.” It was less a powerful statement and more a futile attempt at an excuse. “He’s a fuckin’ grass, got me and ma pals banned aff Twitter.”
Mani’s dad of course knew immediately that this statement was true. He turned to his son, not to ask him for the truth, but to reprimand him. “You were in trouble for being a grass, so you came to grass on him to me?”
His son nodded sheepishly, burning with embarrassment.
The older man, still in his towel and soaking wet, surveyed both boys in turn. Both were red cheeked still, from the run and from the self-conscious fear as well, but Dan had risen and was standing with more stability. He made his decision.
“Come in, Dan,” Mani’s dad instructed with certainty. “Come get some water and sit down.”
“Dad,” Mani started to protest, but was cut off.
“You go to your room,” he was told. Mani saw a look in his dad’s eyes he hadn’t seen since childhood: one of fury and complete disappointment. Mani felt like a six year old under the harsh glare and, without question, obeyed. He marched right upstairs and Dan, from the doorstep, heard the sound of the boy’s door slamming shut.
Mani’s dad beckoned Dan to enter.
They sat in the living room, first with water and then with tea, and chatted about Mani. The father, now wearing a house coat, apologised for his son’s weasel-like behaviour. They stopped talking about their mutual and cowardly friend and went onto Dan’s dad and his family, and what Dan himself had been up to. Biscuits were shared between them, as well as some laughs.
From his bedroom, Mani heard all the jubilation and seethed.
When Dan eventually left, he did so with Mani’s dad’s phone number and the promise of a pint one night. Shortly after the father closed the door, Mani stomped downstairs and left. He was back within a few minutes.
“I lost my phone,” Mani admitted. When Dan had struck him, he dropped it and the device was no longer where he had left it.
His dad shrugged. “What do you want me to do about it?”
“Well, I need a new one,” Mani stated the obvious.
With a chuckle, his dad replied, “you better get a job then.”
Confused, angered and saddened by his father’s refusal to take care of him and his needs, Mani argued that it would take at least a month after finding a job to be able to afford a new phone. “How am I going to text me friends and go on Twitter if I don’t have a phone for four weeks?”
Smugly smiling, Mani’s dad said, “consider yourself banned from Twitter.”