It’s not like you mean to hit him.
There’s no little voice saying, curl your hand into a fist and slam it into Lochie Grundy’s stomach, right on the blue stripe where his school jumper meets his trousers.
When the bell rings you shuffle down Croydon Road, eyes on your laces dragging along the footpath. You pass the Oasis Café and see the groups on plastic chairs outside, sitting on each others’ laps and shrieking into their blue heaven milkshakes. You want one too, but there is no woollen lap to slide onto and no point to a straw you can’t share.
You duck into the lolly shop for a packet of Fizz Whizz and head for the bus stop. You tear off a corner and spill the sherbet into your mouth, pretending the elbows in your back are accidental. You let the others push past you. You’re always three steps behind.
You show the driver your ticket and fold it back into your pocket. Your bag is heavy with the books that shield your face in the canteen, and your arms sag at the elbows.
You’re suddenly bone tired. You’ve heard your mum say this when she returns from the factory but you’ve never understood it until now.
You gaze out the cracked window at Croydon Station sucking people into its pebblewash mouth. When you glance down, you see Lochie at a window seat, his school tie flung over his shoulder, the space next to him empty.
It’s not for the likes of you, and you know it.
Everyone knows it.
So when you drop onto the seat, his mouth falls open in a perfect O. You stare straight ahead, your hands clenched around the packet.
I’m bone tired, you want to tell him.
But this is asking a lot of Lochie. It’s asking too much, and he sneers into the air between you.
‘I’m saving this seat.’
It’s a tone you know well, but this time you don’t flinch. He leans closer. The words are a hiss.
When he reaches out and pushes your shoulder, hard, there is no moment when you decide. There is no choice made. There is only your fist smashing into the softness of his belly, and the air whooshing from his mouth.
You don’t know which of you is more surprised.
In science class last term, you had to dissect a frog. You stared at his long ribbon legs and waxy skin, and then placed the scalpel back on the table. No-one can make me do this, you told yourself, and your voice was small but steady. You stood for twenty minutes outside the Principal’s office counting the tiles in the floor, black and blue like a bruise, waiting for the reaction with your heart slamming against your ribcage.
There are no tiles to count on the floor of the bus. No-one speaks. You wait with your eyes on the bus driver’s cap, your fist on top of your thigh and the other hand still clasped around the sherbet packet.
You imagine flinging it into the air, a burst of powder exploding over their heads like a magician’s trick. And when it settles, there is no you sitting there with your jaw and fists tight, just a fine layer of white on the cold vinyl seat.
You hear people whispering. Lochie is pressed against the window with his head turned. You wonder if his hand is on his belly, if his eyes have filled.
You want to whisper, I’m not that kind of person. But maybe you are, and you just don’t know it. Maybe you are the kind of person to pull your fist back and strike a hole in the centre of the world and the thought surprises you so much you almost miss your stop.
No feet slide into the aisle to trip you. The door takes so long to open and you count every second. When you reach the footpath there are no spitballs in your hair, and no banana Big M hurled through the window to splash across your legs in a lurid yellow arc.
You don’t look at the bus as it pulls away. You keep your gaze on the footpath, stepping over the cracks in your black lace-up school shoes as you head past the petrol station.
This time there is a decision. All you have to do, all you really need to do, is put one foot in front of the other.
I rarely write from a child’s perspective. I have very few memories of childhood, and it’s not a place in my life that I’m comfortable returning to.
But I remember the clenched fists.
And the Fizz Whizz.