Growing Up

Dean Mamo upended John Barham for no reason, just as Miss Weekes rang the bell.

“Are you alright, John?” Chris asked. John was bent over, winded.

“Hurry up, boys, break’s finished,” bothered Miss Weekes.

“It’s him again, Miss. Aren’t you gonna do anything?”

Chris’s heart raced as he glowered at the fourth year, who eyed Chris back with a look that said he’d be next.

“Well, I didn’t see anything, so you’ll have to go in. If John’s hurt, take him to First Aid.”

John’s eyes had dried as they finished their tesselations at the back of 3A. Miss Weekes was marking at her desk.

“I’ve had enough of Dean Mamo pushing our year around,” Chris whispered. “If we all stood up to him, we could beat him up.”

“He’s too strong,” John said, quietly.

Miss Weekes looked up from her desk. They went over their outlines in felt-tip.

“Not if our whole class fights him,” Chris insisted. “I bet I can get the whole year involved.”

“No talking at the back,” Miss Weekes admonished.

“I’ve finished,” Chris scowled. As he brought his work to the front, an uneasy tension crackled through the class. Three weeks ago, Chris had told Miss to fuck off, and his Mum had been brought in. He did it because of how Miss Weekes treated them like little kids, but when they asked if Chris was having problems at home, he could see his Mum was upset, so he said no and apologised.

Chris spent the rest of the lesson recruiting soldiers to his cause, under the guise of lending his four-colour pen.

“See you by the hill after school,” Chris told Dean in the lunch hall.

After semolina, they practiced A-Team dives off the wall by the equipment shed. Lynsey Huckle smiled at Chris as she finished hopscotch.

“Dean thinks it’s just me,” Chris said, as he gathered the boys in a huddle. “A few of us might get hurt, but he can’t stop twenty. We’ll pay him back, and he won’t touch us again.”

Mr Palin rang the bell, and the way they all looked at Chris made up for when Palin never picked him for the football team.

They were climbing the ropes in PE when Malcolm said he couldn’t make it.

“Sorry, Chris, I forgot. I’ve got the dentist.”

“Don’t worry,” Chris said. “There’s loads of us.”

But as they changed out of their PE kits in the big toilets, the trickle became a flood.

“My Mum’s collecting me.”

“I have to pick up my sister.”

“Any more trouble and I can’t have a BMX.”

John lent Chris his Casio football watch as Miss Weekes read James and the Giant Peach.

“I would, Chris, but it’s my Mum,” John said, as the home bell rang.

Chris walked to the hill alone, and got beat up by Dean Mamo.

And when he cried, it wasn’t ‘cause it hurt, but because a little piece of him grew up that day.

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