I’d spotted him by chance, the day I was bunking off last-lesson PE. I was having a smoke in the woods at the back of the school, down by the canal, when I saw someone in uniform – maroon sweatshirt and black trousers – walking along the towpath. That had to mean school was over for the day.
As he got closer I recognised him. It was the fat kid that Rudi had it in for. After school we’d hang about at the bus stop and give him a hard time. He always stood apart from everyone else, head down, looking at the floor. Not even looking at a phone, for fuck’s sake. Rudi always managed to come up with something to say that made him look as though he was going to cry. He was probably thirteen or fourteen but he looked older on account of him being big. Big baby was one of the kinder things Rudi called him. It looked to me as though his Mum was feeding him up every night to cheer him up: ‘Go on, have another spoonful. A bit more rice. I’ve got your favourite ice cream for later.’
He had a sister in the sixth form – slim, long glossy dark hair that she swung in your face. She was clever – I’d heard she’d be going to uni next year. She always stood with the girls at the bus stop and I wondered why she didn’t stick up for her kid brother. I guess no-one wanted to take on Rudi. He was tall and even at his age he looked as though he worked out. Diamond studs in his ears, uniform always stuffed in his bag and a right gob on him. He didn’t care what he said to anyone. School had given up on sanctioning him. Think they’d been told they had to keep him there ‘cos no-one else would have him.
My Dad said he’d give me what for if he caught me hanging around with Rudi and his crowd. Said I could forget about any plans to go to college if I got in with that lot. That was after parent’s evening – think Mr McIntyre must have said something to him. Can’t see how he would have known otherwise. I told him I didn’t care about college. I reckoned I’d get a job at Maccy D’s or Nando’s.
Anyway, there I was, watching the fat kid. I realised now we hadn’t seen him for a while at the bus stop. He must have started walking home along the canal to avoid us. I thought about texting Rudi – he could be here in less than five and the kid wasn’t exactly moving fast. He must have felt safe here. Hardly anyone came this way, not even dog walkers.
I figured I could do this on my own and wapp the proof to Rudi. I wanted to show him that I didn’t care, just like him. I stepped out in front of the kid.
‘Found a new way home, have we?’
He was concentrating on the Cheesy Wotsits he was stuffing into his face and looked up in shock.
‘Well?’ I was blocking his path and took a step forwards. He took a couple of steps back and clutched at his school bag.
‘What have we got here?’ I pointed at the bag. ‘Hand it over.’
He spoke – the first time I’d ever heard him speak. His voice hadn’t broken yet – it still had a bit of a squeak to it. ‘Course work.’ He clutched the bag tightly to his chest.
I snatched it, ripped it open and chucked the contents into the canal. Folders flew open, sheets of paper scattered over the surface, soaking up the slime, turning grey before slowly starting to sink.
He let out a cry. ‘What did you do that for?’ He turned to me, his lip trembling and with such a look of rage in his eyes that I thought for a minute he was going to run at me.
‘What are you going to do about it, fat boy?’ I laughed, liking the feeling this was giving me.
‘Want your books back?’ I asked.
He nodded, biting his lip and holding back tears. He looked almost hopeful.
‘Here, let me help you.’ I gave him a hard shove and he fell backwards into the canal. I waited for him to come up – I had my phone out, ready. His head broke the surface and he was shouting and flailing his arms, papers all around him. It was a great shot. I took a couple to be on the safe side. I figured the water wasn’t very deep and he’d be able to stand up but his head had gone under again. When he came up he was spluttering and crying, snot everywhere, arms out flat, beating the water.
‘Swim, you stupid bastard,’ I yelled, then I turned away. I’d only walked a few steps when I heard the thud of running feet, the scattering of gravel and a splash. I looked back and there was Kezia in the water. Where had she come from, I wondered. Had she been looking for me? She’d got fat boy under the chin and was half swimming, half dragging him back to the bank. She was yelling something at me, but what with all the splashing I couldn’t hear. I thought about taking another photo but I really liked Kezia. She was sharp and bright and she didn’t take any shit from anyone. She didn’t like Rudi. I had thought she liked me but from the look on her face she didn’t any more.
My phone pinged in my pocket. I took a look. It was Rudi. ‘Respect!’ he said. I shrugged, smiled and walked away. Kezia’s loss.
This piece is in response to the Thanet Creative Writers prompt ‘Who do I admire?’