I awoke on the settee, pizza still in hand. The phone was still ringing but there was no way I was going to answer it. Gilbert roused from his slumber at the other end of the sofa. Chilli sauce stained his previously white shirt. Elvis was asleep on the floor beneath Bumper’s IKEA rug.
“Bumper, phone,” I shouted.
“I know, I know,” he muttered as he stumbled from his bedroom in his boxer shorts. Red cabbage and kebab meat stuck to his hair. He tripped over Elvis and woke him as he went for the phone. “Fuck.”
“Hello,” he croaked down the phone. “Bernie?” I wasn’t sure what Bernie was shouting but it didn’t sound pleasant. “I wasn’t drunk, honest,” he pleaded. Bumper held the phone away from his ear as Bernie screamed at him. “I’m sorry, love. I thought you wouldn’t mind, I’ve decided to go to a later mass as the lads wanted to come along.”
“We what?” The three of us said, shocked. He waved his hand to shut us up.
“The priest won’t mind,” said Bumper, “he said he would like to see us in church more often, he didn’t say we had to be together.” Bernie had another outburst on the other end of the phone. “Ok love, see you later.” Bumper shook his head as he came off the phone, sending kebab flying everywhere. “Best get you arses into gear lads, we’re going to church.”
For afternoon break Mr Rowcroft had found some chores for Bumper and I. This was great as it delayed our meeting with Kevin Davison. At least it would give us time to say goodbye to our parents.
“I’m not well,” I said.
“I don’t care. You’re going to school.”
My mother had no heart. I was genuinely sick. Sick with worry. A few doors away Bumper was playing out the same scene with his mother, with similar results. We met at the top of the street and headed to school. Nobody said much. Elvis and Gilbert knew what we were thinking. I’m not sure what was said in Assembly that morning or in Mrs Matthews’ lesson. When the bell rang for first break we knew it was time.
“Good Luck, ” said Elvis. Shaking my hand knowing that he might not see me again.
“You’ve been a good friend. One of the best,” I said.
“I wish I could take your place.”
It was a nice sentiment but I knew he didn’t mean it. Bumper and me met at the classroom door and headed downstairs together.
“Take one of these. It might make it easier,” I said as I handed Bumper a prayer card that I had stolen from Mrs Matthews’ desk. It was of St Christopher, they all had been. He was the patron Saint of travellers but it would have to do. He offered me one of his last two Cola Cubes.
The sun blazed down on us as we walked out of the side door and into the yard. It was a lot more compact than the other one and had no grass surrounding it. The school was on two sides. There was a hedge at one end that cut off the view to the road. The hedge then went round the corner, only broken by the path to the caretaker’s house. At the far end of the privet was a path leading to the main yard and playing field. We checked out our escape routes.
The yard was empty at this stage. Davison was probably committing a murder or something on his way to the playground. We headed for the far corner where we thought we would be safest. We waited for about five minutes without speaking and then the unmistakable figure of Kevin Davison emerged from the school. He had three henchmen with him and headed straight for us. I fingered the prayer card in my pocket.
“What are you doing in my yard?” he threatened.
“We’re banned from the Main Playground, ” said Bumper.
I had chosen not to say anything at the risk of upsetting someone.
“You two? What for?”
Suddenly ducking under a fence didn’t seem so dangerous. I didn’t want to embarrass myself.
“It was either this or the hammer from Rowcroft.” Bumper avoided the question brilliantly.
“The hammer?” They were impressed. “He’s never got me with the hammer before. You must have really upset him.”
Kev was laughing. I think we were safe.
“Fancy a tab?” Kev offered us a cigarette from a box of ten.
“No thanks I said. They stunt your growth.” I tried a joke as I was beginning to feel comfortable. I regretted it instantly when I realised that he was no taller than me.
”Whatever,” he said, not appearing to be insulted. Before Kev could light his cigarette I noticed Mr Rowcroft approaching.
“Rowcroft,” I said. Alerting him to the danger.
“Quick, grab these. I’ll get them off you later.” He handed me the cigarettes and the matches. I shoved them in my pockets quickly as Mr Rowcroft approached.
We didn’t have time to get cleaned up before we got to church.
“I’m sorry lads,” explained Bumper, “we’re getting married here next week but the priest said he wouldn’t marry us if we didn’t start attending regularly.”
We all nodded resignedly. I hadn’t been to church since I was at school and I had certainly never been to church with a hangover. I wasn’t looking forward to the experience.
We shuffled into one of the back rows and the elderly lady who had been sat there moved away as soon as she smelt us. Stale beer and old kebabs isn’t a pleasant combination.
“What do we do?” asked Gilbert.
“I don’t know, it’s that long since I’ve been.” I said.
Elvis shrugged his shoulders. “Bumper?”
“Just follow everyone else,” he explained, “stand up when they do, sit down when they do, it’s a bit like the Hokey Cokey.”
The first hymn started and the woman in front passed us a hymn book under the misapprehension that we were actually going to sing along.
Gilbert nudged me. “Have you seen who’s at the front?” I craned my neck to see. I elbowed Elvis who in turn nudged Bumper.
“Mr Burns,” we laughed.
Another installment to follow same time next week.
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