Odd things happen when boys lose their ball! Colin Devonshire

‘Go on, go and get it. What a baby!’ said Perks.
‘Go on, then you get it,’ said Gums.
‘I’m not getting it; you kicked it, you fetch it!’ ordered Smithy.
I looked at my friends, but no one budged. Myself included.
We all lived on a council-run estate; some of our families bought their homes, and some chose to rent. It was a great little place to grow up in. But change was coming for us. Next term, we will be moving to senior schools. But for now, we were enjoying our last summer holiday, all our mates at the same school.
You entered our estate from the main road; there were twenty houses on each side of the road, and ahead were two rows of twenty more homes back to back, with adjoining back gardens at ninety degrees to the road. The road carried past as an elliptical ring road. We often played hide and seek or soldiers in the woods behind, but the best was football on the “green”, a patch of clumpy grass in front of the back terrace of houses. All the houses in Peachcroft Woods were occupied except for one. Number thirty-three.
The houses had two or three bedrooms, most had a garage in a separate block tucked away at the end of a drive, some had beautifully manicured lawns and flower beds, some were small jungles, and the scruffiest looked like a scrap dealers yard. Most neighbours got on well, and the rest kept to themselves.


I mentioned the one unoccupied place. It had been that way since before we boys arrived. Our parents will not speak about it or what happened years ago. It was all a mystery to us young footballers, and we didn’t care. Unless our ball went in that garden, the bravest amongst us would duck the overgrown privet hedge and run bent double to the ball, grab it and sprint out as quickly as they could.
Today was worse; our ball, my ball, went over the hedge, followed by the tingle of falling glass that shot fear into each of us. We feared our ball had gone right through the window into the building. So we crept to the gate and peeked at the gloom.
‘There it is, on the path,’ Perks said, pointing, smiling.
‘Great, but who is going in to get it?’ asked Smithy.
‘It’s your ball. It would be best if you got it,’ said Gums laughing.
It was my new birthday present ball, just a few weeks old. The players left me, all running back to their jumpers, meaning there were no goalposts. No goalposts, no game. I looked around and saw three bicycles peddled as if in a Tour De France sprint.


Glumly, I stooped as low as I could bend, still allowing forward movement. I crept, ducking the privet branches; stinging nettles poked through, teasing at uncovered knees; I had to leap over the painful weeds, forcing me into the centre of the path. Leaves rustled, and noise from above; I froze. A startled pigeon burst its cover and flew low over my head—wings battering air, lifting it high and away. Left and right, I looked; I trod on shards of broken glass, hearing a crack. The glass triangle was now many smaller shapes. Nearly there, my prize could almost be reached. I bent further and clutched my giant round golden egg. I sighed a breath of relief, and the ball was undamaged. I slid my hand across its vinyl coating, checking for tears. The sun glimpsed between clouds sending a flash of dazzling light to the broken window. I caught a reflection of a boy. I peered closer.
Turning, I looked behind me, heart in my mouth. There was nobody. I looked at the glass triangles hanging in the frame. There he was again. The boy looked at me. Was that Gums?
It was. I called his name. What was he doing? I edged forward to see better, and he turned. Suddenly, he was flying backwards. The flickering reflection jarred, and Gums catapulted into the air. He lay in a pool of murky grey liquid. The reflection changed, now just a dusty smear.
I grabbed my ball tight as if trying to burst it and ran. I snatched my sweater as I sprinted, hopping to my bike, hooking one leg over the saddle, and then peddling like a madman the hundred yards home.
‘You are early tonight. No one to play with?’ my mum called from her knitting.
I ran upstairs and flopped, panting to my bed. Questions buzzed around my brain. I shook off the doubts as imagination took hold, pure fear, nothing more. I shivered.
‘Tea is on the table. I’ve got your favourite,’ mum called.
I brightened at the scent.
‘Fish’ n chips, great, thanks, mum,’ I said, smiling, reflections forgotten as vinegar caught my nose.
‘There’s the phone now. They always ring as I sit down,’ said mum as she went to the hall muttering.
Then, the silence was scary, and I put down my knife and fork to listen. Mum is usually jolly, jabbering and forgetting her meal. But not today; still quiet, I inched my way to the doorway. Mum’s chest was up and down like a jack in the box, biting her fingers at the knuckles, tears running silently down her cheeks.
I ran to her.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked, tugging her arm.
She burst into a long low wail, like a wolf searching for her pups. A sound I’d never before heard. And hoped never to hear again; she pulled me close, holding me tight with her left hand, and the other, she held the phone as if glued to her palm. She forced it to arm’s length, as far from her mouth and ears as possible. She didn’t want to hear more but forced herself, and she didn’t want them to listen to her crying.
‘What is it?’ I asked, beginning to cry.
‘I’ll be over in a minute, stay there, and don’t do anything silly.’ The words were breathed with urgency as she replaced the receiver. Grabbing a tissue from her sleeve, she dabbed my eyes, then hers.
She led me gently back to the dining room, sat me down and knelt before me. She struggled to speak, and her red eyes averted as if scared of what she may see. The grip of her hands on my knees left red marks. She panted and rushed to the kitchen. I remained rooted. The tap turned, and I heard water splashing into a glass, her gulping, then returning to my front.
‘Gums was about to go to the little shop opposite,’ she started crying again.
‘All he wanted was an ice cream.’ She blubbered.
She then wailed. Words would not come out. She stood and brushed her skirt down, calming herself.
‘Your friend Gums was killed tonight. He was hit by a car when he was crossing the road,’ she sobbed.
‘Was he knocked into the air?’ I asked.
‘Why ask such a question?’
‘Because I saw him.’
‘Don’t be daft. You were in your room,’ she said.
‘Mum, I saw it happen before the accident.’
‘Don’t tell me you were in number thirty-three?’
My mum collapsed.

The END

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