by Iqbal Hussain
As the month approached its end, so did David’s stay in the UK. With his aunt having passed away and the house sold, their time in Blackburn was done. They were heading back to Australia. He had been in my life for just two months, but I felt I had known him for much longer. For the first time in my ten years, I had found a male friend who liked me for who I was. And now he was going.
As Miss Müller blew the final whistle of the school week, we headed to a quiet spot at the bottom of the playground, his arm around my shoulders. I dragged my heels, wanting to eke out the last minutes.
“I’m gonna miss you, mate,” he said, looking me squarely in the eyes. “You’re a one-off. Don’t ever bloody change.” His voice quavered.
I studied his face, knowing this would be the last time I would see him. “Don’t go,” I said, even though I knew it was as hopeless as putting out a forest fire with a napkin.
He hugged me. “My dad needs me.”
“I need you. I need you!” I beat my fists on his chest and realised how selfish I sounded, but I couldn’t help it. The tears started, and I hated myself for crying in front of him.
He just held me. “It will all be fine,” he whispered.
I didn’t know what he meant. I tried hard not to cry, but it was no use. There had been so many tears lately. I heard the thud of my heartbeat, the blood pumping round my body. If I held on to him, maybe he would have to stay.
His breath tickled my ear. My cheek pressed against the wool of his duffle coat. He smelt of Imperial Leather, sweat from playing football and the roast chicken he’d had for lunch. I stored the scents away, along with the feel of his arms around me, and the softness of his hair against my temple.
When I eventually allowed him to pull away, his lips brushed against my face. I reached up to touch my cheek. As he began to say something, a train of kids jostled past, shrieking and laughing.
I shook my head, clenched my free hand into a fist and bit my lower lip: rites for a spell to try and stop the inevitable. The beginnings of a deep ache rumbled inside me. I wanted to speak, but my mouth refused to form consonants. A mish-mash of vowels vomited out.
David’s mother was at the gates. I resented her for taking him away from me. “Oh, love,” she mouthed, seeing my tear-streaked face. She hugged me and kissed the top of my head. She smelt of Avon Moonwind. More tears, this time into her chest, her coat scratchy against my skin.
“Can’t you stay?” I pleaded. “Just for a bit longer. Please?”
She stroked my hair and let me empty out my sadness. Eventually, the tears cried themselves out, my breath juddery.
As the playground thinned out, the excited screams and cries from the other children grew fainter. The gates creaked in the Autumn breeze. A pair of wood pigeons thrashed around noisily in the trees.
“Be good to yourself, love.”
And just like that they were gone. One minute he was there, the next he had vanished – from school and out of my life.
My head whirled with the chorus of ABBA’s “SOS”.
The world continued to roll on, but the magic was spent.
Iqbal (he/him) is one of fifteen emerging writers to feature in the Mainstream anthology by Inkandescent, publication date mid-2021. He won gold prize in the Creative Future Writers’ Awards 2019 and he is a recipient of the inaugural London Writers’ Awards 2018. Iqbal is working on his first novel, Northern Boy, about what it feels like to be a “butterfly among the bricks”. Find out more at www.ihussainwriter.com and follow Iqbal on Twitter @ihussainwriter