February 2002 – six years old.
A rock hit the pathway, making a sharp cracking sound as it splintered off into the grass.
Ant yelped and darted to the left, following the path Tim was carving into the park. They ducked into the bushes, Tim yanking Ant down as the three big kids who were chasing them raced past.
When a few minutes had gone by they stood, Ant more hesitantly than Tim.
‘Next time,’ he said, sniffling a little as he looked down at his stinging hands. ‘We should just give them the lollies.’
‘Next time I’ll kick their teeth out,’ Tim said, scowling fiercely. ‘Bullies.’
He turned to Ant and noticed the red splotches all over his palms.
‘Mum’ll be so mad,’ Ant said, tears stinging his eyes almost as much as his hands stung.
When they’d said they wouldn’t give the older kids their lolly bags, one of them had shoved Ant and he had slipped in the gravel, falling on his palms.
‘Stuff that,’ said Tim. ‘Ma will fix your hands before you go home. C’mon, lets go sit in the sandbox for a while.’
Ant held himself tight, pulling his arms in at his sides and keeping a sharp gaze for the older kids.
‘What if they come back?’
The bush was tickling his legs as it brushed back and forth in the wind.
‘They won’t,’ Tim said simply.
He took one of Ant’s hands (carefully since it was still sore) and led the boy back into the main park where the sandbox was.
Ant pulled his shoes off, placing them carefully out of the pit—otherwise Mum would be angry with him for getting them full of sand again. He liked it better without shoes, anyway. With his socks out of the way, he buried his feet in the sand, relishing the coolness that seeped into his feet.
Tim grinned, poking Ant’s feet through the sand, ‘Why d’you do that?’
‘It feels nice.’
Tim looked down at his own feet. He pulled off his shoes and copied Ant’s position. He grinned.
‘It’s nice,’ he said.
He pulled out a bag of lollies.
‘Where’re yours?’ he asked as he began untying them.
‘I … I dropped them when we were being chased.’
Tim frowned. He put the lolly bag between them, and began counting out the lollies into two piles. When he got to the last lolly, he bit it in half, swallowing one half and placing the other with the pile closest to Ant.
‘There,’ Tim said. ‘Even.’
Ant’s eyes welled up again, and he scrubbed at them furiously, not wanting to be such a baby in front of Tim.
‘Thank you,’ he said softly.
‘Tomorrow,’ Tim said, his normally bright eyes glinting with a hardness Ant hadn’t seen before. ‘Let’s steal their lunch boxes and swap their yummy food for acorns!’