The Broken Radio
May 2005 – nine years old.
Tim sat slouched on the side of the road, nursing a bruised cheek.
Not only had he lost the model plane he’d spent all his pocket money on (not to mention crashing his bike), but Ant’s birthday party was that afternoon, and now Tim wouldn’t have a present.
He sat on the curb outside the convenience store, the wheels on his overturned bike still spinning. The older boy’s—who had cornered him on their fancy mountain bikes—had cut Tim off on his way to the party and they’d taken off with the model plane before Tim even had a chance to get back up.
Skin was missing from his knee, elbow and both palms and somehow he’d managed to smack himself in the face as he landed, resulting in the bruise that was now tingling the side of his face.
‘You right there kid?’
Tim looked up. The store owner—Shane—was standing over him, arms crossed as he peered down the street after the older boys.
Tim shrugged, pushed himself to his feet and brushed off his shorts. ‘I’m alright.’
‘You know who they are?’
‘Know their parents?’
‘You shouldn’t let them get away with that.’
‘Oh, I won’t. I’ll puncture their tyres at school tomorrow.’
Shane raised his eyebrows, a look of surprise crossing his face. ‘How old are you?’
‘Hm. Want an ice-cream?’
‘Nah, I’m late for my friend’s birthday party.’
‘Oh. How old is your friend?’
‘He turned ten last month, but he was sick and wasn’t allowed to play. He’s not at school yet, so I got him a model plane to make. He likes building things.’
Shane nodded. ‘That’s pretty thoughtful.’
Tim nodded and kicked at the dirt. ‘Yeah. But those bullies took it. And I spent all my pocket money on it.’
‘Why don’t you tell your mum? I’m sure she’d understand and get another model.’
‘Nah, she don’t know I’m getting bullied,’ said Tim. ‘But that’s okay. She has to work lots cause it’s just me and her, so I don’t wanna worry her. Besides, I can be a bully too. If I hafta.’
Shane grinned, his face twisting into an expression Tim didn’t usually see on adults. ‘I like you, kid,’ he said, and gestured back to the store. ‘What kind of things does your friend like to make? I got all sorts of things out back, maybe you could give him something from the store?’
Tim perked up. ‘He likes broken things best. It’s kinda weird, but I guess he likes to fix stuff.’
‘Well, I think I can work with that. Hang on a sec, I’ll see if I have something that’ll fit on your bike.’
An hour later, Tim turned up late to Ant’s party. He was panting and red faced and sweatier than he’d ever been. Shane had offered him a ride, but even though he’d helped him, Tim informed the man that he didn’t drive in cars with strangers.
With a laugh and a hearty grin, Shane had nodded, and said, ‘That’s a good rule to follow kid. You keep that sense of distrust, alright? Don’t forget to get back those bullies.’
Ant’s mum opened the door when Tim knocked, her pleasant smile dropping away to the familiar look of distaste she had whenever Tim and his Ma came around. Tim ignored her. She was something Ma called a bible basher. Tim wasn’t sure what it meant, except that she was cranky a lot and he didn’t have to listen to her.
He leaned his bike up against the front of the house and carefully lifted the heavy cardboard box out of the milk crate Shane had tied to the back of his bike. Inside, there were a bunch of kids from school that Tim didn’t know very well. He knew everyone liked Ant, the kid was what Ma called a saint, he was nice to everyone. But Tim hadn’t realised he had so many friends. A twinge of something nasty stirred in Tim’s gut.
‘Tim!’ Ant called. He was still pale, and he sat on the couch with a blanket around his shoulders. ‘You made it in time for cake.’
‘And for presents?’ Tim asked, hoisting the box.
Ant’s dad peered in at Tim’s box. ‘What’ve you got there, Tim? Looks pretty heavy? Did you ride all the way here with that on your bike?’
‘Course,’ said Tim. ‘It’s Ant’s birthday. Or…it was, anyway.’
Ant beamed, his smile making his face seem less sickly. ‘What is it?’
Tim shuffled across the room, all but barging some of the other kids out of the way, and refusing help from Ant’s dad.
He dumped the box on the ground in front of Ant and said, ‘Tada!’
A few kids peered in, and Ant’s mum wrinkled her nose.
‘It’s all junk!’ someone said.
‘Nah!’ Tim snapped. ‘It ain’t junk. It’s just broken. It’s a radio. Or…it was.’
Ant peered in at the box, pulling out bits and pieces of broken wires and nobs. In seconds, his hands were covered in grease, and one of the girls from their glass giggled nastily.
‘What kind of present is a broken radio?’
But Ant was pulling out the main box, struggling as he tried to manoeuvre through the wires, a look of awe and excitement lighting his face.
‘It’s heavy,’ he said, and his dad quickly helped him pull it out.
‘Not on the couch!’ Ant’s mother barked, but even Ant’s dad wasn’t listening.
‘Hey, Tim,’ he said. ‘This is a really old radio. These are the kind they used to communicate on in the war. Where did you get it?’
‘Secret,’ said Tim. ‘Can’t say.’
‘Well,’ he said, glancing up at Tim and then over at Ant’s delighted face. ‘I think you stumbled across a winner, there kid. You get this thing fixed up Ant, and you could talk to people in other countries.’
The smile on Ant’s face made the whole day—messes and all—well worth the effort.