Illustrated by Daniele Murtas
Silence fell like a veil of intrigue across the playing field that half the school was standing on as the bully, Nat Santage, and the powerful Dave Biedel were seen striding down a bank that bordered the field, Biedel’s brooding, black eyes facing a target whose mouth opened in shocked expectation, ethics irrelevant against our loves and desires, the fist masterful in an order based on power and beauty.
Biedel swung fists, time crushed by combat’s timeless spell, the fallen victim’s face smeared with blood. We didn’t know why Dave had hit him; maybe there was a “justification.” Even if there wasn’t, so what? Power hit what it detested. That was reality. The only rights we considered were hooks and straights.
Santage bent over the victim and cackled, Nat’s loud, hollow guffaws suiting the cruel grimace that covered Nat’s face that sneered down at the victim’s bruised eyes. Nat adored inflicting humiliation. That wasn’t evil. The powerful harassed the weak and that was that.
Nat then picked on me. I’d given him a false impression of gentleness. Some people are victims because power hates natural victims. He invited me to try and hit him. He raised his fists. Kids crowded around, the veil falling again.
Nat swung a few at my body that I blocked easily. As I wasn’t going to hit back, unless absolutely necessary, he said: “Down on your knees and beg for mercy.” I knelt down, turning my back on him, and said: “Where’s he gone?” The crowd laughed. Nat wasn’t amused. After I rose, he swung a few more at my body that I blocked again.
A bell then ended lunchtime. Not questioning anything also included automatically following routine. We dispersed as if nothing had happened. But something was going to happen: My junior football team was playing Nat’s the following Saturday — the first time that that was going to happen. Anyone who had seen me play knew about my wildness. I couldn’t wait for the game. Nat was “dead.”
Early in the game (Australian Rules football), Nat and I were running towards each other, the ball on the ground between us. I ignored the ball, fired up by the freedom inherent in revenge. Fury seared in my eyes. Fear glinted in Nat’s. Football enables the settling of scores, this sanctioned by a society not as civilised as it wished to believe.
The first thing that hit the ground after I smashed Nat’s face was his head. He managed to rise from that. I said: “You fucking arsehole. You touch the ball again, you fucking prick, and I’ll fucking kick your fucking head in, you absolute cunt…..”
His fear was palpable. After that, he adored me, often demonstrating a charming curiosity for my well being. His attitude became paternal. I had become a cherished possession. He had discovered that my limits weren’t gentile. Our equal power — my unpredictability and his self-confidence — created a harmonious balance between us that was as natural as the sky.
Even Dave Biedel said to me: “You’ve got guts, kid.”
There was no higher compliment than that.