Walk Home Under Menace


David Barnett

1969 and 1997

Joy bubbled within him. Top in mathematics and physics! John could hardly contain himself.

The tall building of the new school towered over the flood departing schoolboys, weary and eager for their homes. It would be easy to lose sight of any one boy amongst them, but John emerged from the gate singularly and obviously happy.

By now a third former, John's path though the thinning crowd was sure, his feet taking him in the direction of home. Home was three-quarters of a mile away - a fifteen or twenty minute walk. The main mass of boys behind him, John looked up the short road on which the school was situated. How beautiful - the spring foliage on the trees made a fresh green canopy. What a pleasure to be alive!

John reached the end of the road and all other living souls seemed far behind. At that moment he might be alone in his beautiful world.

John was woken from his reverie by a sense of pursuit. He heard a set of steady thudding footsteps. He did not look back. Oh well, it's better not to walk alone with Springer and his gang terrorising everyone.

John began to whistle his current favourite tune. It was something from "Scheherezade" and he was good at it.

"Knock it off will you!" came a voice from behind. John stopped: Springer!

"Are you looking for for trouble mate?" was the voice of another - harsh and mocking.

"No?" replied John in an inquiring tone, trying to project an air of confidence.

"Can you lend me a tanner*?" asked Springer aggressively but not quite with menace.

"I haven't got a tanner," answered John courteously and blinking.

"Are you a Jew then?" This mockingly from the light-haired of Springer's two companions.


"Tight with money are you?" he continued, rubbing the fingers of his right hand together. He moved them right under John's nose so that he had to move back, faltering.

"Hey! Why are synagogues round?" asked the other Springer follower, a ginger-haired boy.

"They aren't," said John surprised.

"Oh yes they are! Because there aren't any corners for people to hide in when the collection goes round," responded Ginger with a mocking glee.

"Of course we all know the best way to kill a Jew," said Springer. "Throw a penny into the river!" And with this he dropped a penny onto the ground expecting John to pick it up.

John walked on but he was shadowed. He felt uneasy, even afraid. He had no companion for solace; he was alone with three thugs of fifth formers.

John felt a kick from behind.

"Are you or aren't you going to lend me sixpence?" said Springer menacingly.

"I-I haven't got it," came the frightened John.

"Oh go on," said Springer a little more kindly. "Then we'll leave you alone."

"Even if I had it, why should I give it to you?" defied John, trying not to show he was ready to spout tears but fighting them back.

Crack! A blow to John's head courtesy Springer.

"Don't get uppity with me my lad. Now hand over!"

Ginger kicked John again and the three watched with sadistic glee as his eyes visibly reddened.

John walked on in silent defiance, praying that someone would appear and come to his aid. The westering sun looked upon him with delight. John turned into a quiet street with the church visible at the far end. Only he noticed that they were observed by two chatting ladies.

John was in despair when no help came.

"Now hand over!" snarled Springer. John remained silent and received a blow to the back.

Number forty-two just around the corner. John viewed home with relief as he opened the gate, still shadowed by Springer and company. He walk with more confidence, now, down the garden path. Only a few more feet to the bell.

Crack! A punch across the jaw. Then a final farewell blow in the stomach winded John, and Springer and friends were gone.

John was alone now. He felt a strange sense of shame. No one must know about this! He remained sitting on the doorstep for a quarter of an hour to recover. Only then did John ring the doorbell.

*Tanner: a sixpenny piece.

© David M. Barnett


This page revised 6 July 1999