The Walk Home

This is a short story about bullying, that was swirling through my brain last night while I was sleeping.
Despite his better judgement, Paulie opted to take the shortcut home through the town’s park. It would have taken longer to circumvent the park, and he was tired. It had been a long day at work and he just wanted to get home to his bed.
 
He could see the lights above the gates at the far end of the park. He was nearly there now. He was in the process of berating the whiny voice in the back of his mind that had insisted he should avoid the park when a shadow stepped out into the pathway. It was quickly followed by others.
 
“You must be lost!” declared the first shadow, swaggering forward to where Paulie had stopped.
 
Pushing away his concerns, Paulie started walking again, intending to pass the youths by, “No, I’m fine, thanks. I live just over that hill there, in Sunnydale Street.”
 
The leader of the group stopped Paulie from going any farther by placing a firm hand on his chest. “No, you’re lost, cos this ‘ere’s our turf! You don’t belong ‘ere.”
 
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t know that. I meant no disrespect. Look, I’ll go around next time, if you’d like.”
 
“I’m afraid it ain’t that easy. You see, there’s a toll to pay for trespassing,” informed the thug.
 
“How much?” Paulie asked nervously.
 
“How much you got?”
 
“Hand over ya wallet,” added another of the youths, with a cocky confidence in his voice. By now, Paulie was surrounded. He didn’t know how many of them there were, but there was certainly enough, and they were mainly bigger than he was.
 
“Listen lads, I don’t want any trouble …”
 
“Then pay up!” quipped another of the youths, “Or else…”
 
Paulie didn’t need to ask what the or else was. He could figure that one out for himself.
 
The whiny voice in his head that had warned him to go around the park was already reaching into his jacket for his wallet. There was most of his week’s wages inside. He’d only been paid yesterday. He’d already given his Ma the week’s housekeeping, and he’d paid for his bus pass to work, so the rest, what little there was, was his to spend. He’d need a few quid for lunches, and he’d planned to take his girlfriend to the cinema on Saturday, but that looked like a lost cause now. Still, it was better to cancel the date than pay the cost of dental treatment after having his teeth kicked in.
 
There was another part of Paulie’s brain, however; a part that resisted. Paulie wasn’t big, or particularly strong, or athletically orientated, and he had suffered many such bullies during his short life. He’d learned to hate bullies and all that they stood for.
 
They say that you should not hold on to your hate. You should build a bridge and get over it. Holding on to such emotions was corrosive. Paulie understood this, but it was easier said than done. He didn’t go to bed each night and plot for revenge over the many bullies he had the misfortune to cross over the years, but somewhere, deep inside, he could remember each and every one of them. He knew their faces. He could even recite most of their names, should he need to. Mentally, they were carved into the bark of an oak tree in a small dark area in the back of his brain; a place called Hate.
 
Being a bright and positive looking lad, he didn’t dwell on this place often, but there was no denying its existence. Looking around at the spotty faces of the youths before him, he mentally added their faces to his list.
 
“Listen, I don’t want any trouble, lads.” he pleaded. “Just let me go home … please. I’ve had a shitty day.”
 
“Awww, did ya ‘ere that! He’s had a shitty day,” the group’s jester echoed. He was a smaller youth and he hung back slightly from the others, just in case punches started to swing. He’d wait until the job was nearly over, and then step forward to get a few digs in too. “Let’s do ‘im in!”
 
“Shut da fuck up, Sparky! No one asked your opinion,” barked the leader of the gang. Turning to Paulie, he said in a softer voice, “Just hand it over. You don’t want to do anything stupid.”
 
The whiny voice in Paulie’s head agreed wholeheartedly, and was already reaching for the wallet.
 
It was in Paulie’s hand now, inches away from the leader’s bigger mitt. “Here, this is all I’ve got,” Paulie heard himself mumble.
 
Their hands met, with Paulie’s tiny leather wallet between them.
 
It had been a Christmas present from his mum, “You’ll need a proper wallet now,” she had said. “Now that you’ve got yourself a job and are earning your own way in the world. You’ve become a man, and a man needs a proper wallet.”
 
The other voice in Paulie’s head wasn’t saying anything. It knew that this wasn’t the time for words. There was no point in arguing with the whiny voice, but Paulie burned with righteous indignation.
 
This wasn’t fair.
 
Paulie didn’t think about what he did next, he just did it. He was even a little surprised himself when he pulled the leader towards himself and rammed his knee into the other youth’s crotch.
 
Everyone stopped dead in surprise, even Paulie, but thankfully he was the first to recover. Yanking back his wallet, he pushed past the youths, and started to run for the lights at the end of the park.
 
Paulie might not have been what you call athletic, but years of being bullied had taught him how to run. He could run like the wind when the need arose, and this was one of those times. Adrenaline pumped through his system, and he ran as if his life depended on it, which it probably did.
 
“Get dat fucker!” yelled someone behind him, which only added a renewed energy to Paulie’s flight. That Jamaican fella, Insane Bolt, would have been impressed of Paulie’s acceleration. His feet were hardly touching the ground as he passed under the gates and started up the hill, heading for home.
 
He could hear footsteps behind him and renewed his effort as the incline started to take the toll on his lungs. He was still running when he turned the corner into Sunnydale Street, and didn’t dare look back.
 
He slowed only slightly as he neared his front door, digging the keys out of his trouser pocket while doing a strange hopping run. Damn these new snug fitting jeans with their deep pockets.
 
It took him valuable seconds to slot the key into the door and turn the lock, but he needn’t have rushed. His pursuers had already given up the chase. Their lungs weren’t built for hill running.
 
Bursting into the sanctuary of his home, Paulie locked and bolted the door, while catching his breath.
 
“Is that you, dear?” asked his mum.
 
“Yeah, Ma,” he replied.
 
“Are you okay? You sound out of breath.”
 
“I’m fine. I just ran up the hill, that’s all.”
 
“What on earth did you do that for?”
 
“Ach, no reason,” Paulie lied, finally catching his breath. “I just thought it’d be fun.”
 
“Ya silly sausage! I’ve ya supper in the oven. I’m off to bed,G’night, dear.”
 
“Night, Ma,”

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