Monday 28 June 2021

'Recognising might on a plastic step' by R.J. Kinnarney


They all do it – unthinking, hand up, pat my knee and move on. Those tall boys. I’m not sure how they grow them so tall these days. Folk used to say that you needed to go into the street and stand in some horse manure if you wanted to grow. There’s no horse manure in the streets now – it’s all fast cars and exhaust fumes.

The staircase is filled with their noise, clattering, chatting, yelling – each one shouting over the next, their volume inversely proportional to their confidence. Insecurity hidden under a pile of sports caps and badges.

This one, though, he’s different. He has barely grown since the Lower Fourth. Always last to be picked for teams, always trailing behind. A tiny turtle of a boy, his rucksack of books providing shelter and home. We’ve sat in companionable silence for hours – sometimes he’d break it, whisper his concerns – and I’d listen, giving him room to speak, letting him fill the vast hallway.

Out of the rucksack shell, he pulls his yellow folding step – it goes everywhere with him, lifts him to the highest stack in the library, helps him drag his heavy winter coat from its peg, gives him a better view from the stands. He sets the step in front of me and climbs onto it. He touches my left knee, shiny and bright from the thousands of hands which have grazed it over the years. It’s become a piece of folklore. Patting the founder’s knee is supposed to bring them luck on their journey out of boyhood. This boy, though, holds my knee, all the while looking deep into my bronze eyes. This boy needs no luck, he needs no fake badges of confidence.

He towers above them all.

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