A/N: This was written for The National Talent Competition. The theme was, rather unfortunately for me, leadership. There was also a word limit of 1500 words.
Edit: and it somehow won. Write IT Senior division, the Industry Award. So now it's cleared and I can post it. Took a few months. :)
A crowd had gathered. Boys, girls…all wearing the same bland grey uniform: pants and a blazer for the boys while the girls adorned the customary knee-height skirt and a jumper. Shoes were all black. Most were lace-ups; customary school shoes. Some of the girls wore ones with buckles, but we guys barely glanced at their feet when there were better things to be looking at. Sometimes I just didn't get the effort they put into subtleties, as it only got their socks dirtier. They certainly didn't seem bothered by their appearance right now; their socks were slowly gaining the colour of the mud we all stood on, and they were all engrossed in the fight issuing before them.
So was I, but I had torn myself away to stare at the crowd that stood between me and them. Truth be told, I couldn't get a good look at the brawl itself, but I could certainly hear enough to infer one was taking place. Particularly, the shout of: 'Fight! Fight! Fight!' was echoing through the oval. Everyone was watching; either they were like me, trying to get a good view around the crowd, or they were at the forefront like a spectator enjoying a good show…or cringing back.
A girl in front of me backed away and I snuck into the empty spot she left behind…and spotted blood.
Wasn't anybody going to do something? Anything?
There was quite a large group of students watching. Everyone who'd been playing footy that recess, or watching the game…or their players. I hadn't seen the blood before, but couldn't they, especially those in front of me, see it?
You'd think I'd be used to blood; football tended to be quite a violent sport on occasion, particularly when one threw a handful of restless teens into the mix. Truthfully, I'm no haemophobe. But playing sport was one thing. Fighting was another thing entirely.
Then someone shifted in front of me and I got a better look at the situation.
That was no fight. Beating might be a better word to describe it, because there was no plausible way that little shrimp with glasses could defend himself from a much larger assailant…particularly since he could barely string three words together in class if it wasn't the teacher asking him a question and he tripped on every upturned carpet corner. Everyone knew him as a mousy boy; he even somewhat resembled one, all hunched over with a single leg extended like a tail. It wasn't a particularly pitying sight; it wasn't a girl crumbled with tears running down her cheeks onto a dress with numerous holes in it. What made it worse was the glasses were still whole. They made him look like a know-it-all.
It wasn't pitiful, but it was still pathetic.
Mind you, I'm no bully. Neither are the majority of the students standing around. And it would end soon, I realised, figuring why no-one had stepped forward. There was a ten dollar note buried under the smaller form. That guy, I recognised him from footy, would take his prize and leave the other with some bloodied cuts and bruises and some broken pride.
He must have had pride after all, to be getting beat like he was. Because only people who said "no" to Gregory got beat so no-one dared. It was just an unwritten rule. Everyone had the sense to not interfere, even if I could see a few, a mix of girls and boys, shifting anxiously. No-one ran for a teacher; the snitchers got the worst of it.
And you know what? Kick after kick – I could see clearly now – and the kid didn't budge. He was in my little sister's class. She was always going on about how smart the guy was, but how shy.
You know, those glasses may have done it in for me, but the second they went flying off, I realised he didn't look shy at all. He had his property, his lunch money, and he wasn't going to just give in. Even if it would have saved him the beating he had gotten. I'd be surprised if he could have managed to walk home on his own.
I felt Chrissy's eyes on me. They were a mix of glaring and pleading I noted, without even having to turn around. I'd spent enough time staring at her eyes to know their moods. I was on the footy team too. I bore the same marks of socks muddied almost to the knee caps, shoes coated in dry mud and streaks further on my face. That was something that separated us from the spectators. They didn't have mud on their faces. I'd have liked to think that Chrissy came to those scrimmage matches to look at me…but she didn't think very much of me to be honest. She didn't think very much of any guy…but even she didn't have the balls to stare down Gregory. He wasn't above hitting girls, and it was a damn sight harder to stare down a guy when they can flatten you into a pancake.
I didn't bother thinking why she had been staring at me in particular. I did later though, and came up with two hypotheses. Either she had been interested in me and didn't want to admit it, or she had been interested in finding out why I had been so obsessed with her. I'd even given her roses for Valentine's Day. She had sniffed at them. At least she didn't throw them in the bin. Vess did with the white bouquet Carl had given her. Come to think of it, I didn't see her that day on the footy field. She was probably in the library.
Both the glare and the plead were pretty obvious though. She was half daring, half begging, me to put an end to the beat-up.
I weighed the pros and cons for about two seconds, but the truth is I was so in love with her at that time that I went ahead and…you guessed it, stood right between the brave shrimp (whose name I still haven't asked my sister for) and Gregory.
The next second, I was stumbling back, clutching my nose.
That was it, I figured. I've been an idiot for love, losing all rationale. I was going to get beaten to a pulp (because no-body could beat Gregory when it came to fists), and if I was unlucky…I'd probably get driven out of the district.
But you know what? That second anticipated punch which should have shattered my nose never came? Blood ran down one nostril as I stared at a boy I didn't even recognise at my right side, glaring. Then I turned my head, and suddenly, the crowd had rearranged themselves, standing as a barrier between the fight (with a few scattered people elsewhere). Gregory stared in shock; he couldn't well beat up three quarters of the year level.
There was a brief stand-off. I saw Gregory before me, backing away; the two of us were separated by at least three rows, the first linking arms. The rest of my team I realised. I guess it payed to captain after all. And where was Gregory's squad, consisting of boys two years older and a lot bulkier? No idea. I seriously doubted they were with Vess in the library. I saw the brave shrimp picking himself up behind us and joining the stand as a couple of girls tried unsuccessfully to help him up. I saw Chrissy, standing close enough that I could have reached out and grabbed her hand…if it wasn't for the people between us. I couldn't catch her eye though; I didn't try.
And then a teacher showed up, blowing his whistle. It only took one look at the situation before Gregory was dragged away. And you know what? The blubbery idiot started wailing. Like a baby. Apparently the stand-off had been too much for him.
Seriously, couldn't somebody else have been the idiot? But it had been surprising how they had all fallen in behind me when I had stepped forward. Admittedly, my intentions hadn't been pure, and as I met Chrissy's eyes I knew she knew it too.
'Fools make the best leaders,' she said. Apparently, that was her idea of gratitude...or acceptance.
What she meant, I found out later on, was that smart guys tend to get too big for their boots. You can't stop them; they get power-hungry, and they've got the brains to manage it too. Sure, Chrissy had indirectly called me dumb, but hey! She just complimented me.
"Wise people learn when they can; fools learn when they must." The Duke of Wellington said that. I guess fools are doomed to never get too big of an ego. Being a footy jock, that could only mean a personality improvement…and a bruised nose.
Heh, some leadership badge. But someone had to wear it.
'Why you?' Mum asked. She worried. She always did.