Barefoot and Beaten…

A little tale not meant to garner sympathy…just another memory…  It’s quite amusing looking back, I’m sure I deserved it.

Stepping into my shower recently, feeling a rain of comforting hot water running over me, and forcing out a huge sigh of, “that’s so nice…”, whispered not thought, I froze for a moment and drew breath as the water reached the inner thigh of my right leg.  Glancing down I noticed an angry-looking scratch but I’ve no idea how it got there.  The sting was familiar, although not as intense and while restricted to only one spot, nevertheless, it was a trigger enough to send me ‘way back when’ and recall sensations brought about by not nearly as satisfying a time as I felt in that shower…

Unwelcome and chilly Autumn breezes lapped litter and leaves in random, un-choreographed dances, and whilst the sun shone now and then, it wasn’t generous, it’s ability to warm as in summer, was failing.  My beautiful wheat fields, their golden hue gone, now darkened and ploughed into near-perfect lines of damp dirt, were no comfort, but if I looked hard enough I could reminisce and remember a Summer of t-shirts and shorts, hay-bales and soft landing spots for those of us who hurled themselves from a ‘lightning tree’ into a hay-filled ditch…  Gone for a season or two while nature withdrew such pleasures and prepared the landscape for a winter break.  Gone were the heavy summer bursts of rain that were often a relief from long, stifling and over-humid nights, clearing the air and freshening up the days.  The rain that came was as random as the winds that blew intermittently and somewhat annoyingly.  It never soaked, it was never consistent enough; spits and spats of cold showers kept shrinking blades of grass and thinning hedgerows damp and woodland and country paths muddy.  Of course these conditions had their own attractions to the imaginations of children – camps would no longer be constructed in the open but more so under heavy trees and other sheltered spots.  There was almost nothing more satisfying than plodding about in Wellington boots, collecting as much dirt as possible.  A dirty time of year with oodles of mud…

Your willingness to spend time playing out in Autumn and Winter would largely depend on your tolerance of cold weather – never the strongest or bravest when it came to the cold, my urge to play out and play through my imagined and dream-constructed worlds would outweigh goosebumps and stinging, cold fingers.  The slightly older children, or young adults if you prefer, were much more robust and, whilst they lacked imagination for childish games with the onset of puberty, and their thoughts turning anywhere but to innocent pursuits at times, they were nevertheless, out and about – and an interesting set of animals to observe…

Some older boys were milling around just at the top of the wheat field by the golf course adjacent to home, and I happened upon them as I wandered among the woodland surrounding the course. I didn’t know them and they certainly weren’t locals but I latched onto them and they seemed quite pleased to see me – they had about five years on me so I looked on them as the ‘big lads’.  I never imagined I’d be a hindrance and on this particular day, I rode pillion on the bicycle of one of the crew for at least two or three miles into the countryside, unwittingly risking life and limb over pot-holed old tracks and pathways.  I felt a million miles from home, however, I still had a sense of direction and had a more than safe idea of where I was.

Nothing too exciting was to come of this; we all just wandered – they swore, chatted, climbed, rolled, smoked, wrestled one another…the usual daftness.  Time was getting on and I was cold and my feet in over-worn wellies were wet; I wanted to go home.  I could well have done with a pillion ride back but somehow I knew that I’d be walking.  Furthermore,  I knew that I’d be in a little hot water too as I’d been out of the house for hours and knew that mum would be fussing by now.  As it happens, the ‘big lads’, perhaps a little bored and tired themselves, decided they would head back to wherever they had sprung from.  And the entertainment factor that I’d offered had long since worn off…  Pretty soon I didn’t matter and the distance between myself and the rest of the pack was growing.  It wasn’t too long at all before I was shouting ill-tempered insults as they left me tired and dragging my cold wet legs.  In a fit of tired self-pity, cold and fear of being on my own in the middle of nowhere, I made the mistake of running and hurling a stone, which found its target on the back of the person I least liked among those not-so-bothered-about-me pubescent adolescents…

A pack of wolves or dogs will fight among themselves for food or for status, however, at some point, they would let go once a hierarchy or some rule of order was established.  My wolves failed to adopt that rule.  They all seemed to turn en-masse – after I’d hurled a few more tired and scornful insults – and bore down on me without mercy!  Once their superiority over me had been established, they didn’t let go.  I think a case of ‘monkey-see, monkey-do, the ‘pack’ were on me, feeding off one another’s excitement.  All of a sudden I was a game…

I was around eight year old and trying to fight off a bunch of blood-thirsty mid-teens wasn’t easy by any means, although I tried my utmost; I could kick out and snarl as good as any animal intent on self-preservation.  They were much bigger, older and heavier than me so it didn’t take much to pin me down or hurl me around; my burst of angry and fearful distemper peaked then drained, giving way to complete submissive lethargy.

The scratch in the shower reminded me of a thousand gauze-bush needles piercing my pale and sensitive skin, burning with every stab, and in places too intolerable to even imagine now – thinking back can easily cause a mexicanesque wave of shivers through my body and prompt me to nip my arms and legs together!  Not only the stings from the bush but that those young adults, loosely speaking, systematically stripped me completely naked, even taking my boots and socks and by the arms and legs swung me once, swung me twice….amidst shouts or “kick him in the balls!” swung me more only to release me on a flight that would see me land, scratching, piercing and tearing my way down through the thick body of the bush and coming to rest in agony!  They left me there…  I sobbed, naked, freezing cold and agonisingly desperate to get out of the bush, however, with each movement came an ensemble of further burning needles!

Once out, I shivered shivers like I’ve never felt!  My whole body trembled violently and my extremities were painfully numbing…my teeth grinding to stop the chattering!  Covered in soaking wet mud, red-raw, bleeding scratches and cuts, I set about trying to find my clothes; I found all but my socks and Wellington boots.  The walk home was a struggle, the explanation as to what happened to me, along with the fact that I was barefoot, was even more of a struggle…  The next couple of days, cleaned up, sympathised with and a little molly coddled were a little hazy, and a fever and fainting nausea (perhaps I’d swallowed some of the dirt my ‘friends’ were forcing in my mouth), fatigue-enforced confinement to bed was the only sensible and welcome prescription – to heal, and to forget.

I never saw my ‘friends’ again…

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About Robert

A forty-something Celestial Travel Agent. Walked many paths; some good, lots bad. Meandering through the past, plodding in the present, crawling toward the future.
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