I was a slight kid, some say cheeky, but not one of the muscular kids. There was one kid, a couple of years up from me, called Maurice. He terrified me, and my mates. He had muscles, and he and his muscly gang terrorised us. We’d be in the library and he’d sidle over and say “Fuck you, Swats,” and throw our books in the bin. Or in the computer room and say “Fuck you nerds,” and steal our laptops. One time we were doing a science project on climate change and he came over and said “Fuck you, hoaxers!” and tore up everything we’d made.
And here he was now, in the queue of people at the launch of my book New Ideas for a Changing Climate. I recognise the same square head, the same spiky hair. Except it’s all even bigger. And he has this gorgeous girl next to him.
I’m sweating as I sign the books, struggling to be nice to customers. I can hardly hold my pen, let alone smile. It’s awful how these fears stick.
And now he’s there. I look up, apologetically, ready for a fist to fall. He says,
“So it is you. I wondered.”
“Hello, Maurice is it?” I try to sound nonchalant.
“Course it bloody is.” He holds out his hand. I shake it. Or rather it shakes me.
“And look at you, you’ve written a book,” he says.
“Yes,” I say, “on climate change,” and cast a less than subtle eye around for security.
“Biggest issue we face as a society,” he says.
I look up at him aghast.
“Some might say it’s too late,” he’s saying, “but we owe it to the future to try.”
“Wow,” I say, artlessly. He looks at me and grins.
“I was a shit to you, wasn’t I? At school. Be honest.”
“You were.” I say.
“Sorry,” he says. “Mind you, it didn’t help you calling me Maurice the Wog.”
“Remember Charlie Tan, Chinky Charlie Chan?”
“I said that?” I asked, stunned.
“And more. You were a sharp little bugger. I remember once, you and your swat mates had a project on the changing weather. I thought it was all a hoax, so I smashed it. But I remember you standing your ground, and yelling ‘no it’s real!’ as we obliterated your project. I remembered that. I remembered your courage. That made me listen and want to learn.”
“Sorry for calling you those things,” I say. “I had no idea.”
“No worries. We all evolve.” He reaches into his wallet. “Here’s my card. Give me a call and we can hatch a plan or two. And I’ll grab a couple of copies of your book too.”
I sign two copies with a confident flourish and hand them to him.
“Thanks,” I say.
“No, thank you,” he says, and adds, winking, “I was chatting to this lady here in the queue. She’s a real fan. I think you should take her card too.”