The evening had started with the calls of the neighbourhood magpies at sunset. They were the first to herald the end of the daylight. Then came the deafening cries of the lorikeets as they returned to their chosen gum. Were they sharing their day or fighting over their beds? Probably the latter.
Humans followed the birds. Children yelped and screeched at one another as they came home from after-school care. Before long, they would be shooed inside by their mother’s angry voices. The sound scape then changed to the banging of pots and pans. It reached a crescendo with the sizzling sound of food searing, interlaced with beeps and alarms from various timers and ovens. The cacophony of frantic cooking sounds would soon be replaced by the electrical hums and thumps of television and music vibrating through the walls. These energies would fizzle out by ten o’clock. For the first time, the quiet of the night could be heard.
Tim had been lying on his bed and listening to these routine sounds through the thin walls of his room. He had waited patiently for them to retreat. It was getting there. He breathed a sigh of relief. A sharp crescent moon now hung silently against a black sky.
“Maybe I’ll wait an extra hour,” Tim thought to himself. It was a Thursday night. People could still be coming home from restaurants or whatever events they had been out for. It would not be pleasant to run into them. He would not want to have to explain why he was out so late; why he dropped out of school; why he had no friends and why his shitty father hit him.
An hour past and it was now midnight. He cocked his head to see if he could hear anything. It was quiet. The coast was clear. He stood up and walked to check himself in the mirror. He saw a tall and lanky figure in a black t-shirt with a pair of black jeans. His white skinny forearm was tattooed with a popular manga character named Zoro from ’One Piece’. Zoro was a superb swordsman with a poor sense of direction. Tim loved his strength, skills and loyalty to his captain. He also loved his goofiness in getting lost all the time which made him laugh.
He stopped for a second to ponder if his mother would freak out if she knew that he had a tattoo. He smiled as he imagined her fussing over him over his antics. Even a reprimand would be something. It would mean that somebody noticed his existence.
All Tim needed was his black cap. It would complete his outfit. He lifted it from the pile of clothes sitting on the floor and pulled it tight over his head. He never went anywhere without his cap. He pulled the cap low so that his eyes could just see out. It was part of his identity. He was ready to leave his room. He grabbed his skateboard from behind the door and quietly opened his bedroom door.
The house was quiet. He walked past his father’s bedroom door and stopped briefly to listen out for his snores. There it was, the ‘swine snorts’. His father was sound asleep. Lying next to him was his new girlfriend Mimi. Tim shuddered at the image of his father’s wrinkled face with his mouth wide opened and dribbling.
Tim felt his side where several ribs were broken from the last altercation with his father. The incident took place a few weeks ago. His father had caught him stealing money from his briefcase, and came at him so quickly that he had no time to react. Tim had inherited his mother’s slim form. He had taken the blows helplessly and was immediately doubled over with searing pain down his side. It wasn’t much of a contest. Tim hated himself for not being able to defend himself. He was too careless. He should not have taken his eyes off him.
Tim was shocked at how hard his father laid into him for just a hundred bucks. He needed it to pay for the weeds that he knew would make him feel better. It would help him momentarily forget how sad he felt for himself.
It was a relief when Tim finally stepped outside the house. Cool air greeted him like an old friend. He smiled. He looked to his left and then his right before deciding which path to take. He would travel to his right today.
He carried his skateboard underneath his arm and walked towards the main road. When he got there, all the shops were closed just as he liked them. Cars sped by without realising that he existed. He liked that too. Black on black meant he was invisible, or close to invisible anyway.
Tim put his skateboard on the ground and started to ride. He wanted to warm up as he contemplated which manoeuvres would he practice first. He decided to start with the “Ollie”.
The “Ollie” was a basic skateboard move, a simple jump. It involved launching the skateboard into the air and then come back down with both feet still on the board. It was the first jump move for all skateboarders.
Tim recalled the instructions in his head. He placed his left foot in the middle of the board and his right foot at the tail of the skateboard. With a slight shift of his weight onto his left foot, he rocked his body back to his right and stomped on the tail of the board. The board responded by jumping up and he quickly slid his left foot to the front of the board. He leaned forward for the way down but he was too far back and he missed the landing. He bounced a few times on the ground to regain his balance.
He laughed at himself and tried again happily. If he had fallen flat on his face, he wouldn’t have cared. There was no one around. He was all alone. He could be himself. He tried a few more times until he could land consistently. Then he tried the next move.
He missed that one and looked around to check that he was still alone. Relieved that he was, he decided to move to a different spot. He skated down the road with his arms opened. His held his chest out and head high. It was a posture that no one had ever seen him make. It was a different Tim. A far cry from the everyday Tim that had his head down, back hunched and hands in his jeans pocket. A smile emerged on his face. This was a Tim that felt good.
Tim pushed himself hard from the ground and he sped along the footpath. Before he knew it, he had skated to the next suburb. He slowed down to survey the area. He had been here many times before during the day. At night, the place took on a different personality. The air of superiority from the boutique had disappeared. The mannequins were friendly. They smiled at him and he waved back.
The kitchen store next door looked warm and inviting. There were no shoppers that stared at him and then quickly looked away. He could imagine people preparing food in there and beautiful meals coming out of the pans and ovens. He pictured his favourite dish being made.
He remembered watching his mother take the steaming casserole filled with spaghetti and meat balls out of the oven. She would be careful not to burn her hands by placing thick towels on both handles. She also had a habit of throwing a smile and winking at Tim before she took his favourite dish out. Those were the happy days before her nervous breakdown, before her addiction to alcohol, and before her disappearance.
The thought of food made his mouth salivate. He placed his hand in his back pocket and pulled out a Snickers bar. He hadn’t eaten since his lunch of fish and chips many hours ago. He tore off the packaging with ease and sunk his teeth into the chocolate and peanut layers. Saliva rushed into mouth so much so that he had to suck them back in before they dribbled down the side of his mouth.
Endorphin flooded his brain and he felt euphoric. The pleasure was intense. He closed his eyes to steady himself before taking another bite. He chewed and swallowed, chewed and swallowed. It was all he could do. The chocolate bar was finished too quickly. He swiped his tongue against the back of his teeth and sucked hard to get any remaining bits that might have gotten stuck amongst the crevices.
It was time to leave. He didn’t feel like practicing tricks anymore. The high that he felt a moment ago dissipated quickly and left him in a pang of emptiness. He didn’t want to be still and started to skate back the way he came. He thought about the kids at school and that thought made him angry. He sped up to escape those unpleasant memories of being called looked down at.
He felt better once sweat started pouring down his face and back. The exertion has lifted the anger in him. He huffed and puffed and felt like himself again. He stopped and sat on a bench at the bus stop. He closed his eyes to enjoy the tranquillity of the moment.
He looked up at the night sky and saw the crescent moon smiling down at him. He smiled back. He was nearly home. This was at the last corner before he had to leave the main road to head down the residential street. He picked up his skateboard to walk the rest of the way. The last thing he wanted was a resident calling the police about a teenager riding his skateboard waking up the entire neighbourhood. One more incident with his father could render him homeless.
‘GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE!!’ was what his father yelled as Tim laid curled up in a foetal position grasping for air after the punch to his ribs. ‘
‘Jesus! Where do you suppose I can go to live?’
‘I don’t care! You can fucking join your mother in hell as far as I’m concerned!’
Hell? Tim felt the hair on his neck stood on end when his father said that word. He wondered if his mother was still alive?
Tim looked at his watch. He had been out for a couple of hours and his house, or rather, his father’s house, stood in front of him. He thought about his sleeping father inside and the way his father looked at him with contempt when their eyes would meet. A wave of shame and disgust filled his chest and neck. He felt like a house rat. Something to be hated.
Tim pushed the key into the door lock and then paused halfway. He stayed there for a minute as he battled with himself inside on what to do next. His hand holding the key started to shake. He was getting closer to making his decision.
His breath quickened as he pulled his key back out of the lock. He pushed the key back into his jeans pocket, stepped back and took one long look at the house.
He turned his back at the house and started to walk back towards the main street. His walked with a sense of urgency. His stride was wide and he lifted his skateboard over his shoulder. His brain was full of ideas.
Tim knew where he needed to go. He recalled one afternoon a few years ago when Uncle Steve, Mum’s brother, turned up in their house with rage in his eyes. He had yelled at his father and then left in a huff kicking the door on his way out. His father had told Tim that his uncle was barking mad and warned Tim to stay away from this lunatic. He told Tim that Steve had turned his mother against them. He had poisoned her mind and was responsible for her going mad and leaving them. Tim had believed his Dad. That was then.
His body was now flushed with adrenalin. There was a new awareness in his being. In the midst of his intense angst and fear at the front door, something snapped. It was as if an invisible veil had been lifted from his head. It dawned on him that he had been deceived and he had now a purpose in life.
Tim walked back to the main street and hedged a plan in his head. He would get to the station and catch the first train to New Castle where Uncle Steve lived. His uncle was a plumber. Somebody in the area would know him and he should be able to find him. From there, he would find his mother and then make a life for himself. His uncle might even take him on as an apprentice. He fished out his wallet from his pocket. There was enough change for a train ticket but not much more.
Tim knew that his plan wasn’t much of a plan but what was there to lose? His life? Well, somebody could have it. It was the life for a rat. He looked up once more to the night sky. The present moon was still smiling at him. It was a sign. Tim knew he would make it.