I knew it was all about to kick off as soon as Greg turned up. Tom had been avoiding him for days but now, it seemed, he was cornered.
He’d been kicking a ball around on the hot, black tarmac with Pete while I watched from the climbing frame, and they didn’t see Greg stomping across the field until it was too late. From where I was sitting, high up, I could see for miles but I wasn’t concentrating. I’d wanted to play too but, back then, football was only for boys so I’d been sulking.
It hadn’t been too bad up in my eyrie once I got was over my initial annoyance. The day was hot and humid but, higher up, a cool breeze, filled with the stomach-rumbling scent of frying chips from the school kitchen, ruffled my hair. Stupid boys, who wanted to run about and get all sweaty anyway.
Abruptly the calm was shattered by a bellow. “Oi!” Greg had stopped at the edge of the grass and yelled, in his new man’s voice. “Come ‘ere freak so I can thump ya!” He was thirteen, a year older than Tom and Pete, and was feeling the full force of puberty. My stomach clenched with fear for my brother. I knew Greg had threatened to beat him up. I didn’t know why. I doubt even Greg knew why. It was just the way he was.
The air in the playground grew thick with barely contained aggression and, before I realised what I was doing I had slithered down the climbing frame, clumsily smacking my chin on one of the bars, tasting blood. I was scared of what Greg might do to my brother. Equally scared of what might happen if I lost my temper. My ears buzzed like they were full of bees and the blood in my mouth tasted metallic and warm.
“Push off, Greg.” I heard myself say in a small, but carrying, voice. The three boys turned to look at me. Typically both Tom and Pete had forgotten I was there.
“Push off yourself, little girl”. Greg growled, he’d never been very inventive.
I stared at him, willing him to back down. He stared at me, and his hands began to curl into fists. I shook my head but the buzzing wouldn’t stop.
“Make me.” I said.
Tom looked at me and there was warning in his eyes.
But it was already too late. The buzzing increased and the wind sighed and drew a deep breath. Dark clouds scurried across the sky and blocked out the sun. Greg was decent enough to look unsettled but then, with a huge roar, he charged across the playground toward me. He really shouldn’t have done that but Greg hadn’t been blessed with a great deal of good sense.
I don’t know what happened next. I never remember. When I opened my eyes I was lying on my back and the criss-cross shadows of the climbing frame bisected my face. Two boys were looking down at me, silhouetted against the brightness of the sky.
“Has he gone?” I asked.
They nodded in unison.
Later the police put yellow tape around the whole playground so I couldn’t go climbing for a while. People began speaking in whispers and when Greg’s name was mentioned they looked around, furtively, as if he might suddenly jump out on them. I didn’t say much at all. They asked me the same questions they had asked the boys but I couldn’t answer them. I’d been far away, trapped somewhere else, until she had let me out. That other girl. The one who kept the storm in her head.