Prakash scuffs his white and blue striped Adidas against the gravel path. Self-own, he’ll have to wear them like that until he saves up again. But the noise is smoothing over the grinding of his jaw. No-one listens.
There’s a man standing on his favourite bench, the one where you can see most of the lake. He’s got a buzzcut, smooth shiny red cheeks, a big straggly beard. He’d be another hipster-type, if his nose wasn’t wonky, and he wasn’t wearing fraying thick wool gloves in the sharp March sunshine. He’s waving a stick with a padded handle, like he’s a scarecrow. Prakash shuffles away, another fuckwit ruining his plans. The man clambers off the bench and trails behind him. Prakash goes as fast as his dodgy knee lets him.
“School ain’t that bad you know, even if you think they’re fuckwits now.”
Prakash slows, the echo of his thoughts louder in the man’s hoarse rumble. But he’ll just be another fake, who thinks he knows everything. The man’s footsteps are uneven, like he’s mocking Prakash’s awkwardness – he turns to face him, to tell him to bugger off, to make someone listen. The weirdo’s pulling off one of those ratty gloves, his knuckles are thick and twisted, unreal like red knotted ropes.
“In prison, you have to fight for everything. Every day. You can’t let them see what’s important to you, or they’ll piss on it. And they slam the door on you every night.”
Prakash watches those knots bubble like they’ll explode. His fingers are pale, bloodless.
“You keep in school, you’ve got a chance. It opens stuff up for you. Someday, someone might offer a golden opportunity, no strings attached. You don’t listen to them, right?”
Prakash’s ears heat, thinking of that Sean in Year 12, who said he had some stuff that sold so fast you couldn’t keep it in your pocket. A way to get some respect back, he’d thought, now he wouldn’t play football again.
The man inches the glove back on, his stick hits a bench with a clang that rings over the whole of Kelsey park. The man mounts on his perch, arms spread, head up. Prakash turns, to walk down the path that leads to the Harris Academy, the man shouting after him one last warning.
“I don’t need to tell you the best thing about the park, do I?”
Anita Goveas is British-Asian, based in London, and fueled by strong coffee and paneer jalfrezi. She was first published in the 2016 London Short Story Prize anthology, most recently in OkayDonkey, X-Ray lit and New Mag. She’s on the editorial team at Flashback Fiction, an editor at Mythic Picnic’s Twitter zine, and tweets erratically @coffeeandpaneer. Links to her stories can be found at https://coffeeandpaneer.wordpress.com.