On my way home from school:A short story by Éabha Ní Fhearaíl

Fighting Words 2019: Éabha Ní Fhearaíl is 14 and a student at Scoil Chaitríóna, Drumcondra, Dublin 9

My eyes were drawn backwards to my noisy, chaotic classmates, but I followed him out the gates and up the road. Photograph: Getty Images

My eyes were drawn backwards to my noisy, chaotic classmates, but I followed him out the gates and up the road. Photograph: Getty Images

 

I had hardly had time to pack my bag when he grabbed my hand and pulled me out the door.

“He’s in a hurry, Miss, we have to go,” he said in the teacher’s direction, pronouncing each word perfectly carefully.

I was trying to keep my books in my bag, but they were spilling out the sides. He marched on, ignoring me or maybe not even seeing. He had to go and he wanted me to go, quickly.

The other children were spilling out now, building up into a crowd inside the door and pouring out into the weak sun of an autumn day. Some grabbed friends by the hand, others ran to hug their parents. Someone found a football, the younger ones swung on the rails and scuffed their heels on the long-suffering grass.

My eyes were drawn backwards to my noisy, chaotic classmates, but I followed him out the gates and up the road. The familiar laneway we turned into was messy and dirty, and I had learned a few new words from the writing spray-painted on the walls. He pulled me along, not even seeming to notice that we splashed through a puddle, covering our grey trouser legs in spots of muddy water.

He dragged me around the sharp corner, and I flinched. Cars sped past from both directions, engines grumbling and tyres splashing and air whistling. He crossed the road, and I followed, trying to dart neatly around the speeding cars as he did, but only ending up bouncing around from foot to foot.

I ran to keep up with him as he ran forward. It wasn’t quite an archway, but the trees on either side had high branches that met over our heads as we sprinted through. The near half of the estate was newly built and smelled of wet cement still. The houses were immaculately identical.

We ran past the rows of grey walls and wooden doors with polished handles, the lawns like green blankets, the newly painted rails. I was out of breath by then, from running and with nerves, and kind of stopped noticing anything excapt the tread of my feet and my breathing – in for three steps, out for three steps. And the house that was getting closer with every move I made.

Our destination was at the edge of the estate, beside a painted board fence and a tangle of thorns and gorse that they hadn’t chopped and cemented over yet.

The house was like the others. He had the keys and he unlocked the door. Not a sound in the hallway, not a sound from the kitchen, not a sound from upstairs. We ran upstairs. We might even have left the door open. Our feet hardly made a sound on the carpet. We stopped outside the door.

He edged it open and we went in. The curtains hadn’t been opened and the covers on the bed were tangles in a heap.

My insides flipped over, until I saw the figure lying on the bed.

I could only stand in the corner as he smoothed out the blankets and pulled the curtains open. Sunlight lit up every unwelcoming corner of the room. The figure on the bed looked up at me, and my eyes stung as she smiled weakly.

The light had fallen on a picture on the bedside tables. The glass was dusty but I could still see the faces smiling out of it. Me, my brother and our mother in between us, her mouth open in a shout of laughter. If I looked closely, I could see, in the corner, a smiling face that we had scratched on a tree behind us.

This story took shape at one of the workshops run by Fighting Words, which was founded by Roddy Doyle and Seán Love in 2009 to nurture young writers around Ireland. It is now in Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Mayo, Wicklow, Galway, Donegal, Kerry, Wexford and Kildare