There was half an hour before the train left so our parents took us to the Wimpy over the road. While they got in the queue my brother and I found a table upstairs. Stephen started playing with the tomato-shaped ketchup bottle and it wasn’t long before he’d squirted sauce all over the table. He took a napkin and started wiping at the mess, spreading it further.
“Dirty Arab,” I grimaced.
It was how my friends and I insulted each other. John had started it and we followed whatever John did without thinking much about it. He wrote U2 on his schoolbag and within a week we’d all done the same. John had got the Arab thing from his dad who’d been in prison. There were no Arabs in our part of Avon.
Stephen looked up, eyes wide, shaking his head.
“What?” I sneered, staring at the streaks of red sauce.
“What you just said…”
I shrugged, not sure what he meant. He’d heard me say it plenty of times before without reacting. His eyes swivelled and he jerked his head.
“Over there,” he hissed.
I turned and saw them. Blood flared in my cheeks.
“I didn’t mean…”
How loud had I said it? They didn’t seem to have heard. Or were they just pretending not to hear?
“I didn’t mean them. I didn’t think…”
Stephen raised his eyebrows.
“Course not, stupid.”
I raised a fist.
I looked to my left. One of the men was glaring at me. He frowned and wagged a brown finger. I dropped my fist, dropped my gaze and stared at the smeared table-top, ears on fire. I could feel Stephen smiling and the world carrying on as though nothing had happened.
“Over here Mum,” Stephen piped in his bright, maddening voice.
By Matthew Roy Davey