Michelle asked me out on the first day at school. Brown curly hair, big eyes and a natural tan. I didn’t know what to do. I told her I was a Muslim and we didn’t do that kind of thing. You know that whole - girl, sex, kissing, touching, my God look at those legs of yours Michelle, I want to say yes but I’ll say no because that’s pure and the way to Heaven I think, at least that’s what I’ve been told and I’m sticking to it in case people point at me in the street but you’ve got these full lips I can’t stop looking at so stop will you because I’m scared of what I feel and what I am, so no Michelle, no, no, stay away from me - kind of thing. I’m a
we don’t do that kind of thing.
The school was nicknamed Towneley Twats. Burnley had a few High Schools and when we weren’t fighting each other we’d fight the other schools which had nicknames too; Barden was Barden Bummers, Habergham was Have A Bum, Ivy Bank was Ivy Wank, Gawthorpe was called Gay-thorpe and St Theodores was St Queer Doors. The first year was uncomfortable because of the First Gulf War, white lads taunted Pakistanis with pictures of RAF Tornadoes in The Sun telling us they were bombing us; none of us were Iraqis but it made us take sides. As planes flew over Iraq so did fists and spit in classrooms. Pakistanis would then show off The Sun when John Peters and John Nichol were shot down over Iraq and paraded, beaten and bloodied, by the Iraqis.
None of this would matter if Gay-thorpe wanted a fight though. Brown and white would unite, the school bell would ring at half three and we’d race out of the gates. The Head Teacher, Mr Hinks, would befriend some and gain intelligence. He’d call the other Heads who would send their lads home other ways or at other times and we’d get to the killing ground and find no enemy. We’d agree that they’d been scared off, shake hands and walk home vowing to kick the crap out the queers the next time. On the way home if we saw posh cars we’d vandalise them, Mercedes were the favourite, we’d snap the badges off, cut away the circle and think they were ninja stars. Fighting at Towneley was dangerous, boys would throw ninja stars, golf balls and snowballs filled with stones, ears would cut and eyes would blacken.
Somedays no other school wanted a fight but the lads did and on those days I’d get good at running. I’d be chased by white kids shouting “Fucking Paki” and threatening to kick my head in. There was a buzz as I ran on adrenaline. I didn’t like the name calling and I didn’t want my head kicked in but I didn’t mind the running so much. I’d wish I had trainers on, school shoes were hard to run in, I’d start running with a pack of lads but we split up. I was never one of the fastest. Wiry Pakistanis who did well on Sports Day would race off to safety but I wasn’t the slowest either, not like the lumpy ones who ate too much and would probably get diabetes way before their time, they’d get picked off easily but only get a few cuffs around the head and some spit in the hair. The pack didn’t feel satisfied if they hadn’t earned their kill so they kept chasing. To be fat or fast was the key but I was a middle of the road kind of guy. I was good meat.
The first year was uncomfortable because of the First Gulf War, white lads taunted Pakistanis with pictures of RAF Tornadoes in The Sun telling us they were bombing us; none of us were Iraqis but it made us take sides.
I used tricks and hid in people’s back gardens but one day they caught me behind Michelle’s house. A back street. They’d come in from both ends, been smart and the law of the jungle meant they’d earned their kill. There was no escape, I couldn’t fly so I’d have to fight. They closed in and I accepted my fate. It was a boy I hadn’t fought before. It was a system to see who the “Cock of the School” was, who the hardest boy was. This was how the lads at Towneley busied themselves in between fighting other schools. It impressed the girls if you were Cock of your class or year or the school. Sometimes the girls came to watch, I didn’t want Michelle to ever see me in the ring. All the name calling was just to intimidate, I was brown and it was the most obvious thing. I called the lad I fought a “Honky” as many times as he called me a “Paki” but mostly we just swung fists at each others heads, it was hard to keep up a conversation. Just before the fight we’d start bouncing, I didn’t know why but both of us would bounce up and down a little as moved in to the fight.
Others helped by pushing us into each other and then we’d scrap like dogs, teeth and fists clenched. There was no point going for the stomach; the face would win it for you or grabbing the back of the neck with your hands and kneeing the victim in the face - that was a show stopper. And that’s what the boy did to me behind Michelle’s house. He dragged my jumper over (none of the cool kids wore a jumper) my head and kneed me in the face and I felt my nose bang and go warm with the blood and go numb on his knee and I fell. I lost and got off the floor kicking and scraping on broken milk bottles and little stones pulling that stupid jumper off wanting to throw it away but we were poor. Other white lads helped me up and said it hadn’t been a fair fight because of the jumper. I walked home with my head ringing wiping my bloody face knowing Mum was going to tell me off. Then I smiled and then I laughed, I was never going to be Cock of the School, Cock of the Year, Cock of anything, I was a middle of the road guy. Sorry Michelle. I got home and the blood, sweat and fear had dried.
But then I learnt how to fight and there were those days that I’d win and they’d leave me alone with my teeth and fists still clenched. Those days I’d wish you were there, Michelle. But by then you'd grown breasts and I used to stare at you in class and you started seeing that scrawny spotty lad who shaved all his hair down to a number two but kept the fringe which he pulled to one side. He wore porcelain beer bottle stoppers threaded through his shoe laces so it would hurt more if he kicked someone in the face. He didn’t look like he could kick anybody in the face but he got you pregnant.
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