The first blow came as a shock. The second less so as my arms shot up arching over a beleaguered head: a shield to protect my face.
A shout broke free of the crowd, the attacker momentarily distracted.
Enough time to escape?
A school bag fell from troubled fingers: red, grazed, swelling. I crouched to retrieve it and felt the first kick. Then, a white flash of a trainer; the stench of rancid milk; liquid like tooth fillings on my tongue.
Drifting high above the curled dot of flesh writhing on the playground tarmac, I watched the blue bruises form on my skin like our planet’s isolated lakes as viewed from space. Girls gathered around my broken frame: screaming, chanting, and laughing.
Hold on a little longer. It will be over soon.
My ears filled with white noise. My brain throbbed. No time for weeping.
I climbed inside my protective, invisible shell and travelled to that special place: impervious, restorative, and redemptive.
The menace in the threat gave me courage. Prising open a hooded eye, I looked in to the face of my assailant and saw something familiar... fear: Our common bond.
I watched them go. The bully and her bully.