'Baby Bull' by Sarah Tarbit
Mam gave me an Indian headdress. Her eyes and cheek were as colourful as the feathers, but she patted her mouth with the palm of her hand, hollered around the living-room, danced to the beat of my drum.
We cried war songs from the tip if our tongues at the top of our lungs. I cut handles off a skipping rope to make lassos, used sticks as arrows for my string bow; sharpened them with the knife she used to keep my dad off her sometimes.
The kids from the row dodged about the lane together, but they didn’t like me.
‘What the fuck is that on your head?’
‘A dress, you little puff.’
I nicked one of their bikes, rode off imagining it was my horse. They chased after me, hollering like I was leading my tribe to battle. Steesha came after me on his BMX. He was fourteen. Caught up. Pushed me off.
The left side of my face was scraped, bleeding, stinging. Little bits of gravel stuck to it. As I walked off I squeezed tear ducts with thumbs under jumper sleeves. I turned back after a dozen paces, took out my arrow, closed one eye, aimed. But I never let go.
I was just dossing, kicking at the curb when I clocked little Robbo sitting sucking his sleeve. He was lucky. He didn’t have a dad.
A bruise and a bump came up instantly. He was kicking, screaming, rolling around. I tied him up with my skipping rope, smeared his blood on my cheeks.
Blood dribbled out the side of his mouth, pooled and crusted on swollen lips. I found a piece of a broken tooth as I shushed him, stroked his hair, told him if he stopped crying I’d let him go back to his tribe.
When the streetlights came on I went home, sucked my thumb while my mam buttered bread for crisp butties.
We ate on the floor, pretend it was buffalo. I told her she was Wild Hemp, she asked me who I was. But I didn’t know.
‘You’re such a nice little boy.’
‘All little boys are nice until they get older,’ I said.
‘How about we call you Baby Bull?
‘What about Wild Bull?’
She drew me in and I let her.
Usually, I’d head back out, knock about the streets, stay out the way. Sometimes my mam would hide my shoes to try and stop me, keep me out of trouble. But my Dad was out on the ale.
She sat me in a bubble bath full to the brim, knelt by the side, washed the blood off my face, asked me where I got the face paint. I gave her a bubble beard to hide some of the bruising, told her it was berry juice. She pushed my hair up so I looked like a troll doll, almost laughed. I almost told her I loved her. But we don’t do that.