Runaways by Mike Cavanagh
I don’t actually remember whose idea it was, but I know it wasn’t mine. That only leaves Pete, my older brother, so QED and all that.
Pete was six and I was four and we were living in a three-storey house that went on forever – up, down, sideways, round, as they say. We shared a bedroom, my dear parents deciding to ignore the bedlam, fracas and mayhem this brought about owing to sibling rivalritis in extremis. I’ve checked, and neither of them are descended from any Mengeles, so that’s me done for ideas on why they did it.
Anyway, in the early days, Pete’s and my stock standard ‘He started it!’ ‘No, he did!’ was occasionally interrupted by outbreaks of fraternal bonding. And so, to that which follows.
For whatever reason… I mean, does it even matter? We were kids, we blamed our parents for everything, so let’s just say we were told to pack our toys away or there’d be no TV, or some such dire, and obviously unwarranted, puffed-up parental threat. Yes, yes, the bedroom was a mess, bestrewn with every toy we owned, with blankets and bed covers hauled about to create ‘tepees’ for our cowboys and Indians make believing. An Indian, I was always an Indian of course – one of the perks I guess that older brothers claim as de riguer.
Well, my brother decided in his six-year-old wisdom that this was the last straw and he was the camel’s back, so he concocted a plan to achieve our freedom from such tyrannies and to achieve sweet revenge on the perpetrators: we’d run away. Or, more accurately, scooter away. He relayed his devious plan in all it’s glorious details as we thumped about, making much ado of throwing the toys back into the wicker toy basket and hauling the bed clothes back onto the beds. No stone did Pete leave in his cunning plan: pack stuff into his school case; go make a show of how good we’d been; tell the parentals we were going to play outside; then hop on his scooter and skedaddle out of there. Outstanding – I couldn’t have been more thrilled, so much so that I had to bolt to the toilet to pee all that thrillness out of me.
By the time I got back, Pete had already started packing the school case. I put my favourite teddy in, and… well, that was it, really. What more could a four-year-old boy need? Pete closed the case and locked it, then grabbed my hand and walked me out to confront Mum.
“Mum, we’ve packed away all the toys,” Pete informed her.
“Thank you. That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
“Can we go outside and play?”
Oh, the sheer brilliance of his plan – how could any mother refuse this request having obtained such due diligence in toy packing and bed tidying as she required?
Mum’s brow furrowed slightly. Oh no, had she tweaked to our plan? Would all Pete’s guile come to nought? Was our cunning break for freedom about to be thwarted and dire, dire consequences about to rain down on us; no TV for two days for example!
Then her brow unfurrowed, and she said,
“I guess so, but only in the back yard. I’m about to get dinner underway. Corn beef fritters.”
Oh no! I had little appetite for these things, slices of corned beef, battered and deep fried, but had learned to take them with half a bottle of tomato sauce each and they were fine. But Pete…
I turned to look at him. Oh no, had his face acquired a pallor not there before? Oh, such devilry from Mum – corn beef fritters were Pete’s Achilles heel; he seemed to be able to devour dozens in a single sitting if Mum or Dad didn’t put a stop to it. Which was always sequelled by ‘Oh Mum! Please? Just one more!!’
Then Pete’s brow furrowed in turn, his shoulders straightened and resolute he stood.
Pete guided me back into the bedroom, rifled out the school case and lead me out through the back door without Mum or Dad seeing us, then down the side of the house where his scooter was invariably parked. Never, never have I been so filled with fraternal pride. My hero!
Our house was on a gently sloping block and the street it was on sloped even more gently away, down to meet the next street, then to another, and another, and on and on into the great, wide world that we had now set our hearts on venturing into with nary a backward glance.
Carefully slotting the case handle over the handlebars, Pete put his left foot on the scooter then told me to get on with both feet and hold on around his waist. I did as my captain, oh my captain, commanded, and as soon as on, Pete pushed off with his right foot, and we were away!
The driveway was unformed, and I clasped tightly as the front wheel wobbled but Pete held on and down we trundled to the road. Without pause and slowly picking up speed, Pete negotiated the turn out of the drive and we were onto the road, then sailing down it, away, away, away to Freedom!
Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to us, the road had recently been re-gravelled. We careened along for thirty metres then hit a patch of loose aggregate, whereupon the front wheel slipped out and scooter, case, the Captain and his one-man crew hit the tarmac.
I was first home, blubbering and pointing to my grazed knee and elbow. As Pete came in behind me, tears washing his cheeks and blood running from his nose, I took recourse to that age-old youngest sibling defence. To whit:
“Waaaah! Peter made me run away and crashed us!”
Lesson for life: big brothers can be such great fall guys.