I turned the corner, and there they were. Half a dozen familiar faces. Some leaning against the graffiti covered brick wall, some squatting on the dirty ground littered with cigarette butts. Uniform jackets unbuttoned, school ties hidden in pockets, pants fashionably narrowed, fringes died with peroxide. Narrowed eyes, crooked grins, stiff poses – anything to look as aloof and indifferent as possible.
Some were passing a smoke around (just tobacco in those days...) Greeted by almost imperceptible nods, I take my place in the small circle and accept an almost burnt-out cigarette. Choking, but managing to maintain my cool, I take a quick drag and pass it on.
The school bell rings somewhere behind the brick wall, but no one moves. Hardly lifting our eyes off the dirt, we are dragging out a well-worn conversation – girls, movies, last weekend. Bragging on about our crimes and vices – real and imagined.
A lone figure trudges past.
Conversation abruptly halted, everyone turns their heads as if on command and stared. Nick looks over briefly, without a word, shakes his head and hurries past. He disappears in the school gates.
“He won't come. Someone told his dad they saw him smoking. Probably got a walloping last night...”
“Yeah, he told me his old man is onto him. You won't see Nick for a while now.”
“...Or he'll get his backside belted. I don't envy the poor bastard...”
There's a long pause. Some stare into space, some into the spit-covered dirt.
We lie. We envy him. Oh, how we envy him! Someone cares about him. Someone cares enough to pull him up. Someone gives a damn. But not about us. No one cares. We might as well not even exist. Might as well just trash your life, your body, your soul. Some of us will – drugs, prisons, suicide. Lives mashed into the filth like this burnt out cigarette...
The bell rings again. We slowly pick up our bags and pull the scrunched up school ties out of out pockets.
“C'mon, boys. See you back at lunch break...”