The bell rings and I put my backpack on, tighten my shoelaces and shoot off. From school to my house it's one mile. One thousand seven hundred and sixty yards is not much but sometimes it can seem much longer. And today I’d like it to be over quickly because I have a rendezvous. With her. If she’s there. But the day is perfect, all the conditions are right for her to be there, I’m not really worried about it.
The first obstacle is the boulevard and its two pedestrian crossings. The traffic is heavy at this time of day, I can only hope the pedestrian lights will be at green. I can see the little red man in the distance but some cars are starting to brake. If I lengthen my stride, I can get there at just the right moment. Get across without even slowing down. Come on, come on! Sorry, people, let the lightning streak through! What perfect timing! Here I am at the other side with no problem at all. Easy peasy!
The next problem is Jimmy’s bakery. What a dilemma: either I lose a few precious minutes and enjoy a delicious chocolate bun or else I speed like the wind and put up with being hungry until dinner as Mom will tell me it’s too late to have a snack when I get home.
The problem is sorted when Jimmy, who is busy sweeping his doorstep, calls out to tell me that the blueberry cake is just about to come out of the oven.
In any case, is it reasonable for a growing child to travel such a distance on an empty stomach? That’s a question worth considering.
The cake has revived me, but now I can’t waste a minute more. So I absolutely must go under the railway bridge, with all the risks that that involves. There’s nothing dangerous about the place itself, no, it’s just that it’s frequented by boys I prefer to avoid. I cross my fingers and hope they won’t be there. Bad weather was forecasted, they might have stayed at home.
As I approach the tunnel, a laugh from Carter, the leader of the gang, echoes around the stone arches and demolishes all my hopes. Chris Carter, three years older and twenty-two pounds heavier than me, is an archetypal rough lout but, as my Dad says, the lights are on but nobody’s home, which means you can fool him easily.
I ruffle my hair up, untidy my clothes a bit and open my bag to make myself look scruffy. I dash into the tunnel, out of breath. When I catch sight of them, I widen my eyes in fear (a moving memory of my drama lessons with Mr Dunbar), they expect nothing less of me.
“Hey, look at that, it’s our little rabbit, isn’t it?”
Carter calls me that because I often run all the way home. I don’t think he realizes that giving me that name doesn’t really frighten me.
“What’s the matter with you, bunny rabbit? Have you met a hunter?”
Carter and his two accomplices burst out laughing noisily, in a rather forced way. I wait for them to calm down before I reply, in a tear-filled voice (Mr Dunbar would be proud of me), “It’s Gibson’s gang, they’re annoying me...”
That’s all it takes for Chris to blow his fuse.
“What?! When? Where?”
“There, just on the street corner, they tried...”
Before I finish the sentence the way is clear. They have scarpered like... rabbits! I will no doubt pay for this lie sooner or later but right now, there’s no other way out.
A glance at my watch, I have five minutes. I’m nearly at my street now. If I don’t meet one of my neighbors walking their dog, I’ll be on time. Just a hundred yards to go but the pavement is slippery, I slow down a bit.
Annette is coming out of her house with Daisy on a lead. She’s a right laugh, Annette. I really like talking to her. She always tells the same stories but I don’t mind because they’re funny. The little dog barks as I go past but Annette, still busy trying to find her lock, doesn’t see me. I slip behind the parked cars and promise myself to take the old lady to the park on Sunday.
I see her at last. She is so punctual, so predictable. As she does every day at the same time, she goes to the baker's to get a loaf (not too well-baked otherwise the baker will get it in the neck and the salesgirl and the customers too). I am sure she will make a few unkind remarks to Annette, who, fortunately, will not hear the half of them. And she will go on spreading her nastiness all along her route.
But not today. Because today, she and I have a rendezvous. Today I am going to avenge Annette, the baker and all the people who live round here and have to suffer her continual malice. Today it has rained all day long and, as I expected, a gigantic puddle has formed between Prospect Street and Cambridge Street.
She proceeds along the pavement, she’ll reach it soon and, Oh Joy! she hasn’t got her umbrella with her. I put my bag down and as I do that, I see my shoes. Damn! My new trainers, I had totally forgotten! I don’t really have time to go and put my boots on. Never mind. When Mom hears about the noble cause I sacrificed my trainers for, she won’t be angry (well, she will, but heroes can’t always be wondering if their mothers would approve of their actions, or they would never do anything).
I get in position, ready for the best take-off I can do. I wait for her to be just next to the place where the stagnant water is at its deepest and I take off like a rocket. I run like I have never run in my life. I spring up and jump really high. As I’m in the air, I catch sight of her looking from the puddle to me and back again. And the expression on her face when she finally realizes what’s going to happen, it’s really worth a telling-off from Mom and a new pair of trainers.
Translated by Wendy Cross