Our group would meet at Jake’s house and walk to school. Three or four of us were very tall. They set the pace while the rest of us had to keep up. That’s how I came to be quite a fast walker. Ian was the shortest.
We were all friends with another boy at school called Shaji. Shaji was very funny, good-natured, and probably the best male friend I had. Shaji’s parents were from India.
One time during physical education class, Ian referred to Shaji as a ‘chocolate man’. The word got around and the next day when we arrived at Jake’s house to walk to school, it was made clear to Ian that he should go on ahead, and no longer walk to school with us.
After this he was effectively exiled. He ate alone, sat alone, learned alone and walked alone.
One time I flicked a rubber band at him. I had recently worked out how to target rubber bands as accurately as a bullet by wrapping them around my index finger and thumb in the shape of a gun. It was thick, and it hit home, right on his cheek.
He threw his table aside and started climbing over the ones between us. Then his arm was around my neck and he was wrestling me to the ground. All the fantasies I had about being able to hold my own in a fight were disproved.
Moments later Jake reached us and with his height and weight effortlessly pulled Ian off of me and threw him a few feet away. I was unharmed. I was under the group’s protection.
Some weeks later on the way to school I approached him and started a conversation. He was suspicious at first but in the days following he grew more comfortable. My group was initially very uneasy with this and asked why I would forgive him, but in the end he was totally reintegrated into the group.
I don’t remember much about how Shaji felt. I think I remember him being angry at first, but he wasn’t given to grudges. I don’t remember him being central in the events that followed. Nobody asked what he wanted. It was a conflict largely between white boys, about standards of behaviour.
I have a browser tab open that shows a photo of Ian holding a large gun. He’s in the army now, I think.