He stopped. The rain kept going. He gave up. The rain never ceased. He retreated inside. Thunder clapped its hands in victory. When will the world stop punishing David Baker? When will it give back all it’s taken away from him?
Billy tore down the lumpy nature strips of Finders street, turned right onto Bower Street, then left onto Market Street, which was the main drag. Knowing these streets like the freckles on his skin came in handy on this particular afternoon, as not once did he look up from the ground in fear of being blinded by the sideways rain, and there was no chance of bumping into anybody on the footpath in weather like this.
On he went, past the shabby post office on the corner of Gallop Road, which was owned by the Presley’s and always left you on the verge of sneezing on account of the 2 inch layer of dust that covered everything on the shelves. Past the deli, the cafés and general store. Across the road and past the town hall, with its eternally peeling paint. Down a gentle slope past the ice creamery and the hair salon, where Mrs Baker always dreamed of visiting on the weekends. Then eventually, Billy charged past his favourite store in all of Barley Bay. The Bakery. With its doors still open, the enticing sent of hot bread wafted through the cool air, almost stopping Billy dead in his tracks.
On any other day, the smell would have taken him back to hot summer mornings, when he would rest his bike against the parking sign just outside and tie Django up next to the water bowl. After scrounging through his filthy pockets for $4.50, he’d ignore the menu board and slam his assortment of coins on the counter, each of them grubby with stains of chewing gum and apple stickers. Without hesitation, he’d demand the exact same order. If the owner, Mr Barker was working, he’d already be poking his tongs into the oven to retrieve the steaming hot delight. With a tub of sauce for no extra cost, the famous pie and can deal was a staple of Billy’s summer diet. It brought him a sense of stability, especially when served with a friendly smile and “How’s the family, Bill?” But on this miserable day, he had no such joy.
Today he was alone. Did he have a family? Do the Barker’s really know his name? He couldn’t remember, and for some reason that he couldn’t be bothered to understand, he didn’t really care. He wished to be alone. Completely invisible, free to do whatever he pleased. Maybe if he ran fast enough, he’d blend into the rain and nobody could tell him apart. He closed his eyes and wished that it would come true, like when little boys and girls wish their thoughts would make their cup fly across the bench and into their hands.
He skidded around the corner onto Harvey Street at full speed, with his head still down. Then suddenly he slammed into something rock solid. In a daze, he tried focusing his double vision on the road block towering above him, as presently he was seated firmly on his bottom upon the soggy grass. For a moment, maybe half a second or less, Billy had sworn it was that Bearded Angel from the Bradley’s yard looming over him. But when he regained his sight, after rubbing the rain from his squinting eyes, he saw nothing but black rolling clouds and streaking torrents of water falling from the sky.
He got up too quickly, and his vision was hijacked by a fuzzy black fog. When it had parted, he caught a flash down the hill at the bottom of the road. Whatever it was, it had dashed behind a hedge in front of the R.S.L club. He half ran, half slid, down the steep grassy roadside, in pursuit of the thing that had knocked him over.
Without care for his safety, he jump over the hedge and landed hard on the other side, almost spraining his ankles. At this point, there was one thought on his mind. “Whoever you are, you’re dead meat!” An unruly rage pushed hard against his ribcage from the inside, stealing his already depleted breath away from his dry throat. A rage he’d only seen in Mr Baker until right now. It couldn’t be tamed, and at home it usually resulted in painful tears. But he didn’t care what it did to him. He needed to catch the bearded angel who had knocked him flat.
Across the carpark and into the grounds of the memorial, Billy now slowed down to a suspicious tip-toe and surveyed the wide-open circle around him. According to his gut instinct, he eyed off the enclosing hedge back and forth. He gradually turned his body around, ensuring every last inch of the surrounding bush had been thoroughly covered. As he neared a full rotation, a clear crack rang out just to his right. He shot around in reaction to the unmistakable sound, licking his lips as he craned his neck forward.
With eyebrows raised in anticipation, he eyeballed the centre-piece of the memorial up and down. It was a peculiar statue of two regular looking soldiers, both obviously too young to die, one carrying the other on his shoulders to safety, covered head to toe in mud and sludge. A standard scene from the trenches of the Great War. But Billy’s eyebrows dropped into a completely stupefying stare, his neck shot back in surprise and he stood with his hands on his hips in sheer confusion. Right there, directly behind the two brave heroes, was a much older soldier, presumably their captain, standing rigidly to attention. With rifle by his side and hand poised in salute, the old battler looked completely out of place. His uniform appeared near perfect, clean and tidy. Although his shirt was only half tucked into his trousers. Great bags beneath his eyes matched his deep wrinkles and scraggly beard. What kind of a soldier had a beard like that? This thought was trumped by Billy’s erupting anger.
Billy: Boy Volcano, kicked the ridiculous bearded statue in the shins, in hope that some old Vietnam veteran would see him and chase him back home. But it was hopeless. He just sat one the feet of the old captain and wept. What a depressing sight. A tiny weakling, balling his eyes out in the pouring rain, because some bearded angel that he had made up in his imagination, pushed him over in the street. He adjusted himself to get comfortable again, because he slid off the statues feet. Some old bloke behind him, most likely from the club house, let out a disapproving grunt.
“Go away!” Yelled Billy. He kept his head firmly planted between his folded arms and chest. “I don’t care about your stupid statues or your stupid wars!”
The old man let out a kind chuckle. “Well we sacrificed everything for you during that stupid war, as you put it. I almost lost my life for you. But they tell me I’m one of the lucky ones…” His voice was swept up into the violent gusts, as if what he said was too true and too close to home for even him to dwell on. “And I’d do it all again for you.”
Billy turned his neck around to blast the old fuddy-duddy about how he couldn’t possibly care about him and how he didn’t know him from a bar of soap. But when he looked up at the old man his tongue wasn’t there anymore. He had swallowed it whole.
Billy fell over himself trying to evade the old man, who now picked up his rifle and started towards him.