Carrigairt, Donegal, Ireland
We belted out the front doors an tumbled down concrete steps onto the playground, knocking an barging an calling out ‘Yeah!’ like our team was winning in some footie game. One smaller lad caught his gutty in another fella’s bag an face-planted onto the tarmac to a massive aul cheer. I glanced back as he scrabbled up, gritty little stones stuck in his chin and a raw graze across his cheek.
‘Get up off your hole!’ Frank roared at him, ‘Ya lazy fuck!’ and at tha we all laughed an hurtled on to the main gate, pulling up short in front a’ Mr. Donnally.
As we were getting in line to be inspected I caught sight a’ Stevie standing by a group a’ younger fellas. They were kicking a football in a tight little circle. Every time the circle shifted to the left Stevie got knocked by a bag or a back but he didn’t move away from them. Safer than standing out on yer own I guessed. I waved for him to come over but I could see him watching Frank so I knew he wouldn’t want ta.
Frank was at the front of the line now an was hoiking up his trousers an pulling tight the fat knot in his school tie – making a big show of it all.
‘That’s it boys,’ said Mr Donnally, ‘just remember you’re in uniform.’
‘No shite!’ Frank whispered outa the corner a’ his mouth. I gave a wee smile to let him know I’d gotten his joke but not enough a’ a one that Donnally could be getting mad at me. It was something I’d got dead good at.
‘Will it be all rosary and Hail Marys or will you find time for a nice pint?’ Asked Frank.
The RE teacher’s face went slack for a moment, he started to say something but then just shooed Frank out a’ the gate, probably thankful he had two days where he wouldn’t have to put up with his messing. I let a few other boys go on in front of me so it wouldn’t look like Frank an me were too chummy, then slipped through the gates to two days a’ freedom.
Frank was waiting for me out by the wall - tie already off, hanging limp from his pocket.
‘D’you see me?’ he asked, shoving his tongue inta his cheek.
I checked over my shoulder to make sure we were far enough from Donnally’s ears then shouted, ‘Funny as fuck!’ an set to giggling, doubling over an slapping the wall. Frank giggled too ‘til a couple a’ older lads walked passed, an jeered, ‘yah wee benders!’ at us. I stood dead quiet ‘til they were gone but Frank roared that he was gonna kill em an tha sorta thing.
He wasn’t though. He’d probably threatened to kill or stab or do the knees of at least half the people in the town and I was pretty sure he’d never done any of it.
When I looked up again Stevie was standing wi’ us. He’d managed to get dirt all over the knees of his school trousers.
‘Shite, Stevie yer wild!’ Frank threw his arm around Stevie’s neck an made growling noises like the wrestlers on telly while he noogied his head.
‘Yer a wild man! Ten yards from the school gates an you’ve already gone feral!’
He let go a’ Stevie’s head with a flourish, punched him twice on the arm then nodded up the hill.
‘Come on lads,’ he said, striding off at a pace.
Stevie’s asthma was giving him gyp as we strode up an his lungs were sounding all rattley. I stopped a sec an waited ‘til he was beside me.
‘Yeah, yeah, fine’ he whispered back, giving me a tight smile.
Frank was at the top first an was standing wi’ his back to us, hands on his hips an legs spread out wide like a cowboy. I slowed down a bit so Stevie an me got to him at the same time. Then we all turned to look down at school, the silty playground was scuffed and empty with bits a’ rubbish an pieces a’ paper scattered around.
‘The place is dead,’ Frank announced - well proud like – as if the school died the second he walked out a’ the gates.
‘Yeah, even the teachers have fucked off,’ I said an hitched my trousers up so I could make my legs go wider.
‘Nah,’ he went, ‘they’re hiding behind the bike sheds smoking an swearing their mouths off. I snuck back in one Friday and I saw them all doing it… Y’see lads it builds up inside them. All week they have to mind themselves. They have to mind what they do an what they say.’
A wee ‘huh’ like a baby laugh came outa my mouth and I covered it quick by coughing. I couldn’t help it - I loved Frank’s stories. Frank looked at me with hard eyes but kept on going.
‘…They have to say “Mr. O’Connell, will you walk on the left hand side of the corridor please,” when they want to be saying, “Mr O’Connell I’m going to kick you in the fuckin’ swingers if you knock the fuck inta me again.’”
I snorted again but Frank was on a roll now an didn’t notice.
‘Every time they have to say something polite to us, the thing they want to say – the swearing, the insults – stays inside them, lies at the bottom of their bellies with nowhere to go. Through the week it builds up and up. With every telling off and every “Lads, please don’t do that” and “I asked you not ta’” it builds and builds ‘til it’s practically coming outa their eyeballs! Then it’s Friday afternoon an they’re near burstin’ with it - they’re about to explode…. An then lads… Then they do!’
Shooting his arm out in front a’ him Frank jabbed a finger in the direction a’ the bike sheds.
‘As soon as the last of us has walked outa the school gates, the teachers bomb to the back a’ the sheds as fast as they can, grabbing in their pockets for their ciggies, the swear words spewing’ out a their mouths like they’re throwing up.’ Hunching his back he heaved like he was boking, ‘Fuuuuukkkkk…. Boo… Bllooo…. Beughhhh… BOLLOCKSSSSS!’
He retched some more but soon gave over to just howling with the funniness of it. I was laughing hard too. I was laughing and imagining I’d been there with Frank when he’d snuck in that day. Our faces pressed against the rough brick of the side of the bike sheds. The ciggie smoke rolling around the corner to us as we inched nearer. Then the teachers’d look up and we’d spin round an sprint back across the quad. One of them would set to chasing but we’d be too fast an too far away so I’d know he could only see the shape of us in our uniform an not at all make out who we were. Then he’d have to stop half way to the school gate an cough an wheeze from all the smoking. We’d run up here an look down at him where he was all bent over an gasping, probably throwing out a few swear words too an we’d laugh an point like Frank was pointing now.
There was a second of dead air as Frank an me caught our breath an Stevie blurted out into the quiet, ‘And afterwards they go and eat chips in uniform.’
He blinked a few times an looked hopefully at Frank.
Frank thumped him on the shoulder, ‘Yeah fella! An graffiti the walls round the quad!’
‘An run in the corridors!’ Shouted Stevie, grinning.
‘Ha! Yeah!’ Went Frank.
‘Ha! Yeah!’ I joined in, punching Stevie on his other arm, ‘They’re probably in there now running races up an down a’ D block!’
I looked up at Frank so I could see him getting the hilarity a’ what I’d said but he’d already turned an started up the path to the dark slopes of Dubhmore.