By James A. Beaumont
It was 9:00pm on the Hammersmith & City line when I first saw Jim. I was staring at the window opposite and I caught him looking at me; a spiky-haired, pale-faced teenager with a black eye and a bloodied nose.
‘Wow, how did it end for the other guy?’ I asked him.
He paused, looked me right in the eye and said, ‘I killed him.’
I waited for the laughter but got only silence. I sure as hell didn’t know what to say and so I just sat there with my head down, waiting for my stop. I was a bit unnerved when he got off as well and so there I was, slowing my pace and feigning interest in my shoelaces as I waited for him to pass. I waited at the bottom of the steps, giving him time to gain some distance.
He was gone when I reached the top.
My breaths were drawing short, my heart thumping and I had to stand there a few moments, bracing myself against the handrail before I could finally make my way on.
Why was I reacting like this? I jumped at shadows, cats and cars. I was expecting to find him around every street corner and those three words echoed in my head.
I killed him.
When I got back, I went straight up to my room, ignoring the call for dinner and lying facedown on my pillow. Mum brought it in, ranting on about how lazy I’d become now I wasn’t working. When I finally convinced myself to eat, the lasagne was cold. I prodded it with my fork and tomato sauce seeped out like blood from a gaping wound.
I couldn’t finish it.
I killed him.
He was probably just trying to be funny or perhaps I was supposed to have been intimidated. But no, that didn’t seem to fit. There was something in the way he’d said those three words; as if he was every bit as surprised as I was to hear them out loud.
I killed him.
The words were like tinnitus as I lay there, trying to sleep.
The next morning, the papers, Google, BBC – the story was everywhere: “James Patterson (17)…Aaron Baker…killed…London . . . bus number 266…apparently in self-defence …multiple witnesses.”
It was a lengthy trial. Details soon emerged: Jim was sitting on the top floor of the bus, mp3 player on, attention elsewhere, when he just happened to meet the eyes of a boy a few seats further down. Verbal abuse followed and Jim’s passage off the bus barred. Maybe Jim said something at this point, maybe he kept his mouth shut, but he took two punches before managing to push his attacker away. Then, as the other boy went to renew his attack, Jim launched out with a kick. His boot connected with the other boy’s head and the other boy, Aaron, he – well he fell in a bad way, never to get up again.
Aaron had friends with him but none of them made any attempt to intervene, nor had any of the other passengers. Indeed, it was reported that by looking at the bus’s CCTV footage, you would have thought the other passengers asleep for all the notice they took and only that kick to the temple broke the spell of apathy.
Jim got off at the next stop. Panicked, confused, who knows what he was thinking? Behind him a group of boys took it in turns to call out the name of their motionless friend and Jim was already hurrying to the nearest tube station. No more than five minutes must have passed between the incident and when I first saw him.
The jury ruled that Jim had acted in self-defence. His age; lack of any kind of a record; the fact that he’d studied karate and – up until that point – never had to use it; character references, witnesses and CCTV footage; it all led to the final outcome.
I thought about going to Aaron’s funeral. I thought about going. But I didn’t.
It was like university – I thought about applying but it never happened. And how I thought about asking out Rachael Taylor but then, come to think of it, Rachael Taylor doesn’t speak to me anymore. And I don’t actually know anyone around here if I’m honest. Since moving, it’s not been the same. I don’t leave the house if I can help it. I use the internet a lot – streaming films and watching them, only to re-watch them days later. Books and video games I like too; you can lose yourself in a book and pretend you’re someone else in a video game. Then I started writing. I managed to keep it a secret for a while but then mum found out and she made me show it to Doctor Richardson. Doctor Richardson feigns understanding but Doctor Richardson doesn’t really understand. She said I should try writing about a different subject matter and asked me what my favourite books were.
I was having one of my silent moments. I get them a lot.
She asked how writing made me feel.
I wasn’t able to answer.
Sometimes I think there aren’t any answers, not to the questions that really matter.
Mum is knocking on the door. She knocks tentatively, three quiet taps against the wood.
‘Jamie.’ Her voice is as hesitant as her knock. ‘Jamie, come out, we need to talk.’
I stay silent.
‘I’ve told you before; it’s not “Jamie”.’
‘Oh James – stop being like this!’
‘It’s not James. It's not Jamie. It's Jim!’