I heard the sickening crunch as his ribs broke and punctured his lung. Only a weak whimper and blood were coming out of his mouth now. My father’s steel-toe-capped work boots made formidable weapons when fuelled by his homophobic hate. The boy’s face was contorted in pain. He wasn’t much older than me, perhaps eighteen. He had been slim, blond and beautiful. For a brief second his eyes opened and they made contact with mine. They were pale blue and begged me for help. Before I could respond my father’s foot caught him in the jaw, splitting his face open and scattering his once perfect teeth across the alleyway. His eyes didn’t open again. I went behind some bins and heaved. My father pulled me to my feet. The anger still burned in his eyes. “Let’s get out of here. That faggot won’t sell his arse around here again. Disgusting pervert!” He spat a huge gob into the boy’s fractured face as he dragged me away. I was half cut – my father had taken me on a rare bonding session to introduce me to beer. He had only gone into the alley to piss. The encounter with the boy was pure chance. “Can’t hold your liquor, hey boy?” He laughed as if the last few minutes had never happened.
My father was my hero.
I knew better than to argue with dad when he was full of whiskey. We walked home in silence. I made my excuses, went to my room, hid myself in the dark under the blankets and rolled into a ball. It didn’t matter whether I closed my own eyes or not. All I could see were those begging blue eyes beseeching me for help.
Sometime during that long night, I slept, drowning in my guilt. My dreams were a technicolour movie of my life flashing across my mind. An only son, I knew I carried all of the hopes and dreams of my parents. Marriage and grandchildren were already on my mother’s agenda. My own early childhood was idyllic, though my father was seldom present. When he was home, I hero worshipped him and rarely left his side. When he was away, I would sit in his armchair and cuddle the cushion that smelled of him. I must have been about six when my mother sat me down and spoke seriously. There was a war somewhere overseas and my father had been posted. She hugged me a lot more after that and sometimes when I came home from school, I would find her crying. She blamed the onions.
He was away for a year and when he came home, I didn’t recognise him. He looked the same but he behaved like a different person. There were no more ball games or hide and seek in the garden. Everything I did annoyed him. He never laid a hand on me, but his words hurt me more than smacks ever could. They said he was a hero and he had the medals to prove it. He never spoke of it.
During the early years of high school, I was bullied, being small for my age and late in developing. I was hopeless at sport and enjoyed more artistic pursuits. Very few of the boys were my friends; I felt most at home with some of the girls. One particular student made my life hell. He was big and strong and enjoyed hurting me. He took my lunch money and made me do embarrassing things. If I resisted, he flushed my head in the toilet. I thought about running away and stole some tablets with a plan to kill myself. My mother realised something was wrong and dragged it out of me. Once I started talking, it was like water rushing out of a fractured dam wall.
The bully’s father was big and strong too and my father is not a big man. Nevertheless, he went round there and whipped his arse. No one messed with me after that. My hero had returned.
In the morning, my head ached and I couldn’t face breakfast. My father was still in bed. The radio news reported the boy’s murder. Those were the days before DNA evidence. I found a plastic bag for the blood-stained shoes and left the house.
At the end of the street there was a builders’ skip next to the telephone box. The decision was mine. My mind was clear. I called the police.