Jim took a deep shuddering breath. It was a beautiful day to be alive. Sun was streaming over the trees at the end of the park and sparkled off the small pond. Birds were flying low over the neatly cut lawns in search of insects and the puddles left by the recent heavy rain were beginning to recede.
Today was a special day. He had an appointment for a job, the first in months. He straightened his tie and brushed a fleck of dust from his one remaining suit. After three years out of work, it was only his meticulous care for his clothes that kept him from becoming a tramp.
If it weren’t for his backache, everything would be perfect. He whistled softly to himself as he strolled across the park only to stop in mid-tune when a kid hurtled out of a bush and bumped into him.The impact would have knocked Jim over had he not had the foresight to grasp a nearby lamppost for support.
Recovering from the shock, he leant forward intending to scoop up the boy who squirmed at his feet, but his back ached so badly that the best he could do was help the kid get up. The boy clung to him, burying his face in the folds of Jim’s trousers. It was then Jim notice his state.
“You’re covered in mud,” he exclaimed in horror, trying to unclasp the boy’s hands that gripped his once clean suit. What a catastrophe. The suit would have to go to the cleaners, but he had no money to pay for it, And he had nothing else to wear. How could he possibly go to the interview.
He finally managed to shake himself free of the kid who grinned up at him, not in the slightest perturbed by his filth.
“Whatever happened to you?”
Not only was the kid, who couldn’t have been much more than seven, covered in mud but the flies of his shorts hung open where several buttons had been ripped off.
Jim expected to hear a story of a fight, of older bullies picking on him. The very thought of it left him indignant. Boys could be so violent. When he had been young things had been better, at least that’s how he remembered it.
“I rolled in the mud,” the kid said.
“I rolled in the mud.”
“I liked the feel of it.”
Jim looked down at the boy, uncomprehending?
“But your shorts are all torn.”
“Oh that. I did it.”
Jim suddenly realised he must look ridiculous with his mouth hanging open so he closed it with a snap.
“Why on earth would you do that?”
“They were too tight.”
Had it been his kid, he would laid him across his knee then and there and spanked him till he howled. But it wasn’t his kid. He had no children, living as he did alone. Jim might not have had any friends, but he prided himself on knowing all the people on his block. The kid didn’t come from there. Of that he was certain. He’d never seen the child before.
The brat had not only ruined his chances of getting a job, he’d undone years of effort trying to hold back the pressure of poverty. Jim wanted to sit on a bench, his head in his hands and cry. Instead, he grasped the boy’s shoulders and shook him violently. “You nasty piece of work,” he muttered between clenched teeth.
“Ouch!” Jim let out a startled shout as the kid bit his hand with all his force. He let go of the boy, who promptly fell to the ground while Jim stared bewildered at the blood that seeped from the teeth marks.
Across the park he heard a woman scream and a male voice called out: “Stop that!” A thick-set policeman was running in his direction, closely followed by a young woman gesticulating wildly as she ran.
The moment the policeman arrived, he threw himself at Jim, knocking him to the ground. He pressed his knee in the small of Jim’s back and roughly twisted his arm.
The searing pain that shot up his spine was so intense he almost blacked out. He was vaguely aware that he was lying in the remains of a puddle and water was seeping into his trousers. What a nightmare!
“Marcus says this man dragged him into that bush,” the woman said, “and tried to pull his shorts down.”
What nonsense was this? He twisted his head to see her.
“You’re such a brave boy, Marcus,” she said cradling the kid in her arms. “Marcus even managed to bite the filthy bastard,” she told the policeman. “Look at his hand,” she said pointing at Jim. “It’s covered in blood.”
Jim struggled to lift his head so he could protest, but the man leaned with all his weight on Jim’s back. As red hot pain showered in every direction, the world went black. When he came too, the woman was still talking.
“…look, Marcus is all covered in mud and his shorts had been ripped where that disgusting man tried to get his fingers on him.” She burst into sobs.
“He tore them himself,” Jim protested. “He told me so.” As he said it, he immediately realised that nobody would believe him. No one had witnessed what happened. No one would say he couldn’t possibly have done that. It was a devilish trap and he’d walked right into it. He let his head sink back onto the ground. It was hopeless. There was nothing he could do.