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by Julia Paillier

“Fed shoes, them. PC Plod, innit?” Whooping, the boy called Jase fell back into his seat on the top deck.

Acolytes on either side sniggered. “Ain’t you got no Nike, bruv?” jibed one, in fake Gangsta.

Belly a-flutter, Adnan kept his gaze on nothing in particular.

“My little man,” Mum had whispered earlier, tipping Cheerios into his bowl, her apple-breath grazing his cheek.

What would a little man do now?

Plump white fingers appeared from behind and yanked the knot on his school tie. “’Sbetter. And dump them shoes, mate.”

“Yeah, dump that shite.” The bus lurched into the stop outside the old precinct as Jase held his hand out, palm up.

Saturday nights. Adnan remembered Britain’s Got Talent, Mum piling her latest trophies on the settee, nodding as he ticked them off the uniform list she couldn’t read: blazer, three Trutex shirts, plain socks.

“Come on,” said Jase, resting his forehead against the window glass.

A chant went up: “Dump, dump, dump, dump.”

“Decide, bruv. Now.”

Aiming for nonchalance, Adnan shrugged, levered his feet free, handed the shoes over.

Jase took them. Grinned. Reaching up, crooking his arm over the small, oblong window, he lowered them, mirror-black, by their laces, savouring the tension. Then let go. “Wise choice, man,” he murmured. “They was shite.”

Boys clamoured to the windows, cackling and pointing. On the roof of the bus shelter below, the shoes stood soberly to attention.

“Yeah,” said Adnan, pushing back his shoulders. “Shite.”

The engine burred and he thought of Mum, leaning over the wall of the sixth-floor walkway, clutching her inhaler just in case. Squinting down at the street below. Waiting for her son, her little man, to re-enter her field of vision, back from his first day at big school.

Julia Paillier lives in Kent. Her short fiction has won prizes in the Reflex and Flash 500 competitions and featured in Spelk, the Bangor Literary Journal and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine. https://juliapaillier.blogspot.com/