Jimmy turned and ran, the laughter ringing in his ears.
‘My gran can run faster than that and she’s eighty years old,’ shouted Nathan. His mates cackled liked a pack of hyenas.
A pretty dark haired girl was running behind them. ‘Why don’t you leave him alone? You know he can’t defend himself!’
But the gang continued to chase Jimmy. Panic burned through him like a raging fire. His arms flailed like windmills as he fought to keep his balance.
Keep going, Jimmy … just keep going …
His foot caught a divot and he stumbled forwards and ended up face down in the damp grass. As he scrambled to pull himself up, he saw the legs surround him.
‘Tired already?’ said Nathan sarcastically. ‘Having a lie down are we?’
Nathan’s friends laughed hysterically. A hand grabbed Jimmy’s hair and yanked his head back. He looked up into Nathan’s twisted face. The girl ran up and pushed him away from Jimmy. ‘I said, leave him alone, Nathan. You’re nothing but a bully!’
Nathan grabbed her arm and threw her to the ground. ‘Get off me you witch.’
Jimmy struggled into a sitting position. He mustered as much conviction as he could and shouted, ‘Leave her alone!’
Nathan turned on him. ‘Why, what are you gonna do? Hit me with your gammy hand?’
Nathan’s gang laughed on cue as he pushed Jimmy back on the ground and placed his foot on his chest. Jimmy struggled to breathe as Nathan put his full weight onto him. ‘I don’t remember giving you permission to use the park,’ he hissed.
Jimmy lay there helpless and didn’t answer. The girl climbed back to her feet and ran towards a middle-aged man who was walking his dog in the park. ‘Please, help me!’ she screamed. ‘They’re beating Jimmy up.’
The man immediately ran towards them. ‘Oy, you lot! Leave him alone!’
Nathan looked across and was about to tell him where to go, but one of his mates stepped forward. ‘That’s Tommy Bowe – he’s as hard as nails. I’m off.’
He turned around and ran in the opposite direction to the man and the rest of the gang followed. Nathan lifted his foot from Jimmy’s chest and leant over him. ‘Don’t think I’ve finished with you …’ And turned tail and ran after his mates.
The girl ran over to Jimmy and helped him into a sitting position. ‘Jimmy, are you OK?’
Jimmy was still struggling to catch his breath. The man came up to them.
‘Are you all right, son?’
‘You’re Jean First’s boy, aren’t you? Come on, son, I’ll give you a lift home.’