Goodbye like it was nothing
Leon put the headphones over his ears and pressed play. The voice spitting words over bass pushed him out of the flat front door. The sky met him with an accusatory glare. He raised his head to stare back at all that blue, he was going to do it this time; he was going to make it to the end of his street.
His hands were in his pockets gripping the side of his trackies, the pavement seemed impossibly close, pulsating with lines, the uneven concrete moving like tectonic plates under Leon’s feet.
He knew what was next, his chest began to tighten he could feel the accusing eyes of passers by boring into him. They all knew. Everyone knew. That he had killed his best friend.
“It should have been you,” Ryan’s Mum had screamed into his face in the hospital, as he stood blank and empty, covered in his friend’s blood, the corridor moving like a kaleidoscope around him.
He couldn’t remember the details of her face, but he could remember looking up at the ceiling to avoid her words, he remembered the lighting stripping them of anywhere to hide, their pain a distorted monster splashed everywhere.
Everyone knew that it should have been him. Leon knew it the most though: “The fuck have you done now Leon?” following him everywhere since starting high school. It was always a mistake, never intentional.
He just seemed to find himself being drawn towards trouble. He’d agreed to help some guys that his brother had fucked over. They told Leon he owed them money and his time. He had no idea that his agreement meant his best friend was unknowingly going to become the guarantor for his debt.
Leon knew this place, he knew the garage and he knew the park along his street. He was only at the third lamppost, five to go. He tried to concentrate on his breathing like he’d read online. He tried to imagine how gravity made sure he was firmly attached to the earth – if he could just get to Bonnington Road.
“D’you mind if I borrow this one mate, for later?” Ryan had said, holding the hoody against his chest.
‘No bother but if you hook up with Sarah you owe me commission.”
“You’ll smell like me, I’ve got those champion McBain pheromones.”
‘Fuck off, if it doesn’t happen it’s because I smell like you.”
Leon had pushed him. He could remember them laughing. Even though he knew he was in deep shit with the guys his brother knew, he let himself have that moment with Ryan,
Ryan said, “Better go, getting dinner at my Ma’s before tonight, see you at Bonnington Road.”
“Cool, see you.”
Leon kept walking, head down, up Pilrig Street and thought about how that night he had said goodbye like it was nothing. He tried to focus on his trainers, one foot in front of the other.
It was getting harder to breathe. White spots began to distort his vision. He could feel panic beginning to take over.
He tried to stop himself looking up, but it didn’t matter he knew Ryan was there, on Bonnington Road waving at him, and shouting “hurry up!”
Leon leaned against the wall of Pilrig park, his chest was a white knuckled fist. He stood head in hands against the wall.
And, like every other day, he tried to walk to the end of his street, he got to three lampposts before Bonnington Road and turned away, back towards Leith Walk. He left Ryan standing there stuck waving to Leon, waiting for his friend.
But it didn’t matter that Leon wasn’t looking, he couldn’t keep Ryan safe by walking away before he saw the rest.
It was always there… The car pulling up behind Ryan… Leon shouting. Ryan, in Leon’s hoody, realisation coming too slowly, turning as the man reached him, Leon imagining both of their faces in shock.
Leon running the last few feet, reaching Ryan just as he fell to his knees, his hand clutchinghis side, blood seeping through his fingers. The man looking at Ryan and Leon’s faces, it dawning on him he’d made a mistake. The men in the car screaming at him to “come on!”
Leon holding Ryan. Telling him to breathe…
“Stay with me mate.”