IT WAS THE best part of the day when Mr Peters read to us.
He was reading a book that he had written and it was about some kids that had found a portal through time. I don't remember what it was called or the names of the characters now, but I remember that I was captivated by it then.
I listened to the story – to the words spoken in his soft, low, rolling voice. I looked out of the window and I watched the sky, watched the clouds moving. I saw my brother's class walk out across the lawn, all of them. The whole class.
Most of them were holding hands.
Their teacher was Mrs Davison and she was tall and had long blond hair and she was very beautiful, I thought. I knew that my brother really loved her. I think all of her students loved her. And she was like a shepherd standing among her flock. She looked like a shepherd – the children gathered to her, gathered close under the old chestnut tree where kids played conkers at recess.
Mrs Davison had papers in her hands.
MY BROTHER JUST sat on the floor in his school uniform, one grey sock pulled up to his knee, the other scrunched down around his ankle, when Mum came in and burst into tears and told us about James Tomanek.
About how he had been hit by a car on the way home from school.
About how he was dead.
And he didn't cry, my brother. I didn't see him cry. I only saw his body shake – just a shudder, like something very small had collapsed inside his bones.
The accident was on the news. Flashing lights reflecting off a fallen school bag, the emblem of a Waratah with the Latin words that meant No man is an island shining out in the dark. And the man on the TV got it wrong because he said it was a high school boy that had been hit by a car and died from his injuries on the way to the hospital. But it wasn't a high school boy. It was a small boy.
A boy just as small as my brother.
James Tomanek had come to my brother's birthday party three days before and he was like an angel then with his white hair and blue eyes – his skin so pale. Not see-through like mine, just creamy and pale. He gave my brother a huge pencil case. It was all the bright colours in stripes and my brother carried it around with him for a long time after the party, after everyone had gone. He put all of his pencils and pens carefully inside and put it in his school bag ready for school the next day.
Monday. Then there was Tuesday and then there was Wednesday.
I was on the bus and I had seen James and my brother walking out of the school gate together. My brother got on the bus and he waved to James and James waved back – his hair bright against the grey sky and the grey of his uniform.
It started to rain as the bus pulled away.
MR PETERS STOPPED reading. He put the book away but I kept looking out of the window. Even when other kids were busy working on projects, I just sat looking out of the window. And my brother's class stayed out there under that old chestnut tree all day. They had lunch together, and in the late afternoon they walked back to their classroom with Mrs Davison leading the way.
They were all still holding hands.