‘Uch!’ A tidal wave of dirty puddle water curled from the car’s tyres across the pavement towards Anne.
In an instinctive attempt to avoid steaming through double history, she stepped sideways thinking she was near a driveway but she was wrong. The driveway was there OK but she was actually next to the low brick wall at its entrance. She was in mid-air when water arrived; as a result it soaked not only her legs, which it would have done if she had simply stood still, but got her from top to bottom. The whole trick was completed when the gravel pathway knocked all the wind out her.
Lying on her side, Anne gathered her senses. Two things held her attention. First, she could hear voices – girls’ voices - getting closer. Second, at the base of the hedge there was the glint of something silver. Quickly she got up, grabbed her bag and dodged behind the hedge. The voices came and went - what a relief.
The glint of that silver paper or whatever it was, came into her head. She looked again. It was definitely there, buried in autumn leaves. She felt she just had to find out what it was. Gently she pushed the leaves back. Even in the weak sun its opalescent case shone. She picked it up and stroked it. It was smooth and cool to touch. It was a 17-20-S.
Anne had never owned a mobile ‘phone. Her Mum and Dad had seen no reason for her having one. She had tried everything: pleading requests at Christmas and birthdays, logical arguments about safety and contacting them in emergency, sulking and tears. Nothing had worked. They just did not get the fact that no Year 8 at Grimbank Hall High was anyone, without a mobile. If she had not seen the photos, Anne would have thought her parents had never been children at all. She would have settled for any mobile but the one she literally dreamed about was the 17-20-S.
What she now held was as sleek and as thin as all the TV ads said. It glowed in her palm. She knew that one touch of the central decal and the top clamshell would rotate into place revealing a screen and an invitingly tactile keypad. Her thumb move towards the on-switch, hovered over it for a delicious fraction of a second, then she pressed. All that happened was a small fizzing noise and nothing else. It was dead. It had drowned.
‘What you got there?’ Anne looked up startled but her fear rapidly turned to relief. Barney didn’t look like relief but he was.
He was rather ungainly and podgy. Definitely not the world’s greatest athlete. He was in the same form as Anne and had been right from the first day at Primary School. They had been firm friends from the time Barney had saved Anne from being upended in the dustbins by Ferret Features Freddie who was trying to steal her dinner money. For what Barney might lose in quickness of mind or foot he more than made up for in size and strength. Cornered by Barney, you stood no chance. He was quite simply the biggest boy in the district for his age. Even at Grimbank, up to and including Year 10s were careful to be friendly.
It wasn’t simply that when his Mum gave birth, the stork had left her an infant Japanese Sumo champion by mistake, it had been rumoured in Junior School that when aged six he had killed, with his bare hands, a Rotweiler that had tried to attack his Mum in the park. They said it was in the paper but no one could produce the cutting. Whatever the truth, the legend stuck, and as Caesar would have said, reputation is worth a hundred legions. In fact, as with many giants, Barney was gentle and kind.
‘Nothing,’ said Anne sadly, sticking the 17-20-S in her back pocket. Then she changed the subject, ‘Done your homework?’
‘Well’, said Barney, ‘I was hoping you’d help me out with that.’ Anne slipped her wet arm into his dry one, just as they had done ever since she had been tall enough to reach.
Anne got home at about 5.30, just in time to meet her Mum walking up the hill from the Station.
‘Had a nice day, dear?’ her mum asked as soon, as they’d got inside the house
‘Not bad,’ Anne grunted on her run up the stairs.
Her Mum never listened to the reply to any question she asked Anne, so what was the point wasting time and effort on a proper answer? What would have been the point about telling her about the quarter of an hour she had spent in the girls’ bog trying to use the hand-blower to dry out her trousers and shirt? Nor the ordeal of double English, which she had got through in a rather damp condition: at least she hadn’t steamed too badly.
Anne had concluded long ago that for all intents and purposes her Mum and Dad did not live on planet earth. They both worked at the University and had met at another University when they had been students years and years before Anne was born.
They talked about strange things over tea so that Anne could only pick up odd words: words like plankton, arthropod or spigot. If she asked what they were talking about they always tried to explain but the explanations were always long and boring. But she had worked out that he was an archaeologist, mainly because he had once appeared on the telly, and she was some sort of ecologist.
Rather than give up entirely Anne had decided to try to learn some of the words. As soon as she got to Grimbank she had joined the History Club (3.30 to 4.30 every Tuesday after school) and the Science Club (3.30 to 4.30 every Wednesday after school). She still hadn’t picked up enough words to understand her Dad and Mum but she found she liked history. This was not good. Added to being small, having an interest in science and history marked you down for persecution at Grimbank. Without Barney she would have probably been dead before the end of the first term.
She tossed her bag onto the bed, pulled off her blazer and prodded the radio into life. The voice of Quentin DeSweeney oozed out of the speakers. She gazed up at his poster on the wall, sighed and fell slowly backwards onto her bed.
‘Ouch!’ Something hard and unforgiving stuck into her bottom. Irritated she pulled it out of her back pocket. That mobile phone got everywhere.
Seeing it again produced two opposite feelings: disappointment, that this, so-cool piece of technology did not work, and a curious sensation of affection. How beautiful is still looked, how much she loved it. She pressed the on-switch again. This time it didn’t even fizz. Her Mum called up the stairs ‘Do you want any tea, dear?’ Anne placed the phone on her table and rocketed out of the door.
When the room was quiet the 17-20-S opened as if it was looking around before closing again with a soft hiss accompanied by a soft glow. Then all was still.