He was maybe fourteen, perhaps fifteen. The bag of schoolbooks weighed heavy in one hand. His sports bag was hung strangely around his neck, as though it had swung around from where it should have been. He was awkward, gawky and uncoordinated. It was a bitterly cold afternoon and he was walking home from school in his rugby shirt and shorts; hastening back to where there would be warmth and comfort.
I watched him walk across the road at the traffic lights. No mummy in a BMW or Mercedes to collect him at the school gate. No-one from his family had been to see him play. He walked home alone; nobody talking with him along the way about the game and about the day; and about all the things that fill the conversation on those years. He would get home and leave his bags in the hall and grab something to eat and look at his homework and look at the television and sit in his room and wonder about a world where gawky teenage boys who lived in council houses didn’t seem to have much of a place.
I wanted to get out of my car and shout to him. ‘Hey, it’s OK. Life can turn out OK. It doesn’t matter if you’re awkward and if you don’t have money and if you walk home alone. It’s OK. I’ve been there and done that. Life can turn out all right’.
I didn’t though. It would have sounded absurd. I would have run away if some mad old stranger had started telling me about life.
He walked into the housing estate and the lights turned green and I drove on.
Perhaps pain is a necessary part of being fifteen; it’s just that it doesn’t seem to be handed out in equal measures.