Erratic gunfire surrounded him. Jamie pushed on through the dense grass unperturbed, his hands wrapped tightly around the solid weight of his weapon. As he drew level with his comrades, he marvelled at their rigid stance, at the unwavering expressions of belligerence on their cold faces. He wanted to be like them, a dogged power, a source of fear. As he spotted his enemy deep in the undergrowth, Jamie’s heart fluttered and he forced a hasty attack as an invigorating wind cut through the heat. Within seconds he had toppled their front line and the anguished cries of mercy reverberated around the empty field like the spattering of an overhead fighter plane echoing far off in the distance.
Jamie jumped up triumphantly. ‘I win!’
From the thorny depths of a nearby hedge, a small voice retaliated: ‘No you didn’t, Jamie. You did it wrong!’
‘What did I do wrong?’
‘I said I had a man down. You were supposed to wait.’ The boy emerged from his hiding place, his reproachful glare fixed on his friend.
Jamie shrugged. ‘I didn’t hear you.’
‘Yes you did.’
‘I didn’t! I promise, Ben, I didn’t hear you.’
The wind had picked up pace. As Ben crossed the field towards his friend, he cupped his hands carefully in front of him, his blonde fringe blowing in the breeze.
When he reached him, Jamie was standing with his hands on his hips. ‘They wouldn’t wait during a proper battle, you know,’ he said. ‘Real soldiers would just push their wounded aside or use their bodies as a barrier.’ To demonstrate, he began piling his own men on top of one another, creating a tiny column of stiff arms and legs that barely reached his knee.
Ben snorted, turning away from him as he studied the figurine in his hands.
‘Why’s he only got one arm?’ Jamie asked, peering over his shoulder.
‘I sort of…stood on it.’ From the pocket of his shorts, Ben produced a broken piece of hollow lead. He frowned. ‘It was an accident.’
‘It’s not funny!’
‘I’m not laughing.’
‘Yes you are!’ Ben’s voice cracked. He bent down quickly, hiding his face.
For a while, there was silence. Jamie waited awkwardly as his friend dug a shallow grave in the earth. Eventually, he crouched down to join him.
‘Sorry,’ he said quietly.
Ben nodded. ‘It’s okay.’
‘He might be fixable, you know.’
Jamie picked up the damaged pieces of the soldier and forcefully pushed them back together, but the break wasn’t clean, leaving the fit jagged and uneven. ‘Bit of glue will fix that,’ he mumbled.
‘Do you reckon?’
Jamie nodded, the assured confidence of an experienced surgeon clearly mimicked on his eight-year-old face. ‘Absolutely.’
Ben sprang up, his wet face blotchy, but bright, and he raced towards the field’s exit as if the gift of life had been given back to him rather than his toy figurine. ‘Come on,’ he panted when he realised Jamie wasn’t behind him, ‘Dad might have some glue in his shed.’
‘But…can’t we play a bit longer?’
‘No, we need to do this first!’
Jamie fought the urge to shout back, to throw his stick gun down in protest and instead he ran to catch up with his friend, his near-victory in their recurrent game such an excitingly rare occurrence that he could scarcely stop himself from retelling the tale despite Ben’s obvious involvement in it:
‘It was your hair, you see. I spotted it in the hedge and I knew you hadn’t seen me and so I crept up really quietly and when I was close enough I went BANG, BANG, BANG!’
‘I did say I had a man down, though.’ Ben turned back to Jamie, his expression earnest as he said: ‘You really should learn to strategize better, Jamie. I’ll bet you anything that real soldiers don’t just attack when they don’t know what they’re up against.’
As Ben hopped over the stile and out of sight, Jamie ran back to collect the army of soldiers still peppering the overgrown playing field and he wondered, as he searched amongst the long-stemmed grass, if a real war would be much different to the games he played with his friend; surely the basics were the same? And if Ben was by his side rather than on the opposing team, then Jamie couldn’t see how it could be any worse, in fact if anything it would be better, wouldn’t it? It would be just like playing toy soldiers.
- Bang, Bang is a Tiny Tale in two parts. Find out what happens to Ben and Jamie next week!