A sentimental vignette that I wrote in 2014.
Fist Bump for Germany
‘I won’t tell you again,’ snaps Mr Kipfer. ‘Leave your dressing alone.’
‘But girls like scars,’ says Wilhem, caressing his chin. ‘Hope I get some. Scars, I mean.’
They turn the corner in silence. The corridor outside the headmistress’s office is lined with plastic chairs. One of them is occupied.
The boys exchange a look. Max gapes at Wilhem’s butterfly-bandaged chin; Wilhem notes the nasty cut on Max’s lip.
‘Wait here,’ says Mr Kipfer. ‘Ms Nadia will call you in soon. Don’t kill each other.’ He raises a finger to punctuate his point then walks away.
When Kipfer is at a safe distance, Max finds his courage. ‘Don’t kill each other,’ he parrots.
A tiny laugh escapes Wilhem. He forces a frown.
Max grounds his chewing gum into a flat bar and tests its resistance against his tongue. ‘I told the nurse you started it.’
Wilhem turns his head. ‘What?’
‘She asked who started it. I think she just likes knowing everyone’s business.’
Wilhem smirks. ‘Probably they all say the other kid started it.’
Max laughs. ‘Yeah, probably.’
A comfortable silence follows. But Wilhem can’t enjoy it – it’s still bugging him.
‘Why’d you hit me?’
Max chews faster. His mouth makes wet, smacking sounds. ‘I don’t know. Cause you’re…’ He drops his gaze to the floor. ‘Cause you’re a Nazi, I guess.’
‘I’m not a Nazi,’ says Wilhem, his voice level.
‘Yeah, you are.’ Max’s words soar out with no regard for the reluctance of their speaker. ‘My pa says all Nazis are scum.’
Wilhem laughs. ‘Do you even know what a Nazi is?’
‘Yeah!’ Max declares. ‘Course I do!’ But his cheeks are hot and his voice has betrayed him. He mashes his wad of gum into the underside of the chair.
‘I’m from Germany,’ Wilhem explains, ‘but I’m not a Nazi. They’re different.’
Max shrugs, looks defiantly to the ceiling. After a moment of silence, he roots around in his pocket and pulls out a crushed carton of cigarettes. He presents it to Wilhem. ‘Want one? I swiped them from my mum.’
Wilhem looks at the door to Ms Nadia’s office. Then he looks down at Max’s hands, studying the distinct gold Benson & Hedges foil. He reaches for a cigarette.
They hear movement from behind the door.
Max thrusts the carton back into his pocket. The boys sit up straight and focus ahead.
Ms Nadia emerges from her office. She looks the two boys over. Her mouth sags with permanent disapproval.
‘Right,’ she says, gesturing to Max. ‘We’ll start with you.’
Max climbs to his feet and looks dejectedly ahead, as if bound for the gallows. On approach to the office, he discretely holds out a clenched fist and presents it to Wilhem.
Wilhem stares in confusion. Then the corners of his mouth curl into a smile. He raises his fist and returns the gesture.