I love going shopping with my nana. I’m a big boy now. Seven whole years old and I can carry the bags. I’m really strong too. I can manage two whole carrier bags now. Nana loves having help. She calls me her big strong helper and buys me sweets. This time I’ve been an extra good boy and she’s taking me to see a movie next week. We’re off to the pictures now to find out the time. It’s a bit silly that we have to go all the way there just to find that out. I wish there was a way to find out from home because my arms are getting tired.
I hate waiting for things. It feels like the lights are never going to change and let us cross the road. There’s so many people here. I’m trying to see around them, hoping that I can see across the road to read the times. I’m a good reader. My teacher says that I can read as well as a thirteen year old already. That’s six years ahead so by the time all the other kids catch up to me I’ll be able to read like a nineteen year old and they’ve left school so they must know everything. I can almost see the board when my nana pulls me back.
She’s always like that when trucks are coming and I never knew why, but it would be something that I would continue to do in later life. After all, you never know. It was at that moment, with my nana behind me, that the man in front of me and to the right must have tripped because he fell into me and a drop of something wet, warm and sticky hit my cheek. I quickly regain my balance as the truck finishes thundering past and see something rolling into the road. The lorry driver must have dropped something.
It’s a head. The right side of the face looks crushed in yet torn off at the same time. The right eye is out of the socket yet destroyed, leaving only a thin red piece of meat hanging out. The head wobbles gently, spinning round until it comes to rest staring directly at me. The left side is untouched except for the tongue, half bitten off and hanging almost by a thread out of the corner of the mouth. I know I’m not meant to be seeing this and for a moment my view is mercifully obscured as the man in front of me collapses to the ground. It was his head then, I realise calmly as I survey his ruined neck. It’s not like in the movies at all. This has been torn off, not neatly sliced. Half of his shoulder is missing too. Blood, thicker than any movie I’ve seen since is pumping out of where his head should have been. It seems so fast and yet so slow as well. I feel sick but I don’t know why.
I force myself to look away and find myself eye to eye with the head again, just as it blinks once and then the eye closes forever more. Maybe if I put his head back on he’ll be okay. Why isn’t anyone putting his head back on.
Something else is rolling into the street. A tin of mushy peas. I can’t stand them. The smell always makes me feel sick and seeing them always reminds me of that poor spaceman getting melted by the green slime in that film. A woman starts to scream. She must hate mushy peas too. Hold on, that’s not right. I shouldn’t be thinking like that should I? It just feels like the entire world is connected and that I’m the one who can see how it connects. We’re outside the cinema, a place where older kids hang out and here’s an older guy with his eye and tongue hanging out. It all makes a kind of sense, but I know it shouldn’t. Hey, those are my nana’s peas. Oh no, I’ve dropped the bag, just like that man dropped his head. Something else that goes together.
I realise I’m not holding my nana’s hand anymore and look for her. There she is, behind me sitting on the floor. She must need a rest after all the shopping we’ve done. Her eyes go wild as she sees me turn and I can see why in my reflection in her glasses. The entire right side of my face is a mess of blood and scraps of meat. Wet, warm and sticky – the thought hits me hard. That can’t be right. Only a tiny drop hit me. This is wrong. He blinked. He blinked like he didn’t know anything was wrong. What if my face has been torn off like his head was? What if I didn’t notice? I reach up and my hand is suddenly covered in red. A small piece of meat drops down onto my t-shirt. My mum is going to kill me for getting it dirty.
A crash behind me brings my attention back to the road where an orange lada has just swerved to hit the cinema on the other side. I know it’s a lada because my best friend’s dad drives one. We all tease him about it but I don’t quite know why. Orange. It’s orange. The woman is still screaming – she must hate peas way more than I do – and suddenly the most important thing in the world is that I can’t remember the second line of Oranges and Lemons. Every schoolkid knows that song. I know that the bells of Saint Clemens are the ones that have oranges and lemons, but I don’t know what happens next. I used to know.
More people are screaming now but I can barely hear them. I’ve got to remember this song. I just have to. My throat is getting tight. Why is this song so important? It’s not like I’ll be able to sing it while someone’s squeezing my neck from the inside like this. People can’t squeeze from the inside though. Oh, it must be that man’s ghost. He’s dead? Of course he’s dead, could you live without a head? The traffic slows and stops, a car blocking my view of the head at last but giving me a clearer view of my reflection. My mum is really going to kill me. There’s no way she’ll believe it was just a small drop that hit me. Why can’t I remember that song? The orange car needs me to know it. It’s still waiting for me to sing it, as the driver climbs out shakily. My eyes start to sting and tears finally start to flow.