When I opened the big gate of adolescence, a frightening squeak from a giant cast iron secondary school entrance welcomed and absorbed me in a solemn vacuum. Of course, and like today, there were kids who just wanted to blend in, ride those teenage years under the radar with minimum collateral damage, wanting to be acknowledged and noticed, yet having the skills to keep your cards close to your chest; not showing too much, dodging rain drops and other potential scraps or punches because you looked at, or aggravated with smart words a tougher kid with social or rather deeper personal issues than yours. Some built themselves with a strong and bold shell: Punks, Goths, Skinheads and Red Skins (the left wing ones; their Doc Martens were burgundy rather than black), right down to a couple of old fashioned black leather jacket bullies with learning difficulties, easy enough to manipulate if you knew how to; keeping them sweet by sharing candies, giving a few test wagers that would up some grades, preventing them from repeating the class… Again. I was a “bullet dodger”, or at least that is what I have been called once by that big fucker – who was actually pretty smart- as he tried to pound my face into the granite wall of the refectory. I used words, and it seemed to work.
But “my thing”, my secret power (because we all had some back then by the way), wasn’t any of that. I was an ecologist; or at least that’s what I thought I was, or was going to be… I longed to be an Eco-warrior and save the planet, go on board a Greenpeace boat and kick the “bejesus” out of some whale hunters, be that guy chasing a much bigger ship dumping nuclear waste into the ocean… I would also have settled for being a crew member on the calmer Calypso, led by Commandant Jacques-Yves Cousteau, but somewhat, it never really happened. I did my bit though, and it is in that decor that I met my oldest friend “Sergio Korner”. Just like me, with similar beliefs and convictions. Fate has a funny way to bring two people together; we didn’t really like each other on the school yard; nothing toxic really… He didn’t like my face and I didn’t like his; that is fair enough I guess. We got to know each other during a wildlife outing, organised by the regional society for the protection of environment in Brittany and found out that we were nearly neighbours, blown in children in a new life between the Gulf of Morbihan to the south and the old salt marshes of Séné to the north; he was twelve, I was thirteen…
At that age, we were full of energy and passion, thinking and owning what was right from wrong; we spent a huge part or our lives in the marshes and in the ornithological reserve nearby, dreaming by the ocean. We went bird ringing, hiking in the gorse forest up north, snorkeling in freezing waters, making up our own studies and theories and that very sad time when we tried to tag frogs to study their local migrations… “Nice try lads”, but this lark is something I would like to keep quiet… We became bolder with time, wanting to be protectors, live our youth wearing warfare like camouflage jackets, armed with binoculars and wellington boots, indispensable footwear for the sticky mud of the gulf. Sergio impressed me one day; we had just finished our sandwiches on one of the small islands of the bay: “I have something to show you” he said. It was a “Rambo” like knife he had bought the previous weekend; a compass on the handle, hollow inside, filled with cool stuff like fishing lines, matches, plasters etc, you get the idea. I noticed that the price tag of £2 on the sheath was still on and I tried to remove it. Sergio screamed:
“What are you doing?!”
“I am just removing the price tag!”
“Don’t do that, I like to know how much things have cost me… You know, for the future…”
“Alright, alright you tight arse, sorry!”
The knife became part of our gear, and even if he wasn’t afraid to share it, I knew it wasn’t mine. I wanted to add something to our growing wild guys’ panoply; one day, after I affectionately and financially corrupted my own aunt, I got myself a kick ass fake toy gun; it looked so real! A 357 Colt Python Magnum so it was, or at least that is what it said on the package! I couldn’t believe that she fell for this primal need nor how I managed to use “my words” to get her to buy me this insanity! The reptilian part of the brain had kicked in, it had worked, I was back in the game, feeding my basic need of envy and for acceptance… Sergio was well impressed when he saw it and these two teenagers had now not only a bit of Sylvester Stallone in the old army bag, Clint Eastwood had just tagged alone in our adventures. Life was sweet! We were it!
Few weeks later, on a summery Saturday afternoon, the phone of the house rang; my mother picked it up and shouted:
“ Franck, it’s for you! Sergio is on the phone! And whatever you two are up to, don’t come back messing my floor with mud!” for everyone to hear of course… Sergio was on the line, sounding very ominous:
“Hey, I want you to come over to my house; I need to talk to you about something… Can you come?”
“Yes, sure, I’ll be there in five…”
“Ok, and make sure to bring your gun, I’ll explain…”
I should have been suspicious at that stage, and to be honest I kind of was. I sneaked my real fake cold steel toy gun under my jumper, as my mother wasn’t aware of my recent purchase by proxy, climbed on my bike and headed for Sergio’s house. I knocked on the door and his father shouted from his office window in a brisk but friendly way:
“Franck! I told you before, you don’t need to knock! Sergio is in his room!”
“Thank you Mr “K”!”
When I entered Sergio’s bedroom, I knew something wasn’t quite right; his friend Pat from the old school was there, sitting on the bed. Sergio was leaning against his desk table, by the Velux window. Pat was a sneaky black curly haired weasel whose only purpose to be friend with Sergio was the hope that he would get a date with his sister; I didn’t like the guy who didn’t have much interest in nature. My friend, my comrade did the talking while showing me a local map:
“OK, here is the plan… A few hundred metres away from here is a guy keeping dozens of ducks captive. He uses them as calling bait for hunting wild ducks. Tonight, Pat and I are going to sleep in the camper van, I asked my Dad and he is OK with it; we pretended a sleep over. At 1 am, we will sneak out, cut the wires of the pen, and then free the ducks… What do you say?”
“Well, I can’t make it, there is no way I can sneak out at night, my mother has a very light sleep and she has a radar tuned in on my bullshit like a pipistrelle on a blind moth!”
“I know that” said Sergio, “but we’re gonna need your gun!”
“For what? To free ducks? They probably can’t even fly anyway!”
“Well you know, in case the guy wakes up, we’ll have masks and stuff, just to scare him!”
“You are absolutely nuts! You are going to get yourselves shot! They all have shotguns around here, you know that? Right? Seriously?”
“So you are not going to give us your gun? I’ll give it back to you tomorrow…”
“No freakin’ way!” I said, “You are fucking nuts! This could end up very badly for very little! Sorry lads, I am out!”
Then Sergio had that look, the same way he looked at greasy curly haired Pat who knew the rehearsed script. They jumped on me, held me to the ground and took the gun out of my back pocket…
“I’ll bring it back to you tomorrow, I promise…” Said Sergio.
I looked into Sergio’s eyes, his filled with guilt, mine with a sentiment of huge betrayal. I got up, re-arranged my clothes, pleading with them to reconsider their crazy skim, but in vain. I closed the door after me, went to the solitude of the old salt marshes for an hour or two, breezing the saline air of betrayal and tasting the salt of every tears running down my cheeks…
I didn’t really sleep that night, faking my well being to my mother. A bright Sunday morning had come, bathing south Brittany in all its sunshine and glory, church goers gathering in the little chapel across the road, murmuring and gossiping a little bit more than usual. I was just doing circles with my bicycle, doing nothing but worrying on the crossroad marking the borders between the two townlands… Then my father appeared from the hill, finishing his Dominical run with the cycling club; out of breath, he stopped and said:
“ Did you see? There are armed cops all over the place, just that way!” He pointed with his finger towards Sergio’s house… “That’s it!” I thought, they got shot!!! These two idiots are dead!!! I pretended to be surprised, still circling, dazed and hammered… What else could it be? Nothing! My torpor only interrupted by my mother’s call for lunch, I wanted to tell her everything, hug her… But I couldn’t suffer one of her ire, quite literally; I was battered and sick, conscious not to ruin the day for everyone . We sat at the table, she had made her notorious beef and bean stew my Dad loved so much.
the “News”, as always, was on; a stupid ritual I hated usually, but this time it brought me a lot of peace, and helped me find my appetite again… It was there, for me to see and hear, on national TV!!! It turned out that there had been a hostage situation, in the neighbouring village, as three prisoners from the town of Vannes escaped during the night and found refuge in a small abandoned fort near our beach… I rang Sergio’s house, his Mum reminding me that it was Sunday lunch and that I should be a bit more considerate, but I didn’t care. Those two idiots never woke up that night, their plan never got executed and the prisoners’ stand up ended up very peacefully… I wanted to kiss everyone, I think I did too…
There is a moral to this story, or a few for that matter… I will let you draw your own…
Keep Well and Eat Happy