Commitment has no half measure
Fighting For Peace
The name of Rodney Wilson alone was enough to make us uncomfortable. it belonged to a lean, brown-eyed raven-haired youth who could easily defeat any other thirteen year old boy standing in his way. In the unlikely event that you could even match Rodney Wilson as a fighter, you would certainly never overcome his elder brother Steve who was stronger but somehow less demonstrative.
Like most of our school, I had never seen Rodney Wilson fight but for some reason this never came into question. He had a scowl that could disable any smile and a mood that could change as if by the flick of a switch. Those that were most scared of him were those closest to him; I saw him hit one of his cronies once; the boy didn’t seem hurt but his fear betrayed itself in an almost purple blush.
Any new boys to our school soon had their mettle tested before they had even learned anyone else’s name. Rodney Wilson would confront them eye to eye with his infamous scowl and ask them why they were staring at him.
Curiously, the only person who Wilson never challenged was the captain of the school football team, Ray Powell, for whom Wilson played Centre Forward. Powell did not quite possess the physical power of the leaner, quicker Wilson but he was motivated beyond all else with the will to win and if he ever criticised Wilson for letting the team down, he met only with the infamous scowl and perhaps a passing threat. The glory of goal-scoring mattered to Wilson but Powell, who played at Centre Half was more concerened with motivating a winning team.
More curious still, Powell dated the Wilson brothers’ younger sister Madeleine, a raven haired beauty, jealously protected by her elder siblings. Rodney was once heard to say ‘If you ever hurt my sister, Powell...’ and Ray Powell could recognise a genuine motive when he saw one.
One of the reasons so few of us saw Rodney Wilson fight was due to lack of opponents. His reputation alone was enough to sustain him and the scowl was its chilling emblem.
So Wilson simply enjoyed his effortless power. He taunted people at will; he could afford to threaten people - perhaps punch people - without fear of retaliation. His capriciousness could even be amusing - certainly to his circle of acolytes - unless you were to smile out of turn.
But Wilson needed food to quench his appetite for agression; a fighter must needs engage an opponent from time to time. So he searched for victims. That put fear into most of us and we were careful to avoid him although we knew that the whim of a bully such as Wilson could be terrifyingly unpredictable.
Soon, Wilson found a target; an overweight boy whose ineffectual bulk relied upon two thin and shapeless legs for support. First came the insults to the defenceless fellow, and then came the blows and kicks which Wilson claimed were deserved by the lack of deference shown in the poor adolescent’s characterless face. It was almost fun to watch Paul Mayfield’s battering, I have to admit; fun borne of the relief that Wilson hadn’t chosen one of us; it was gratifying to know that Mayfield was the victim elect.
While this unsought for punishment continued for almost a year, puberty bestowed it’s blessing - or its curse - upon we young boys whose fourteenth birthday loomed. For Wilson, it manifested itself with the promising down of a brown moustache engendering even more female attention; for Paul Mayfield, it brought Soriatic Acne, more pupply fat and isolation; we could all see the tearful weariness rise in Mayfield’s face with each school breaktime as Wilson approached.
Before we entered our third year of high school, most of us had taken a holiday job. The Wilson boys had paper rounds as well as Saturday morning shifts at the local launderers, and Paul Mayfield, whose father worked for the local council, had helped his father with a dustbin round though it took some effort to lift and up-end a dustbin single handed. The acne, though still visible, was now speckled with uneven tufts of wispy facial hair and was a sorry comparison to Rodney Wilson’s thin but discernable moustache.
It seemed natural that as our school lessons recommenced after summer, Wilson’s taunting of Paul Mayfield should continue also, as opponents were still lacking. It was good break-time amusement. But there was a development.
Usually, Wilson would only kick or punch Mayfield once and claim, for comic effect, that he felt better for doing so but after delivering the first of a fresh term’s set of kicks and blows, Paul Mayfield was heard to growl.
This provoked a sudden burst of mirth in Wilson and his cronies. Wilson declared that he might have to strike Mayfield again to be absolutely sure he heard this bovine utterance, but as he approached to deliver another blow, Mayfield took a tentative, unsteady step forward which halted Wilson in his tracks.
A low and amused murmour suffused the uneasy silence that followed.
‘So you want do do something about it, do you, Mayfield?’ suggested Wilson, ‘Right. Spinney. Four o’clock. Don’t keep me waiting.’
Rodney Wilson was finally going to fight. Those of us who had never seen him fight before would be granted that much anticipated thrill which depended, of course, on whether Mayfield were to turn up, which was unlikely. Perhaps he would have to be rounded up, like a stray bull-calf, and brought to the place of sacrifice.
The place of sacrifice was commonly known as The Spinney, a barren stretch of wasteland just far enough away from the school to be beyond the remit of any teacher, yet close enough for the convenience of dark, uninterrupted sport and Wilson arrived first with his cohorts just ahead of a sizable crowd of eager adolescent spectators.
He was looking forward to a simple and spectacular victory, eager to dispel any cynicism which might, due to lack of recent evidence, have adumbrated his pugilistic prowess. He had dispatched two of his henchmen to make sure that the luckless Mayfield would be as good as his growl of defiance and not disappoint the waiting crowd.
Mayfield, as Wilson’s confederates were to discover, was ready and bore a countenance, much to their surprise, of grim determination. He shrugged off their arresting arms and strode slightly ahead of them, out of the school and across the road to where Wilson was waiting, handing his school blazer to his elder brother as he saw his victim approach.
There was little elegance in what was to follow and a blow by blow account of the affair is unecessary save to say that Wilson’s opening blows lacked neither style, accuracy nor force.
But they were nothing new to Mayfield; he had felt them all before in the playground. The only weapon he had was the bulk of his weight and a cold, fixed determination in his face to put an end to a year of dark, personal hell once and for all.
Such a motive, Wilson was ill equipped to dispel. It confronted him like an unforseen destiny. He had picked a fight out of wilful, malevolent caprice and as every blow seemed to slowly drain him of energy minute by minute, he slowly lost the will to face up to his one-time victim whose purpose seemed to show neither sign nor hope of relenting. The spellbound crowd stopped cheering their hero as they saw fear displace the harrowing scowl on Wilson’s face.
In desperation, Wilson tried to wrestle his oppenent to the ground with the almost fatal consequence of Mayfield’s bulk landing on top of him with full force, buckling a rib and leaving Wilson a writhing, breathless heap. Mayfield was intent on continuing and still possessed the motivation so to do, repaying in full the punches he had long received from his fallen aggressor but the gentlemanly intervention of Ray Powell and of Steve Wilson in the interests of his brother’s welfare brought the event to an unsophisticated yet not unpoetic close.
Paul Mayfield had no desire, and probably no need, ever to be involved in a fight again. And neither did Rodney Wilson. But probably for very different reasons.
*** © David Shaw-Parker 24.11.2015]