By James Churchill
Tomas Bryn had never seen the like before. At least he had never seen the like here, amongst the sacred groves of Maesgeirchen. None of his kind had ever set foot beyond the clearly signposted entrance on the Llandegai road before now, not in so far as Tom knew anyway. Most, Tom’s Mam claimed, knew far better than to dare such a thing. This was their land, their part of the city. That was the way it had to stay and the way it should always be. Maesgeirchen was to forever remain untainted by the throng of the ten thousand, the multitude who swarmed about the city in the winter months and left it desolate and almost empty come the summer. They strolled wherever they cared, filling the pubs and cafés and pilfering the supermarkets of food. Even when their time was done more than was necessary stayed behind, spreading out from the city centre towards Penrhos Garnedd and the hospital where they occupied the houses and lived comfortable and degraded, decadent middle class lifestyles. Or that was the way Tom’s Mam put it anyway. He was not sure yet whether to believe her or not as he knew many people from school who lived around Penrhos Garnedd and whose parents seemed little different to his own. They all looked nowhere near as odd or out of place as the strange folk did.
Tom saw them every day on the way to school, marching along the pavements like oversized ants towards one of their many, exclusive buildings which were scattered here and there about the city. He saw them in the supermarket and on the bus. He saw them when out with his friends and at the pool. They were everywhere, everywhere except for Maesgeirchen, and they were so very different from himself or his friends or any of the other people he knew. They wore strange looking clothes and had odd hairstyles. Thick, dense and wild their hairstyles were and filled with peculiar, unnatural colourings that looked downright alien to the eyes of Tom and his friends. To them a normal hairstyle was something short. Everybody they knew had short hair, not like many of the strange folk whose hair was, more often than not, of the inordinately lengthy variety. The hair of Tom, in contrast, was not untypical of those he knew. It was blonde and shaved at the sides with a short, gelled up Mohawk on top. His clothes couldn’t have been more different to that of the strange folk either. Whereas the strange folk wore a variety of thick coats, skinny jeans and an endless assortment of colourful and garish t-shirts, Tomas Bryn and his friends could frequently be seen sporting baggy joggers and sleeveless vest tops, as Tom wore that day.
This particular member of the strange folk was one of the oddest of them all. He wore a long leather coat that mingled with long, matted black hair at his chest. And beneath this nest of hair could just be made out a face, a square jawed, thick set face tattooed by a curling moustache and a braided goatee. And on his feet were a pair of heavy boots that made an awful clomping sound every time he took a bold stride across the pavement. His focus was straight ahead, ignoring his surroundings with neither want of knowledge or care for where he was.
Upon first sighting him making his way down the road Tomas Bryn detested the man. How dare one of the strange folk walk the streets of Maesgeirchen! Their presence in the rest of the city was bad enough but until that point none had dared set foot on this hallowed ground. This member of the strange folk walking along the terraced boulevards was an affront, not only to nature but to Tom himself. He had never seen anything so vile or so contemptuous in all of his short life and he was certain that he never would again. Of course, he wasn’t going to let the strange person get away with the transgression so he marched over to the stranger from where he had been sat on his garden wall.
“Alright mate,” he chirped, starting off in a friendly manner so as not to alarm the person. Causing alarm would lose Tom his prey and then when would he get the chance to dispense justice? “What are ya’ doing round ‘ere?” The strange person walked on, doing his best to ignore Tom. Tom followed. “Did you ‘ere me? I asked what you were doing round ‘ere…”
“I don’t think that’s any of your business,” the stranger snapped, not even turning around to look at Tom as he spoke. He spoke with a slight Geordie accent.
“Are you a saesneg?” Tom asked him. For the first time the man turned and looked down upon Tom. It was at first a quizzical expression, one of curiosity. No doubt he was wondering as to the meaning of saesneg. Very quickly his expression changed to one of disgust and contempt, the kind that Tom’s Mam claimed was the look of all strange folk. The man again turned in agitation. This time he said nothing.
“My brother married a saesneg…” Tom commented, trying to make conversation and win the stranger over before he dispensed his punishment. Tom’s grandpa had always told taught him that if you could first win an enemy over then it would hurt them all the more when it came to destroying them. That was the tactic he intended to apply here for he was so incensed that this member of the strange folk had wandered into his territory that he felt he deserved all the punishments that could be served. Adding an extra dosage of pain to the proceedings would be the icing on the proverbial cake.
“She ain’t bad looking…” Tom continued. “For a saesneg I mean… If I were any older I’d nab her for myself…”
“What the hell is a saesneg?” The stranger rumbled menacingly.
“A saesneg is someone from over the border… Someone like you!” The stranger nodded his head but said nothing in response. “So what are you doing around ‘ere?” Tom asked again. The stranger did not answer and this infuriated Tom. It was rude not to answer someone when they asked a question.
The man kept on walking and Tomas Bryn continued to follow, becoming more agitated at the intrusion with every step they took, every step deeper into the heart of the Maesgeirchen estate.
“Where are you going?” Tom demanded to know. The stranger again refused to answer and Tom boiled at his rudeness. “You know when someone asks you a question it’s polite to answer them,” he snapped. There was no response but the stranger, growing tired of Tom, started to speed away.
“Oy… I’m talking to you!” Tom cried after him. “If you’re going to come round ‘ere you could at least pay us some respect!” The stranger gave a snort and continued walking.
Now utterly incensed, Tom decided that he really must do something to set this stranger straight. In the gutter beside him he spotted an empty plastic bottle, rocking from side to side and half covered in dirt and bits of mud. He picked it up with one hand and immediately lobbed it in the direction of the stranger. It whizzed through the air, spinning around on its axis and then squarely striking the stranger on the back of the head before bouncing off into the road and rolling back into the gutter from whence it came. The stranger froze and Tom watched to see how he would respond. If he was irritated then good, it would serve him right for wandering where he shouldn’t. Then Tom would strike again. If he wasn’t irked then Tom would throw something else, something much more damaging. He spied another bottle in the gutter, this time made of glass, and for a moment he considered throwing it at the stranger. It would certainly serve him right then. The glass would break against his skull and he would be injured. He might even cry and then Tomas Bryn would stand at his side, laughing at the misery he suffered. He might even kick him just for the hell of it. It would be a triumphant victory over the strangers who infested the city, a blow to them and their alien ways.
But this blow was never to come for the stranger, no sooner had the bottle come to rest in the gutter, turned with a look of contemptuous fury. His eyes burned with the malice of the beast and they bore down on young Tomas Bryn with the intent of doing truly wicked things to his body, very wicked things indeed. It sent Tomas Bryn into a shiver of fear and panic and he immediately turned tail to flee, daring not to face the consequences of his actions. The boy may have acted tough and as though he owned the streets of Maesgeirchen but when faced with the true threat of a stranger bearing down upon him he was nothing more than a coward and a small boy pretending that he was cock of the walk. But he cared not a slice for this and never once felt any of the cowardice within himself. All he felt was bitterness and the knowledge that the next time a stranger breached the hallows of Maesgeirchen he would be waiting for them…