I can see the bike he rode, Rhys; can see it in my mind's eye. One of those silly little BMX things - you know, the sort that are OK for kids but that you should be starting to grow out of when you get to the age he was. Only this lad hadn't. Not yet. I can't tell you what he looked like though - he was wearing a hoody, so you couldn't really see his face. It was nothing personal as far as we can tell, you just got in the way is all. You see, the men who deal drugs 'round your way use young lads like him to run their errands for them; drop off packages, pick up the money they're owed, all that sort of stuff. Kids like him are less likely to get picked up by the police, you see. They just look like everyday softheads, acting tough, riding around like big shots on bikes that are way too small for them, don't they? So you see, Rhys, that's all he was; a BMX Bandit who had a gun and got carried away.
But you've gone into the blue now - at least I always imagine it to be blue, where you are now. Silent, peaceful, blue as an Everton shirt. There'll be a silence at Goodison for you on Saturday, before the Blackburn game kicks off. They'll have that photo of you in your replica shirt up, with a kind message for your Mum and Dad and all your friends and family, up there on the Jumbotrons. But the crowd probably won't see it. No, they will all be looking down; heads bowed in sadness and feeling a little ashamed, if they're honest with themselves. Ashamed that they've let things get the way they are so that this could have happened to you. There'll be a silence at the Emirates too, I'm sure, and I'll be there and thinking of you, feeling just like the folks up in Liverpool. We all will, at all the grounds, on all the parks, in all the pubs, or at home on our settees as we watch the highlights later in the day. We'll all be ashamed and crying and thinking of you.
I used to wait there, just like you; waiting for someone to turn up with a ball. Did you used to do that thing in your head where they play the Z Cars Theme as you run onto the pitch? Or Match of the Day? And then through the game, that commentator's voice accompanying every play, relaying the action as if it was a proper game. You never really grow out of that - at least, you wouldn't have if you'd been given the chance to. We all have a lot of the eleven year old in us, which is why this hurts us so.
It's no consolation, I know, but you're the braver lad by far - not that thoughts of honour or anything like that would have been in that young mind of yours. Oh, sure - he'll be full of himself at first, basking in all the attention he'll get from the bigger lads, the ones who'll try to hide their own fear from him and hope he doesn't panic or do anything silly; still cowards, still covering their own backs. There'll be a step in his strut for a while, and they'll give him some more of whatever it is they give him that calms him down, keeps him sweet and he, unlike you, will have a future. Only it won't be much of one, will it?
It can't be, can it? Always looking over your shoulder; always living in fear. Your future may have been snatched away, Rhys, but is was a better one than that. You lived your young life looking forward - to the next game, the next kickabout, who knows - perhaps a trial? An apprenticeship, even? One day, a squad number. It may never have happened, but at least you dreamed of those things while you could. Whereas the boy who robbed you of all those things...
Oh, he'll grow older, sure he will - he'll have that and you won't. But the hood that hid his face from us won't hide him from himself. And he'll always be there, looking back in the mirror as the boy turns into a man: that overgrown kid on a BMX bike, who shot an 11 year old in the back of the neck.
So, rest in peace, Rhys; sleep silent in the blue. We all end up there anyhow. You just were taken too soon.
L.U.V. on y'all,
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