I never understood crimes of opportunity until I was on that bus. It curved through the cheaper part of the city, a rundown place where even the roaches quivered at the footsteps of pedestrians. We passed in and out of moonlight, flickering between the blindness of the dark and the comfort of the pale light.
If my phone had been charged that night, I might never have noticed Declan on the bus. My body flushed cold. The rattling of the bus windows suddenly softened, instinctually subordinate to the drum of my heartbeat in my ears.
Declan was about to graduate high school. He was a conventionally attractive guy, wide with muscle and self-importance. If he wanted to, he could’ve slammed my head against the window in two seconds flat, despite me being a year older than him. It would be that easy for him, on an average day. But that day was no average day. That day, I had a switchblade in my backpack.
He pressed the button to get off the bus. The vehicle sighed to a stop in the thick of a suburb about ten minutes away from my own. Declan hopped off. So did I. The guy didn’t even notice me as I trailed a few paces behind him, pretending to be on my phone. I breathed in through my teeth and fished around in my pocket for the switchblade. Right then, I had the power to kill him if I wanted to.
But would I? Could I?
But God, he deserved it. He deserved it.
When I was younger I probably wouldn’t have hesitated at all. Despite being a scrawny guy, I was always creating mischief wherever I went. My younger sister, Lavender, always reeled me in. She was the type of kid who carefully stepped over trails of ants, who gave me her chips when seagulls stole mine, who was there to hug me when the girl I liked turned me down. She rounded out almost all of my rough edges with her kind nature. But I couldn’t protect her.
I turned to cross the street when a stray rabbit ran past me, ducking into a nearby alley. I yelped from the fright, then apologised to the rabbit. Declan spun on his heel and looked me dead in the eye. In that moment, an image flashed through my mind of me laying in the gutter, choking on blood. My thin frame would disappear amongst the autumn leaves by the next morning.
“You following me?”
What a vile voice. To think that he probably spat at her that way–
“Are you deaf?” barked Declan.
“Did you know you’re the reason my parents can’t sleep at night?”
His forehead creased. Poor guy wasn’t used to being challenged.
“You know what you did!” I screamed, a lump in my throat. “I should’ve been there to stop you, but I’m here now!”
“I don’t even know you, psycho. What’re you following me for?”
She needed me to hurt him. To deliver the same pain that she received, walking down a similar street, after a night out with her friends. After this, the others would learn, and they would leave her alone.
His eyes bulged when I pulled out the switchblade. “You’re the reason I carry this. You remember my sister, don’t you? Lavender Dixon? You and your friends decided it would be fun to beat her to a pulp. Do you have any idea how awful it is to spend every day hoping your sister will return home safe? Even when they’ve just run out for errands or gone to work?” I said, palms sweaty.
“Oh. You’re talking about the he-she,” he laughed.
I lunged at him then, drove the switchblade down his arm. The skin peeled back on either side of the wound and a stream of crimson spilled down his forearm. A scream tore through his throat. Then he swung at me, once, twice, sending pulses of pain through my jaw. Steady. Demanding. My body folded against the pavement and the switchblade skittered across the ground.
She needed me to win. Teeth gritted, I extended an arm toward the switchblade. My fingertips were so close to it…
“You want to end up like your freak brother?” grunted Declan, annoyed by the inconvenience.
In a flash, I curled my fingers around the switchblade and arced it through the air, swinging it across his lower abdomen. It was light but it still made him leak a little blood onto the sidewalk. Declan doubled over, clutching his gut. As he sucked in breaths, I rose to a stance and gazed down upon him. He was an injured pill bug, afraid of the next blow. A trembling figure under the white glow of the streetlamp. I wanted to enjoy that he was afraid instead of Lavender, but instead I felt vomit rise in my throat.
I tucked my switchblade away and ran down the street, gasping for breath, struggling to see through a sheen of tears. I slipped away in the darkness, eager to get home and see Lavender. She needed that from me.
When I walked through the front door, I lied about my fat lip and scooped her up in my arms and held onto her for a beat too long. She was safe there.
Lucy Berryman has a Bachelor in Media and Communication and writes from Western Australia. She enjoys conjuring up stories that start conversations about social issues and current events, often drawing experience from her personal life to do so.