They run from the brick wall on the far end of the square to a wooden pole stuck in to a patch of grass, softened by the series of humid days they had been having. Their running is a game they created themselves. They call it Polo. No one can really say why it’s called Polo, it just is. The older kids before them had called it that and they didn’t think it needed to change.
One person in the group stands by the stick, the others stand by the wall. The cowboy versus the Indians. The Indians are ready for the fight, muscles poised on the edge of action, mouths still, their breathing calm…
‘What’s your favourite flavour crisps?!’ shouts the lone outlaw by the stick in the grass. The village gather in a huddle immediately,
“Cheese and onion”
“Ergh, that’s disgusting – I’m salt and vinegar”
“No I’m salt and vinegar!” –
“Mollie, just shut up, it doesn’t matter. You be prawn cocktail alright’. The village elder takes charge, and makes sure the huddle is talking quietly enough so the man by the stick can’t hear which flavour belongs to who.
“Oh come on, will ya!”, shouts the impatient villain.
The elder steps forward, and the group forms a straight line, their backs against the wall. She stands tall, shoulder blades almost touching, and loudly recites the flavours chosen, without, of course, giving away who said what. By the post, he listens carefully. He’s making a quick judgement with each phrase – what would Billy say was his favourite? He wants to avoid choosing that answer, as he knows Billy’s faster than he is, and in this game of speed, that’s not what you want.
“..And prawn cocktail!” the elder has recited the whole list, and now the cowboy must choose his opponent.
“That’s Mollie’s answer”, he thinks to himself. “No one would bloody think of that would they? Prawn cocktails – what even is prawn cocktails? Jade’s the only one who’d know that one, and she’s given it to Mollie. Definitely.” He knows his sister well – yes, she’s stubborn and loud, but she’s also the youngest. And the law of the square, as it is for playing children everywhere, is that the last one born has the least say. He fakes deliberation for a moment, looking up at nothing, and makes his choice,
“Ermm… Prawn cocktail!”, he shouts and sets off. Mollie, who was poised and ready, but lacking the definite knowledge that she was going to be picked, starts heading for the wooden post a split second after her older brother makes a run for the wall. They surge towards each other, but their bodies don’t collide as they head for the other side. They shout ‘P!’ when they reach their markers, then run back to where they came from, shouting ‘O!’ and it continues four times more, until the game has been spelled out by running from the wall to the wooden post. Mollie completes her runs and karate chops the post in her triumph. Sure she has beaten her brother, she swivels her head to catch sight of him and takes a breath to scream,
“POLO!”, her brother bellows out with triumph.
Crushed, Mollie turns her back to the group. A fleeting shame summons tears to her eyes, but she blinks them away. She’s tough. Taking a deep breath, she turns around to face the village she belonged to only moments ago, and grins. She’s the outlaw now.