It was one of those endless, sunny afternoons that disappear when you get older. I was nine years old and on the cusp, not of adolescence, but of being able to play in the ‘Big End’ at primary school. I’d always envied the older children this part of the playground. While us younger kids had to make do with the ‘Little End’, a narrow strip of concrete as dismal as its name, where it was just impossible to zoom around as Superman, they inhabited the Promised Land – a vast expanse where marbles roamed free and you could get out of breath just by running from one side to the other.
In the months before I moved up a class and was allowed into the Big End I’d begun to hover at the edge of it. Standing on the grate that divided the playground in two was an exciting experience for a pretty solemn and sensible little boy; I wasn’t breaking the rules by stepping over the line, but neither was I quite where I should have been. Behind me my classmates were half-heartedly playing hopscotch or squashing insects for fun. In front of me was everything else.
I was doing what I always did: standing on the outskirts and watching. I wasn’t concerned about the older kids saying anything to me because I knew that in their eyes I didn’t exist. In any case, on this particular day, the majority of them were at the far end playing a game of kiss chase. The girls were giggling and the boys looked flustered, as if they were learning the rules as they played. Even then, I somehow understood that the thrill wasn’t in being caught; it was in the possibility that you might be.
There was one boy in particular whose attention the girls kept trying to get. I recognised him as one of the best at sport, which made him about as different to me as was humanly possible. He looked older than the rest, with a lazy confidence that made him stand out. His shirt was un-tucked and he had taken off his tie. I was fascinated by him. And at that moment, I wanted him to chase me more than anything else in the world. Then the bell rang and the thought drifted away like dust in the air.
There have been bigger events since; landmarks such as coming out to my friends and family. But this careless moment, sandwiched between lessons and playing with my Transformers after school, looms large in my memory. Sometimes I yearn for that little boy’s obliviousness, his innocence, as much as he yearned to grow up.