by Marc Owen Jones
It’s 1994 and I am 9 years old, hanging out with a dear Bahraini friend of mine as we discuss all manner of things that two 9 year olds might discuss, including – ‘which is bigger? 1000 infinites or infinite infinites?’ I was the only one amongst my friends who thought that infinite infinites was greater. I still do for that matter. I also maintained that Donatello was far superior to Leonardo, whose popularity, in my opinion, was based entirely on the fact that everyone’s favourite colour was blue.
And for those of you who are wondering what all that means, I am talking about Teenage Mutant Ninja Hurtles.
Heroes in a half shell…
I should also add that although it was after school, we were hanging out in the school playground whilst our parents played tennis in the adjacent courts. It was, inevitably, a beautiful Bahrain afternoon. The sun was low, the sky pink, and the air smelt of jasmine. I was also sporting a new pair of shorts from oshkoshbegosh that my mum had brought me 2 days previous. I loved those sorts. In fact, I was thinking about how much I loved those shorts as I strode confidently across the playgound with Hassan.
Another friend, who happened to be sitting on a wall with two girls, suddenly called out:
‘Hey Marc, are you a virgin?’
Naturally being 9 years old I assumed this was an insult so I retorted confidently.
They all burst out laughing while Hassan and I looked at each other confused. Being the loyal companion he was though, Hassan quickly leapt to my defence and yelled’
‘Didn’t you hear him?! He said he WASN’T a virgin’
This resulted in even more laughter, and considerably more confusion for my friend Hassan and I. Fortunately for us though, our enlightened friend was more than willing to put us out of our misery.
‘A virgin is someone who HASN’T had sex! hahahahaha…’
…Clearly I hadn’t had sex. I was 9. It was the first time I realised I was, in fact, a great big virgin.
It was not long though before Hassan and I put this learning experience behind us, and continued to discuss whether infinite infinites was bigger than a thousand infinites.
A couple of days later I was at Hassan’s house. We were listening to his brother’s Gangsta’s Paradise cassette whilst dropping his Stretch Armstrong down 3 flights of stairs. Even as kids we had reached a rather mature agreement whereby we took it in turns to go downstairs to fetch Stretch. We used to call the game ‘splatty man down the stairs’.
If that ever grew tiresome we would launch fireworks out of cardboard tubes and direct them in the general direction of anyone who happened to be in the vicinity. This usually happened to be construction workers, who retaliated by either throwing stones or just laughing. Despite our childlike idiocy, no one got hurt.
If launching fireworks ever grew dull, we would make prank phone calls to any cold store that hadn’t already blacklisted us. I still remember scanning the Bahrain yellow pages for cold store numbers (why they were listed I will never know).
Anyway, it was after one of these splattyman/firework/cold store sessions that Hassan said something very strange to me. We were talking about school when he suddenly started talking about a mutual friend in such reverential tones that I began to feel a pang of jealousy. I mean, this mutual friend wasn’t much good at football or drawing, so what could be so great about him?
‘His name, he has a good name’
Again, I was confused.
‘You mean it sounds good, like Rumple Stiltskin sounds good?’
‘No, his family name is good, it means he is from a good family.’
At this point my curiosity got the better of me, which is usually a frequent occurrence if you are an 9 year old boy. Without considering further what he might have meant, I proceeded to list every friend I could think of in order to see whether or not they had a good or bad name. I soon realised that this rule did not apply to myself, or another mutual friend with an incredibly complex Scandinavian surname, but instead just to Bahrainis. Or in our case, our Bahraini friends.
‘How do you know which is a good name or a bad name’.
At this point our attention spans had been diverted (also a frequent occurrence for 9 year old boys) by an ambulance siren outside. Naturally we rushed out only to find it had disappeared into the distance. Since we were outside though, we thought it prudent to go the cold store to buy some sweets. We had had a long day and god knows we needed some replenishment. (I should add that we never prank called this particularly cold store. What’s the old saying? Don’t piss in your own swimming pool?)
5 minutes later we were armed to the teeth, our pockets bristling with all manner of chocolate and crisps. As we walked home we were suddenly intercepted by a group of young kids on bikes. Most of the bikes had long aerials sprouting up from back, and these aerials all had little flags waving from them. Hassan said to me,
‘Because of the villagers, they’re bad people’
‘They just are’
Since asking ‘why’ wasn’t getting me anywhere I just took his word for it. Villagers were bad people. From that day onwards, whenever I hear the term villager, I imagine those boys riding on those bikes with the impossibly high seats, the little flags fluttering in the wind behind them. I don’t think I really ever took seriously the idea that they were bad, I was just curious as to who these so-called ‘villagers’ were, and why we should avoid them.
Not long after that day I was saying goodbye to Hassan. I was off to boarding school for an unspecified amount of time. As we said our goodbyes, we swore blind that we’d spend all our holidays together. Little did I know though, how different our next encounter would prove to be.