By Mark Burrow
Carlos talked about it all morning: coat flying. 'Wait until play
time,' he said, 'then you'll see.'
I coloured in my drawing of a bomber plane. Miss Bax was coming to our
Carlos looked at what I was doing. 'Don't use black,' he said.
'Black means it's burnt out. Use yellow.'
'I've started using black.'
I took the pencil and started colouring over the black. Miss Bax came
to our table, looked at my drawing and walked me to my tray which had
my stuff and she made me take out a colour chart. 'What do yellow and
black make?' she said.
'What do they make?'
'I don't know.'
'They make nothing.'
'Don't mix them.'
I told her I wouldn't. She made me turn the paper round and restart
from the beginning on the clean side. Carlos helped me. I used orange
and yellow pencils. We called the bomber Firebird. Miss Bax said it was
great. I liked it when she praised what I had done. But I made sure
Carlos took credit too. He had been right. Yellow was better.
Carlos was the friend who made school okay for me. I imitated Carlos'
walk. He bounced every other step. I bounced too. I switched from
eating sugar coated cola bottle sweets to plain ones. I bought frozen
drinks, jubblies, instead of buying fizzy drinks.
I would've grown my hair but mum wouldn't let me. She had always wanted
to be a hairdresser. She wasn't a hairdresser but this didn't stop her
cutting my hair. Frank and Marcia and Toby from my class cussed me for
having a "basin" haircut.
Carlos had the longest hair of any kid I had seen. Every week Miss Bax
told Carlos to get a haircut. She made Carlos take a letter home to his
mum. In school the following day his hair was still down to his
shoulders. I asked him what his mum had done about the letter. Carlos
said, 'She asked me if I wanted a haircut.'
'Right, what did you tell her?'
'I told her I didn't.'
The bell rang. Miss Bax ordered us to walk, not run. 'Coat flying
time,' said Carlos, making a gun with his fingers, shooting Marcia in
the back. The two of us got our jackets and bounced into the
We went to our corner, away from the ones who loved fighting. I wanted
Carlos to tell me about where he was from, El Salvador. Kids in my
school were from countries I never heard of. Uganda. Rhodesia. Vietnam.
Cambodia. I liked the name of where Carlos was from, El Salvador. It
sounded cool. Like a western starring John Wayne.
He raised his hand for me to stop talking, then opened his palm,
spreading his fingers, hair blowing wildly about his head. 'Excellent,'
he said. 'It's still windy.'
Some girls from another class passed by and made comments about Carlos.
He took no notice. He never did. My mum said Carlos was teased because
he was "a handsome young man".
'We're going to fly today.'
'I'll go on my own. I don't mind. You can stay at school if you like,
but me, I know where I'm going,' he said, pointing upwards at the blank
'You can't fly.'
'Take off your coat.'
'It's too cold.'
'Please yourself,' he said, removing his jacket. I paused and then took
off my jacket. 'Right, this is what we do.'
I looked at the girls who had teased Carlos.
'You listening? I'll do this myself. You don't know how much I've been
practicing. I have this all worked out. Every last part. It can't fail.
You can come with me up into the sky or you can watch me from the
ground, staying here on your own with him,' said Carlos, nodding in the
direction of Frank, who picked on you for no reason other than he saw
you walking by. Frank had broken a HB pencil in class the other week.
Miss Bax made us sit cross legged on the carpet. In each hand, she held
both halves of the pencil up for us to see. Frank stood next to her,
looking at his feet while she said, "This disruptive boy also has no
respect for school property...".
Frank was always in trouble
'Go on, Carlos, I'm listening,' I said.
'Good. When I give the word, when I say "go", we start running, and
then you have to wait until I say "now" and then you have to be quick.
You use both hands, so you're gripping both sides of the coat, and you
raise the coat above your head like your dad does when he's holding a
newspaper and he doesn't want the rain on his head.'
'I don't get it,' I said.
'Have you used your ears?'
'Then how can you not get it?'
'I just don't.'
'What is there not to get?'
'Can you show me?'
He sighed. He took either side of the zipper and lifted the limp coat
above his head. 'Like this,' he said.
I copied him.
'You got it,' he said.
My doubts must've shown.
He said, 'Leave me to do it by myself. You're putting me off.'
'I'm not doing anything.'
He walked forward. Holding the coat, bunched in one hand. I went and
stood next to him.
'You ready?' he said.
'If we do fly?.'
'..There is no if. Just go?'
'..I mean when we do fly, where are we going?'
He didn't know what to say.
'Where?' I said.
'Home,' he replied.
'But that's just?.'
'..No, my home. Where I'm from.'
'Yes,' he said.
I was unsettled. Then excited. 'Salvador,' I said.
'Salvador,' he said and he started running.
'Hey,' I said, annoyed by his head start.
He let me catch up. We were sprinting. Weaving in and out of the kids
in the playground. Passing Marcia and Frank and the helper who also
teased Carlos' hair. The wind was strong and running against it was
like swimming against the tide. I could feel my lungs, my trainers
smacking against the tarmac. I kept glancing at Carlos. 'WHEN?' I
shouted. 'KEEP GOING,' he replied, jumping over a rope girls were
twirling for skipping, interrupting their song. The wire fence of the
playground was getting nearer. I was running as fast as I could. The
wind pushed against me. I saw Carlos bring the coat across for his
other hand to grab. I did likewise. I knew this was it. 'NOW,' he
shouted. I pulled apart the coat and raised it above my head and I
jumped up. The wind rushed up into the coat, making it swell and bulge
and snap hard with air like a parachute. My arms tightened. Hands
gripped the material and I felt myself rising, floating, the wind in my
mouth, against my teeth, carried upwards and I heard Carlos yelling,
He looked over and I laughed. We were back on the floor, kneeling. 'Did
you feel it?' he said, 'did you feel it lift you up?'
'Oh man,' I said.
The bell rang for the end of play time. We hadn't made it to Salvador,
that was true, but we both knew the wind had caught hold of us and
carried us through the air and ever so briefly, we were sure, our feet
had been off the ground for longer than if we had simply run and
I had to go to the dentist in the afternoon. I was desperate to get to
school to try coat flying the following day.
So I was surprised by Carlos' reaction.
'No,' he said.
'But we can do it.'
'No,' he said.
I put my coat back on. It didn't occur to me then to try by
When I did try, I understood what made Carlos say "no".
He knew it was a one off.