The Way Back Home
Timmy tried not to think about how tired his legs were growing and focused on his mother’s back instead. Her long green coat and mop of tight ginger curls were receding further and further into the distance. She’d be angry if he didn’t keep up, and he wasn’t sure if him and Tommy could get back to the house all by themselves.
Tommy was several feet ahead of Timmy, but he was the one that spoke first.
‘Slow down mummy!’ he yelled in a winey, prepubescent voice.
Mum turned round almost immediately, her face flushed and her mouth set in a firm hard line. Timmy usually left stuff like this to Tommy. He was the best shouter, while Timmy was the best at reading and playing hide and seek.
Mum was marching back towards them now, and for a moment Timmy worried that she might shout at them, but she reached out and took both boys by the hand.
‘You two stay with me from now on, ok?’
Mums breath was coming out in short gasps, and her lips had gone thinner, the way they always did when she was mad. The boys struggled to keep up with her for a few more steps, then Tommy remembered something important.
‘Mummy, you said we could have new trainers!’
Timmy had noticed that his brother always called her Mummy when he wanted something, and it usually seemed to work. This time however, she only frowned.
‘Never mind. We’ll go back for those trainers another day.’
‘Mummy, what happened to that man in the shop?’
‘Never mind Timmy.’
‘Never mind Tommy.’
‘Mummy, why did that man disappear?’
‘He didn’t disappear.’
Mum was almost shouting now. If Tommy didn’t stop talking soon he was going to get them both into trouble.
‘He did so disappear, I saw! One minute he was there, then the police arrived and he went poof! Gone in a cloud of smoke!’
Timmy wished he was standing next to Tommy so he could elbow him in the ribs to shut up.
Mummy stopped walking so abruptly that Tommy and Timmy almost fell over on the pavement. When she turned round her face was pale, her lips bloodless.
‘That man did not disappear. Men do not just disappear in a puff of smoke. He said some nasty things to a lady in the shop, so the security guards came for him. When he saw them he ran away, but I’m sure they’ll catch him. I won’t hear any more about this. There’s no such thing as disappearing men!’
‘There is! I saw! I saw him look around, make his hands in to fists and then disappear. Timmy saw too- didn’t you Timmy?’
Timmy felt like he’d swallowed a bucket of ice. He was in big trouble now, whether he agreed with Tommy or Mummy. Why did Tommy always have to drag him into stuff like this?
‘Tommy.’ Mum said icily. ‘Men don’t just disappear into thin air. It isn’t possible. I don’t want to hear any more about this. Understood.’
Somehow it was worse than if she’d shouted, and the twins remained silent for the rest of the journey home.
A few days later the disappearing man was almost forgotten. The school holidays had started and Timmy was sat on his bed reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. He had an incredibly advanced reading age, Mrs Smith said. Sometimes she even talked to mum about sending Timmy to a special school for clever children, but he knew they wouldn’t really separate him from Tommy. Half the teachers at school seemed to think that Tommy and Timmy were the same person. Sometimes, Timmy wished he wasn’t really a twin.
He was just getting to the part where Harry’s nasty cousin Dudley gets trapped behind the glass when his brother walked through the door.
‘Timmy! Timmy!’ he said excitedly ‘I’ve seen something sooooooo cool!’
‘Go away, I’m reading.’
Before Timmy had a chance to move away, Tommy had snapped his book shut and flung it to the opposite side of the room. Timmy’s bottom lip wobbled. He wished he was a wizard, then he could put his brother in the zoo, and he’d have mum all to himself, and he’d get to go to the special school and.-
‘Don’t cry Timmy!’
‘I wasn’t going to cry!’
‘Yes you were. You’re always crying because you’re a scaredy pants! I bet you’re even too scared to come see what I’ve found!’
‘Am not…’ Timmy said reproachfully.
It was probably just some worms in the garden. For some reason Tommy loved insects almost as much as Timmy loved books. Timmy decided he wasn’t going to cry again, not even if his brother picked up a handful of worms and stuffed them down Timmy’s pants. He wasn’t a scardey pants. Scaredy wasn’t even a real word. He took a deep breath.
‘What did you find then?’
‘I found a Roman soldier.’
‘You mean a centurion?’
‘Yeah. A cen… centuri… a Roman solider thingey. Like on Horrible Histories!’
‘You can’t have. They all died thousands and thousands of years ago. And anyway they live in Rome.’
‘I did so.’ Said Tommy, chin stuck out, eyes gleaming with pride.
‘Fine then. Show me.’
Tommy led Timmy down the stairs and out the front door. They both stopped when they reached the living room and looked in anxiously, but their mother was fast asleep on the couch.
‘Where are you going Tommy? The garden’s out the back door!’
‘The Roman isn’t in the garden. He’s on the street.’
Timmy followed his brother onto the street reluctantly, reminding himself over and over that he wasn’t scared. When they’d turned a couple of corners and Timmy could no longer see the house, he realized that was a lie.
‘Tommy!’ he said in a thin reedy voice, clutching at his brother’s sleeve ‘we’ve got to go back! We’re not supposed to be out on the street by ourselves!’
‘We’ll be fine! You’ve not even seen the Roman yet!’
‘But we might not be able to-‘
‘Scardey pants! Scaredey pants!’
Timmy had no choice but to continue down the street. He couldn’t find the way back home by himself even if he’d wanted to.
They turned another corner and Tommy led him into the mouth of an alleyway. The walls were wet, and it had a funny, musty smell, but at least there was light at the other end. Timmy didn’t want to look now. He had a nasty feeling that what Tommy had to show him was much worse than a handful of worms.
They reached the other end of the passage and Timmy blinked in the sudden glare of the sun. He rubbed his eyes with his fists. When he opened them again Tommy was smiling triumphantly, his cheeks bright red.
‘See! I told you!’
Timmy looked at where his brother was pointing and saw the Roman centurion. It was a Roman centurion after all, he recognized the silver armour, lace up sandals and helmet with the big feathered plume from the pictures they had been show at school. The centurion’s eyes were wide open. Timmy watched without making a sound as a fly crawled right across one of them and the man didn’t even blink. Then he looked at the Roman’s stomach. The shaft of a huge wooden spear poked out of one end. The clothing around the spear was covered in congealing blood. Some horrible, fleshy pink thing had fallen out of the gash the spear had made. Timmy tried not to think about what that might be.
‘I told you! I told you it was a Roman soldier!’
Tommy was still smiling, but his eyes looked a bit too damp, and his lower lip was trembling. For once, Timmy’s eyes were bone dry.
‘Why isn’t he moving Timmy?’
‘He’s dead Tommy. The Romans dead.’
Then Timmy noticed something else. He tried to get a closer look at the Roman, holding his breath so he wouldn’t breathe in the nasty, rotting smell. His brow wrinkled.
‘It’s that man Tommy! That man from the shop! The one who disappeared!’