It was during one of those long grey early evenings ―when I spent hours trying to keep Max away from the bullies and to make him interested in the world again― that it happened. I arrived late at the yard, having being held back at the art class to help clean the mess some of the youngsters had created.
I spotted Max right away. He had been pushed in a corner; two of the orphanage’s most feared bullies towering over him. All the blood in my body rushed into my face, hot and boiling.
“KEEP-YOUR-BLOODY-HANDS-OFF-MY-BROTHER!”, I screamed and then crushed into them.
Mayhem erupted all around me. A mixture of cheering and shouting, of scared and excited faces, as it was always the case when a fighting took place. As I have said before, this was the only kind of entertainment these kids ever got.
I ignored them. At that moment my world was filled with anger and silence. Only Max mattered and the need to keep him safe. I was no match for the bullies of course. But I didn’t care. I kicked and bit and cursed. Somebody grabbed my hair and hit me hard on the face. The blow made me lose my balance. I landed heavily on the ground. I heard them laughing. At me. This triggered my anger even more. I was burning.
I got up slowly and stood boldly in front of the bullies again.
“Stay away from my brother”, I warned them.
“Or what?”, the tallest one mocked me, leaning towards me, an ironic half-smile twisting his lips.
Without really thinking about it or realizing what I was doing, I spat him on the face and punched him hard on the lips.
All hell broke loose. The shouting intensified and blurry faces crossed my vision. I found myself on the ground again with the taste of blood in my mouth and the weight of another body on my chest. I felt dizzy from the blows, but kept hitting back, twisting and turning my body in an attempt to get the bully off me.
And then suddenly, the weight was lifted from my chest and I could breathe freely again. As if in a slow motion, I saw the bully who attacked me crushing into the wall and falling unconscious on the ground. I looked around amazed.
A boy I had never seen before was fighting the second bully. He was fast and dexterous and knew how to avoid a blow. He grabbed his opponent’s hand in the air, turned his body around and hit the bully with his elbow first in the face, breaking his nose, and then in the stomach, sending him as well on the ground grasping for breath. The yard vibrated with excitement. The number 1 bullies of the orphanage had been defeated for the very first time.
Slowly the new boy walked towards me. His dark hair was messy, his eyes the bright blue of a clear sky. Blood was trickling down the right side of his face. He wiped it off casually with the edge of his sleeve and offered me his hand. I took it and he pulled me back on my feet.
I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.
“Your spitting is pretty good. For a girl”, he said grinning.
I couldn’t think of a clever response to that, so I remained silent. I was hungry and exhausted, my head was throbbing and Max-
“Max!”, I exclaimed running to his side. “Max, are you ok? Did they hurt you?”. I kneeled by him trying to see if he was hurt. He wasn’t. He was actually… smiling!
I couldn’t believe it. He was smiling at the new boy and the new boy was smiling back at him and for the first time in ages I felt a spark of pure joy warming my chest.
“Hey, kid”, said the new boy. “It seems you’ve got a real fighter for a sister”.
Max’s smile became wider.
“I’m Alex by the way”, he added turning to me.
“I’m Phoebe and this is Max”. I looked straight into his eyes. “Thank you”.
“It was my pleasure”.
And that was it. From that day onward Alex became our guardian. Simple as that. And none of the bullies dared lay a finger on us. Ever again.