A DIFFICULT DECISION

 

Leo was quacking at me. Yes, quacking - as in ducks, and he wasn’t being quiet about it either, consequently attracting quite a lot of attention from people passing us on the street.

“Leo, shut up!” I hissed, glancing apologetically at a woman who was pushing her pram past us.

“Well, are you gonna do it or not?” he asked, finally shutting up to ask me that all important question. I hesitated, and then made my decision. I couldn’t take the duck noises any longer. Taking a deep breath, I looked him in the eye.

Now, you’re probably wondering why my best friend was dancing around in the street quacking at me, and I’ll tell you. I should also explain that, no, he hadn’t gone completely mental. It had all started five minutes previously, when my Saturday afternoon was still going to plan. Leo and I were walking down Orchard Avenue, eating the sweets that we had just got from the sweet shop, when suddenly Leo flung out an arm to stop me and grinned in the direction of a bench. On the bench sat Mr Dexter, the grumpiest man around, fast asleep, his head flung back and his mouth wide open. We sniggered for a moment, and then Leo’s eyes lit up. I had seen those eyes too many times before.

“I’ve got an idea!” he told me excitedly.

“Oh no, Leo, let’s just go to the park!” I begged.

“I dare you to go and drop a sweet into old Dexter’s mouth!” he grinned, ignoring me completely. I felt my stomach drop.

“No! I can’t do that!” I protested. And then he had started quacking.

Let me explain. A couple of years ago we had gone to the park together for a ‘nice day out’ with our parents;  we hadn’t even been there fifteen minutes when I ended up in the duck pond, thanks to Leo.  All I remember is ducks flapping everywhere, me screaming and Leo laughing his head off. Ever since then he’s had this crazy idea that I’m afraid of ducks (I’m not). And now, if I’m too scared to do something, it’s not ‘chicken!’ or ‘cluck, cluck!’ it’s ‘duck!’ and ‘quack, quack!’ I hate it. But, as I stood there watching him quacking, I realised this could be my chance to redeem myself, my chance to prove that I was NOT scared of ducks.

And that’s how, stupidly, I found myself nodding. Leo gave a whoop of excitement, and I found myself reaching into my bag of sweets. I looked down into my palm: it was a small orange one. Clutching it in my already sweating hand, I turned to face my fear, in this case, an old man snoring loud enough to wake the dead.

“Go on, it’s no big deal!” Leo reassured me. Hah. That’s what he thought. I stumbled up to the bench, almost tripping over the kerb, and, choosing to ignore Leo’s snorts from behind me, looked down at Mr Dexter’s grumpy face. Despite his unpleasant demeanour, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. I looked around hopefully for anyone who might be passing by to save me from this disastrous situation, but, apart from Leo (who wasn’t being very helpful), I was alone.

“Go on! Quack!” he laughed from his safe vantage point a couple of metres away. I reluctantly turned back to the bench, and suddenly, as a wave of panic rolled over me, time seemed to freeze. The only thing I was aware of was my heartbeat, the sound of it echoing through my head, almost deafening me. Through a sort of daze, I saw my fingers loosening around the sweet. And then, all of a sudden, time shattered, like broken glass. Someone was shouting, from behind me.

I whirled around, to see Mrs Parker stood on her doorstep, in her dressing gown, looking mutinous.

“Hey! What do you think you’re-“. I didn’t stick around to hear the end of her sentence. The sweet dropped from my hand as I leapt from the pavement and tore down the road after Leo, who had already taken off. We practically flew all the way to the park, and stopped only when we could run no more, collapsing on the ground in a laughing heap. My blood was pumping, my heart racing; I felt alive, more alive than I ever had.

Finally, Leo sat up and beamed at me.

“Well, you did it! You’re officially not a duck anymore!” he laughed. I smiled, feeling only marginally guilty, wiping my still sticky hand discretely on the grass behind me. I felt determined that I would have done it, given just a few more seconds, but even so it was hard to be proud.

 

My heart was still racing.

A couple of metres away, the ducks were quacking in their pond.

Back at the bench, a small, sticky, orange sweet was lying on the pavement, already beginning to melt away into the cracks. As Mr Dexter stood up, stretched, and walked over to Mrs Parker, wondering why she looked so angry, the bench creaked loudly and seemed to sigh with relief, as if the weight of the world had been lifted from its shoulders. Next to it, a leaf fluttered across the pavement and covered the sweet over. It was almost as though it never been there at all.

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