Rod never said anything back. He'd just turn and walk away. Sometimes they'd come after him and shove him against a wall, or push him over. He never did anything back. That took guts, I reckon, because if they'd tried to push me around I would have let them have it!

I'd come over to him and tell the other kids to beat it, sometimes. He always thanked me. He made me think of the Jews, how they seemed to expect to be picked on.

But other times he'd talk like a tough guy.

"I can take care of myself!" he'd say.

"What? You and whose army?" I'd say.

"You don't know what I can do," he'd say.

"Are you into karate or something?" I'd say.

"No."

"What then?"

"You may never know," he'd say, looking at me kind of funny. Then he'd change the subject and keep it changed. So I never found out until later on.

Then one day something happened that changed things so much they never came back to how they had been before it happened.

Bones and I were sitting with Rod beside the school pool. It was after-hours, and the only other kids there were Jones and his three mates. We kept a polite distance from them.

Rod wasn't allowed to go swimming, as you'd expect, so he sat and watched. He looked like death warmed up. His face and hands were white, with red patches, and his skin was rough with little bumps. He was shivering.

I'd been in the pool three times so I was pretty chilled. So was Bones. We had our towels round us.

Jones and his mates must have been getting bored because the next thing we knew they were coming up to us. They were looking for trouble, you could see it by the way they walked and by the looks on their faces. At the front was Jones.

"Pimple-face can't swim!" he said.

"Leave him alone!" warned Bones.

"Who's goin' to make me?"