Colours of Prejudice

Colours of Prejudice

A riveting read from local author Robert Bishop

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THE TIPS OF THE HUGE BLADES dipped and flexed, lifting the helicopter clear of the pines, sliding to the right, passing low over the main Holywood road heading out towards Belfast Lough.

It was dark and drizzling in Ireland, where time never meant too much—history being the exception, of course. Standing in the open door of the Wessex, the man hugged himself, knowing there was no protection from the elements. He cursed softly in a local accent. A native of Belfast, he wore no rank or insignia.

"We‘re ready down here." He held the throat mike close to his Adam‘s apple.

"All checks completed," the crewman added, trying to move the figure away from the open door.

OK, two minutes," the pilot replied.

The man tightened his grip on the door strut, bracing his body, moving his feet to balance, shaking his head against the Irish drizzle. He shuddered—somebody had just walked over his grave. Jesus, where did that come from?

*Did you see that?" the Cortina driver asked, spittle flying.

"Wouldn‘t a blind man?" came the excited chorus from the back.

Their eyes followed the flashing strobes out onto the reflected water.

"For fuck sake," the driver swore, "road block!"

"Shit," they chorused, running sweaty fingers through untidy hair, licking dry lips, their Bangor pints and the helicopter forgotten.

The pilot adjusted his line on the dark promontory on the far shore, known to locals as Napoleon‘s Nose; he checked the lights of Carrickfergus off to the right, adjusted the controls and eased the large transport helicopter in their direction.

"Flying with the side door open."

"Affirmative," the crewman replied.

"Colin," the man at the door turned inwards, responding to the familiar voice on his headset, "this one‘s awake." His accent was closer to the border, Portadown, maybe Banbridge.

"About bloody time," Colin acknowledged as he hooked his right boot under the body, turning it face up.

Tom felt the boot force his body onto his back, releasing the putrid smell of stale vomit. He could feel the bile rise in his throat, spreading upwards into his nose, filling the sinuses until there was no escape. He gagged, spewing his relief, tasting his fear.

Colin felt the dampness seep into his leg. "Bastard!" He brushed at the remains sticking to his thigh. "Paddy, help me move him closer to the door. That‘s good. Now, prop that bastard Rourke next to the other one at the door… No, not there, in the middle. I want Rourke to have a grandstand view." The request came as an order. He didn‘t know any other way. Both men worked methodically, each man shifting and organizing the inert limbs until, finally, the bodies of the three prisoners were in their allocated places.

Tom could feel his captors rearrange their body positions but couldn‘t hear a bloody thing. Even his fillings hurt. The rotors forced the air pressure down to meet the forward slipstream, the mix funnelling in through the open door, probing for loose clothing, forcing tear ducts to cry. He accepted the pain of the pinched flesh as strong fingers grasped wet clothing. His teeth began to chatter—fear or cold? Both…it didn‘t matter. He was beyond struggling. "Bastards…

Fucking English Bastards!" he shouted, knowing no one would hear him.

He felt better… no, he didn‘t.

"Jesus…" he prayed softly. He felt his head jerk sideways, then back again, like one of those stupid dogs in rear car windows. It didn‘t belong to his body but the fucking pain did. His eyes ached and his ears were full of his brains. Everything had shifted. The smell… the noise… Christ, Jesus Christ! He gagged again. His mind sought refuge. Escape into memories.

Childhood memories….

But the smell followed. There was no escape.

Pictures flooded his brain.

Black and white pictures.

Bodies twisted in eternal agony.

Open graves.

The wrong memories.

The wrong file from his memory bank.

It had selected fear.

The Judgment Day.

Sin and retribution.

The Man on the cross.

He felt the draught of the cold chapel. Fingers over eyes.

Our Lady, her head bowed, always weeping, never smiling.

Tangled bodies, feet and legs everywhere. Open coffins. Soundless screams.

No comfort there.

More feet, then legs.

Real legs.

Para boots.

He lifted his eyes to a jigsaw face of shadows and hidden cheeks. Nightmare eyes, amber bright. Turnip eyes, in a Halloween mask.

Colin‘s eyes.

He was back with them, back to pain.

There was no escape.

The raw wind mocked his howl of fear, lashing his cheeks with cold reality. He looked out beyond the bodies next to him, out and down into that black hole of Hades. He knew the rest of the living nightmare and he knew the ending.

He felt his body begin to rock.

Backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards.

Childhood escapism.

They‘d promised. Those bastards at Westminster had promised. Never again would they allow them a free hand. Colin didn‘t have the authority.

This was England.

Wrong… Ireland.

What the fuck did it matter. The bastard wouldn‘t do it. He couldn‘t. Not after Bloody Sunday.

Why had he returned?

What offers had the faceless ones made this time?

How long had they been friends?


Cookstown… a different world.



TOM HELD THE SMALL PHOTOGRAPH closer to the bedroom window. His fingers wiped at the creases of neglect highlighted by the sun‘s rays criss-crossing the black and white picture showing two small boys holding up their jam-jar trophies displaying their catch.

— o —

"What‘s you doing?"

Tom heard Colin‘s words as if it were yesterday. He remembered how the cornered stickleback had seized its chance and darted for open water over the top of the net. Gone.

"Nothing now," he‘d answered, shaking the empty net at the end of the bamboo rod.

"Can I try?" Colin asked, his voice excited, keeping his gaze fixed on the goggle-eyed sticklebacks circling in the large jam-jar. It was one of those really big jars. The jam could last a whole week if his mother had her way.

"Where‘s your things?" Tom asked, looking around the immediate vicinity. Nothing. "Haven‘t you anything?" he asked incredulously. "A net, a jar, nothing at all?" he questioned, shaking his head in disbelief. "And you‘re wearing socks and shoes," he chastised.

Colin looked down at his companion‘s feet, so white and bent in the clear cold water. "I‘ll take my shoes and socks off," he volunteered, tugging eagerly at his lace balancing on one foot. The knot was impossible. He pulled desperately at the toe, then the heel. "Bloody," he exclaimed, determined to impress.

"Hey, watch what you‘re doing," Tom cautioned, looking in disgust at Colin‘s shoe which had landed dangerously close to the startled spricks. His hand quickly covered the churned water of splashed excitement spilling over the brim of the jar, threatening a mass escape. Colin hung onto the heel of his sock, too scared to move as Tom checked the jar.

"Never?" Tom

"Here," Tom offered in a puzzled voice, holding out the offending shoe. "You might as well take the other one off now. No, not here, you idiot, over there," he stated. Exasperated, he pointed.

"Sorry," Colin apologised, scrabbling with the other foot. "I‘ve never fished before," he explained, plucking at another knot.

 asked incredulously.

"Never!" Colin confirmed.

Tom felt guilty. He‘d heard his mother talk of deprived children. Everyone caught spricks. Even girls tried. This boy was really funny and he spoke funny as well. He noticed the blazer for the first time. It had a badge on the breast pocket and silver buttons. He dried his hands on the front of his crumpled pullover. "Where do you come from?" he questioned, curiosity turning to suspicion.

"Up the road," Colin answered.

"What road?"

"That road."

"You‘re not from here," Tom challenged.

"No, but my uncle is," Colin defended. "I‘m from Belfast," he admitted.

"Belfast?" Tom sat down on the grass. He‘d never met anyone from Belfast before. "That‘s where the war was," he stated. Everyone knew that and he knew that this boy wasn‘t a German. No, he‘d seen films and those Germans talked even funnier than this one. "What‘s your name?" he tested, just in case.


"I‘m Tom," he replied, relieved. "You want a go now?" he asked, offering his net.

"Yes please." Colin gave one last pull and the sock came off in his hand.

"You‘ll have to take your coat off and roll up your sleeves," Tom added quickly.


Tom watched the boy struggle free from the blazer determined not to release his hold on the net. He noticed that the inside-out sleeves had white stuff right up to the shoulders.

"Is that Okay?" Colin called from the middle of the stream. "What do I do now?" he asked. The forgotten jacket lay between the socks and shoes watched over by the forgotten spricks.

"You did all right," Tom praised his new friend‘s efforts. "Want another one?" he asked, offering his bundle of jam sandwiches.

"Yes please," Colin replied anxiously as he fingered the dark crust of the thick white slices into the corner of his mouth.

"Makes you hungry, doesn‘t it?" he observed, capturing a dribble of enjoyment at the other corner of his mouth. "What do you call that again?" he asked, biting into the rich yellow filling.

"Butter," Tom answered, puzzled. "My mother makes it." He felt stupid, explaining simple things. Didn‘t everyone‘s mother make butter?

"What from?" Colin persisted.
Tom kicked at the ground. He watched the stone bounce once before splashing into the stream. "We‘d better go now. You can carry the fish if you want." He made himself busy, not knowing what to think.

They walked in silence as Colin concentrated on not spilling the water.

"What‘s it like in Belfast?" Tom asked, fed up with the silence.


"Did you see any German bombers?" Tom asked. He stopped, waiting for the answer. This was important.

"Yes… Well… my Dad did."

"How many?"

"Lots. My Dad said they had been after the shipyard. He makes things for the shipyard."


"I‘m not allowed to say. What does your Dad do then?" Colin pressed his advantage.

"He makes things too," Tom answered.

"What like?"

"Things," Tom defended.

"What for?" Colin pressed.

"For people… watch, you‘re spilling the water," Tom scolded.

"What sort of people?" Colin wouldn‘t let go.

"Dead people," Tom whispered.

"Coffins?" Colin whispered back.

"No silly," Tom laughed, relieved. "Wills. They call them wills."

"Wills?" Colin queried. "Wills—what are they for?"

"For dead people‘s things. You know... what they give away when they die." This boy knew nothing.

"How can they give away things when they‘re dead?" Colin smirked.

"They don‘t, silly. My Dad does it for them. He‘s a solicitor," Tom smiled back.

Colin walked on holding his hand over the top of the jar. "What does he wear to work?" he asked suddenly.

"A suit," Tom replied instantly.

"So does mine," Colin responded.

The boys continued down the long straight road leading into Cookstown. Their world was everything they could see. Colin squinted his eyes against a sun set in the clear blue sky. A bumblebee hovered. He just knew that even the Germans couldn‘t find this place. Nobody would ever bomb here, he reckoned. A few nosy cows rested their jowls on the stone wall, their doleful eyes reflecting the boys‘ progress. Tom pointed to the swaying udders.

"They‘re making their own butter," he quipped, laughing at his own joke.

Colin laughed with him but he couldn‘t share in the joke. "I live over there," Tom pointed.

"Can I see you tomorrow then?" Colin asked.

"Sure, keep the spricks," Tom called over his shoulder. It was nice to have a new friend.

"Thanks." Colin waved back. "I‘m here for the summer," he called after the retreating back.

— o —

"It‘s too tight."

"No it‘s not."

"We have to mix our blood," Colin explained, pulling the string tighter, watching their flesh rise like a butcher‘s Sunday joint.

"You‘re supposed to use a knife, stupid," Tom grimaced.

"We haven‘t got a knife, have we?"

"We could get one."


"I don‘t know."

"So, who‘s stupid then?"

The two boys watched their blood mingle, feeling no pain happy for each other. Blood brothers. They didn‘t know about fate, society and the eleven plus, the examination that pigeon-holed you for life. They had agreed to work on a farm, make real butter and fish for the big ones. Trout, and maybe even salmon. But they didn‘t know how to fail or how to lie.

Then suddenly it was all over, their glorious summers gone, and with them the end of childhood innocence. Colin, to the big school in Belfast and Tom to Omagh. Both to be carefully taught.

They had sent postcards their first two summers apart. He from Portnoo in Donegal and Colin from Bangor in County Down. He still had it somewhere. A picture of a great big swimming pool, Pickie Pool, all green and cold looking.

There was no swimming pool in Portnoo, that‘s for sure. Rock pools galore full of crabs and things, but no friend, no blood brother to share with and big boys didn‘t write to each other.

— o —

It had been Tom‘s family‘s fourth summer at Portnoo after the last postcard from Bangor. The teacups rattled in their saucers, spreading the latest gossip. It was true then, a new family wanting to buy, and them Protestants. Not rent, but to buy a summer place.

"A Protestant family right enough," his mother confirmed over lunch, "but a professor of history no less and couldn‘t we be doing with an educated family around here no matter where they come from?" she challenged. And she was off visiting.

"Lovely women," she informed them over supper, "no airs and graces—they‘re not like some I could mention. None whatsoever," she emphasised. "No boys," she looked directly at her son, "a daughter and a dog, fifteen, the girl that is, not the dog, a young lady no doubt, not like the dog." She pulled at her cardigan. Always a bad sign. "Do you know what they call that poor animal?" she asked knowingly. "Bugger," she whispered.

"The dog?" his father queried, suddenly interested.

"The dog for sure—who else would you call Bugger in an educated house?"

"It could have been worse I suppose," his father teased.


"Billy," he suggested, bringing instant laughter to the room.

— o —

Old Willie John had spied her first. "I see they‘re here then," he told the bar, wiping the Guinness ring from his stubble.

"Who?" the barman asked needlessly.

"You know who… those ones from Belfast" Willie added equally needlessly. "Have you seen the daughter?" he queried.

"What‘s she like then?" The bar waited.
Willie took another mouthful with closed eyes. "Like," he beamed as if his horse had come in, "like a young filly, legs like a racehorse and breasts like a wet greyhound‘s nose." He whistled softly.

"Makes you glad there are things you‘ve best forgotten," he grimaced. "I‘ll have another pint when you‘re ready," he ordered, lowering the remainder in one. "Aye, best forgotten," he sighed, regretfully.

— o —

"Bugger, here boy, here." The voice carried on the wind. The dog was stuck in the hedge.
"Bloody townie," Tom cursed softly to himself. "Hold still, you stupid animal."

"He is not," the voice right above him now changed, angry. The dog shook free, wagging its bottom like a jelly on a plate, licking her hand. Tom stood dumbstruck; in love, helpless.

"Don‘t be a silly Bugger," she chastised. Her laughter was uninhibited, clear and honest. "Not you," she corrected, "Him," she pointed. "He‘s the Bugger, that‘s his name."

Tom knew that he had a silly grin on his face and he had spent the last week avoiding his mother‘s invitation to visit.

"Tom," he heard his voice explain.

"Oh, so you‘re Tom?"

"Yes," he said. He couldn‘t figure out if the 'Oh' was good or bad.

He‘d noticed his first pimple the next morning. He was in love. He showed her his secret caves. The whirlpool with its stranded crabs the size of shovels, well, small shovels. They ran. They touched. He wrote unseen poetry. She was better than any boy.

Tom sat hugging his knees looking out to sea. He felt the breeze stiffen, becoming a wind on his cliff-top vantage point, clearing the remainder of the morning mist. This was his favourite time—time for private thoughts as he looked down on his witch‘s cauldron of hidden secrets and future promises. He understood Macbeth‘s temptation; to be offered all that lay before him and to control the elements of life. Dorothy would be his forever; he would make a pact with the Devil if necessary. He shivered as the last cloud crossed the sun chasing after its companions, then out came the sun again painting the sea in sparkling blues and greens highlighting the black rocks below. She was late this morning but it didn‘t matter, they had all day together alone except for Bugger and he didn‘t really count.

The voices were excited, mingled together. He stood indignant, surprised at the intrusion, trying to identify the cause. He lifted his hand to shield his eyes from the morning sun. She waved back immediately, taking her companion‘s hand, rushing her upwards to their meeting point. Bugger circled them both equally excited.

"Tom," she gasped, "meet my bestest friend, Sheila. Sheila, this is Tom."

"Hello," was all he could say in reply. Their faces shone with friendship. Suddenly he was alone again.

"Isn‘t this a real surprise?" she continued. "Her dad decided to call on impulse—they‘ve been doing the lakes on a boat from Ballyshannon. A cabin cruiser. Would you believe it? They‘re staying the night."

— o —

Sheila bloody Hart without an ‗E‘. Tom fiddled with his napkin, bloody napkin, no bloody use anyway. He shook the crumbs onto Bugger‘s back. He glared across the table at Sheila Hart but it was useless, she didn‘t even know he was there. And neither did Dorothy. Why had he agreed to come?

"Have you been to France?"

Tom realised the conversation had died and Mister bloody Hart was asking him a question.

"No," he replied rudely. And I just want to go home, he thought.

"Pity, you‘d love it. Wouldn‘t he, Dorothy?" he smiled down the table at Dorothy‘s joyous face, taking another slurp of his red bloody French wine. "We‘re going for the rest of the hols, the Dordogne is beautiful in August, hot but beautiful." They all agreed. Well, they would, wouldn‘t they? "Goodness me, I nearly forgot," his smile filled his face.

Tom felt his heart stop. He felt sick. He knew the question.

"Why don‘t you come with us, Dorothy?"

"Can I mummy?" He never heard the rest, just Bugger‘s howl as he trod on his tail and his childish request for a postcard.

— o —

He hid in his secret places all the next morning watching her search for him watching them leave. His Dorothy and her best friend Sheila bloody Hart without a heart.

— o —

He burnt the letter unopened but kept the postcard.

Bloody Eiffel Tower.

— o —

He replaced the creased photograph beside the postcard

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