"I used to be Batman"
I used to be Batman. You might not believe me but it’s true. For my seventh birthday I was given a Batman costume. It was and still is the best present I’ve ever gotten. They didn’t have much my money, my parents, so it was fairly basic. The main suit part with the fake abbs was cool but the thin plastic gloves, the slip-on shoe covers and the mask with the ears that never stayed up were flimsy and cheap. I didn’t care, though. The second I put it on, I was him. I was Batman.
I wore it whenever I could: around the house, out on the street, over to the shops with my mother and even sometimes to bed. I hated taking it off. The only time I wore civilian clothes was either to school or when my parents dragged me to visit relatives. A couple of times, though, early on, when we went visiting I was allowed bring it with me. I would change into it in the bathroom and return to a room full of my aunts and uncles as the caped crusader. And they’d play along, try their best anyway.
‘Oh, who’s this?’ my aunt Sylvia would ask, bending down squinting, stale cigarettes on her breath. ‘Is that Superman?’
‘It’s Batman,’ I’d correct her.
And I really was. Once that suit was on, I was him. My house became my very own Gotham City, and it was filled with the same menacing criminals – Two Face, the Riddler and of course my oldest foe, The Joker. I battled with them round my house, diving upstairs, tackling them to the ground, brawling and fighting them into submission. As I moved from room to room I imagined I was moving from one dark street or alley to the next. I asked my neighbour, Aoife, if she’d like to be Catwoman.
‘Batman is for boys,’ she told me.
‘Yeah, but Catwoman is a girl.’
She shook her blond head, ‘I don’t like cats.’
After a while I got bored grappling with the same faces, most of them were in jail anyway, so I started watching the six one news with my parents on the look out for new ones. There were plenty to be found, with good baddie names too like the General and the Monk. I didn’t even have to make up the stories. I could just re-enact the newsreader’s account and all I had to do was change the ending to suit.
I had fantasies of real life encounters with these criminals. In bed at night, I’d hear creaking noises downstairs, and hope it was some burglar stupid enough to think he could rob my house, my lair. Other times I’d be out with my mother in town shopping and I’d wish for some thug to come along and snatch her purse just so I could give chase.
After about a month the novelty had worn thin with my parents. And after another my father not only regretted buying me the ‘damn thing’ but he was starting to worry about his only son.
‘Enough is enough,’ I overheard him say to my mother.
I remember them arguing about it. But I had my own shit to deal with – I was Batman.
One Saturday evening I was in my room, getting the better of the Monk, when my mother walked in.
‘Christopher,’ she said. She’d stopped calling me Batman, and had refused to call me Bruce. ‘Christopher, don’t ignore me.’
‘Hang on,’ I said, out of breath and struggling to tie him up.
‘Christopher,’ she shouted and I turned to her. My face was hot and sticky under the mask.
‘Put your coat on. I’ve to go out on a message.’
‘What message? Can’t I just stay here…’
‘… No you can’t just stay here. I’ve to go over and get your nanny a card for her birthday. We’re going to see her in the hospital tomorrow.’
‘Can I wear my Batsuit?’
‘You’re not allowed with it in the hospital. Now you’ve worn it enough. You can go one day without it.’
‘The whole day?’
She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. She looked tired.
‘I’m not going to tell you again. Now hurry up, the shop will be closed soon.’
My mother’s beige and rusting Renault 5 was a poor excuse for a Bat-mobile and every time I climbed in my imagination would hit a wall and my fantasies would fade.
We pulled up outside the row of shops that faced my school. The Beanstalk was the only one still open and its grey shutters were drawn slightly. Sitting outside, tied to a small post, a dog with shaggy grey fur gazed into the shop after its owner. At the further end before the lane, a group of teenagers messed around outside Julio’s Chipper.
The shop was busy with those just out from evening mass and there was a snaking queue at one of the tills while a young woman cashed up the other one. To the right, just inside the door, were the newspapers and magazine shelves. I picked up the latest copy of ‘Shoot’ magazine and started skimming through it.
‘Don’t move from there,’ my mother said and carried on to the far end of the shop.
A gravelly voice called from behind me: ‘Where’s Robin?’
I turned and recognised the worn face from around the area. I used to see him on my way home from school, standing outside the bookies or the snooker hall. He had pale chapped lips, a wrinkly forehead and a deep line in the pinch of his brow.
‘Where’s Robin?’ he repeated with a big yellow grin.
‘I gave him the night off,’ I said, remembering the line my father used when my uncle Philip asked me the same question.
The man bellowed loudly, pinched my cheek with his grubby hand and left humming the Batman theme tune.
I looked up to see my mother now in the queue talking with Mrs Conmey from the end of our road. Suddenly there was a loud crash right behind me, and three men masked in balaclavas and carrying guns burst into the shop, smashing the glass panels of the doors. They shouted and cursed at the tops of their voices as they forced the customers away from the tills towards the back of the shop. Two of the men raced behind the serving counter, forcing the two assistants out with the customers who were being shepherded by the third gun man.
‘Christopher,’ my mother called out in panic.
‘Shut the fuck up,’ the man shouted at her.
She started crying and I saw the terror in her eyes as she was held by one of the customers. I wanted to run up to her, to be under her arm but I couldn’t move. I was frozen stiff to that spot, squeezing the life out of the magazine. The customers looked on, glazed eyes, open mouths, as the two men smashed and banged around at the two tills. They made a terrifying racket which was echoed by the constant yelping of the dog outside.
Then I remembered what I was wearing—the Batman costume. I started thinking about all those fantasies I’d conjured up. I had longed for something exactly like this to happen, and here it was, playing out right before me. This was the real deal. It was nothing like I imagined. I listened for the distant sirens but none could be heard.
‘Come on the fuck,’ the man guarding the customers called out.
Finished with the tills the two men were bundling boxes of cigarettes into a large black bag.
‘Forget about them,’ the third man called, ‘come on t’ fuck.’
Finally they came out from behind the counter carrying two bags on their backs and the one black bag full of cigarette boxes, and the three started for the door. Standing just inside it was me – the last person between them and freedom.
As they bulled towards me my mother screeched: ‘Christopher, stay in. Stay in.’
I felt every fibre of my body tighten. Spotting me, as they neared, one of the robbers double took and in that split second I saw right into his cold blood shot eyes. Outside the dog was still barking like mad. I shut my eyes as tight as I could and held my breath. I felt the distorted air of the men on my chest as they rushed passed, and it seemed as if my heart stopped. There was a brief silence that followed. And then my mother’s wail pierced it like a pin popping a balloon. She nearly bowled me over as she rushed to throw her arms around me. She held me close, her hand tight to the back of my head, and I could feel her body trembling.
The murmuring crowd gathered round us.
‘Is he all right Claire?’
‘Are you OK love?’
‘Fucking Bastards, God forgive me.’
My sobbing mother pulled back and peered with scared eyes into my own.
‘Are you OK?’ she asked, wiping her tears.
‘Ah Jaysus, the poor thing,’ a young woman said and pointed to the ground. I looked down. There was a small puddle at my feet. My mother patted my soaked legs and started to cry again.
One of the men offered to drive us home. Settling herself, my mother declined politely. They watched us get into the car and drive off.
Back at the house my father was very worried. He knelt down, and holding me with his big hand on my chest he listened to my mother telling the story.
‘Bastards,’ he said, and turning to me.
‘Are you all right son?’
I told them I was fine. I left them in the hall and went up the stairs. At the top I heard my mother whispering to him that I’d wet myself.
Sitting at the edge of my bed, I kept replaying the scene over in my mind, imagining like always that it had gone differently. Outside my window I heard a football being bounced on the concrete and the sound of other kids’ voices. I stood up and went to the mirror. I looked at myself in that costume for a long time. The stain was hard to see on the black leggings but you could just make it out – a slightly darker shade.
I removed the strap-on shoe covers, the plastic gloves, the urine soaked suit and then finally I pulled off the mask. For the very last time.