I nod sagely, barely acknowledging him, but inside I have a warm glow in a part of me that isn't yet frozen.
"You're right. These buildings create a bit of a wind tunnel."
"You're making excuses."
"I haven't seen you try."
He looks down, considering this. He's hugging his knees as if trying to stay warm. It's a good sign.
A moment later a globule of spit curves outward and falls. Together we watch it descend, almost willing it to stay on course. It hits a TV reporter squarely between the eyes and Malcolm and I groan in harmony.
My next shot lands harmlessly on the front steps. Malcolm asks if he can change the target. He wants to hit the TV reporter again.
"Shame we don't have any water bombs," he says, resting his chin on one knee.
"If you could drop a water bomb on anyone in the world, who would it be?"
"I don't want to have chemo again. I've had enough." He doesn't elaborate. It isn't necessary. There aren't many treatments with worse side effects than chemotherapy. The vomiting, nausea, constipation, anemia and overwhelming fatigue can be intolerable.
"What does your oncologist say?"
"He says the tumor is shrinking."
He laughs wryly. "They said that last time. The truth is they're just chasing cancer all around my body. It doesn't go away. It just finds somewhere else to hide. They never talk about a cure; they talk about remission. Sometimes they don't talk to me at all. They just whisper to my parents." He bites his bottom lip and a carmine mark appears where the blood rushes to the indentation.
"Mum and Dad think I'm scared of dying, but I'm not scared. You should see some of the kids in this place. At least I've had a life. Another fifty years would be nice, but like I said, I'm not scared."
"How many more chemo sessions?"
"Six. Then we wait and see. I don't mind losing my hair. A lot of footballers shave their hair off. Look at David Beckham; he's a wanker, but he's a wicked player. Having no eyebrows is a bit of a blow."
"I hear Beckham gets his plucked."
It almost raises a smile. In the silence I can hear Malcolm's teeth chattering.
"If the chemo doesn't work my parents are going to tell the doctors to keep trying. They'll never let me go."
"You're old enough to make your own decisions."
"Try telling them that."
"I will if you want me to."
He shakes his head and I see the tears starting to form. He tries to stop them, but they squeeze out from under his long lashes in fat drops that he wipes away with his forearm.
"Is there someone you can talk to?"
"I like one of the nurses. She's been really nice to me."
"Is she your girlfriend?"
He blushes. The paleness of his skin makes it look as though his head is filling with blood.
"Why don't you come inside and we'll talk some more? I can't raise another spit unless I get something to drink."
He doesn't answer, but I see his shoulders sag. He's listening to that internal dialogue again.
"I have a daughter called Charlie who is eight years old," I say, trying to hold him. "I remember when she was about four, we were in the park and I was pushing her on a swing. She said to me, 'Daddy, do you know that if you close your eyes really tightly, so you see white stars, when you open them again it's a brand-new world?' It's a nice thought, isn't it?"
"But it's not true."
"It can be."
"Only if you pretend."
"Why not? What's stopping you? People think it's easy to be cynical and pessimistic, but it's incredibly hard work. It's much easier to be hopeful."
Excerpted from Suspect by Michael Robotham Copyright © 2005 by Michael Robotham. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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