Authors: G. R. Gemin
Papa, Mamma, Barbara and Joe
I was screaming for my life.
It was a mad thing to do – if something was coming the other way I’d be splattered. I felt the wind was going to pull my face off. The handlebars were juddering like I was going a hundred miles an hour, and the wheels sounded like they were screaming too. I squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for the crash.
Then I heard a moo.
I opened my eyes and saw cows in the road – loads of them.
I pulled hard on the brakes and swerved to avoid them, but the handlebars caught a fence post and I
flew off the bike. My leg and arm ripped on the road.
I felt stinging pain creeping through my body as I lay there. My helmet had slipped over my eyes, and I could hear the wheel of my bike clicking as it turned. I heard a loud moo, close by. I pulled the helmet off and saw the cows glaring down at me. There’s something about a cow’s eyes – wild and staring, like they’re going to trample you to death. Petrified, I was.
Slowly I began to get up, then one of them started coming for me – it was gigantic.
I screamed again.
“What you screeching about?”
She was standing behind me, like one of the cows had turned into her. It was Cowgirl. You’d never think she was still at school she’s so big, let alone Year Eight. She always seems angry too – red cheeks and eyes narrow. No one likes her.
“Get ’em away!” I shouted.
“They’re cows not crocodiles,” she said. “They won’t do you any harm.”
She clapped her hands. “C’mon girls. Jane. Rachel. Megan. Away!”
They moved off, just like that – scared of her, most like.
“They shouldn’t be on the road,” I said, as I got up.
“They’re dairy cows, not bulls,” said Cowgirl. “And
you were going too fast.”
I started having a go at her as I picked up my bike. I suppose I was more embarrassed than angry. Then a woman came out of nowhere. “Hello,” she said, smiling at me.
“She fell off her bike,” said Cowgirl.
It was her mam, I guessed. “Oh, you’ve hurt your leg, love,” she said to me. “Have you come all this way to see Kate?”
I was cringing, but before I could say anything she was insisting I came into the farmhouse to clean up.
So now I was in Cowgirl’s kitchen eating cake and drinking tea after cycling in the cold. It was lovely, but I wondered what Sian would say.
While her mam was seeing to my cuts Cowgirl didn’t even look at me. She just sat there staring out the window. Then she got up, said she was going to the shed and walked out.
“She’s off to milk the cows,” her mam explained as she finished tying the bandage. “Go and watch her if you like.”
Well, I could hardly have said I don’t like cows or Cowgirl. So I went.
The cows were all waiting patiently to go into the milking shed. Their breath made little puffs of smoke in the cold air. Cowgirl pushed her way through
them, like she was shoving aside kids in the school corridor. A couple of the cows gave me the evil eye and I froze.
Cowgirl glanced back at me. “Still scared?”
That annoyed me, so I gritted my teeth and followed her. The cows were as tall as me and wide as a car – massive – and the stink they gave off was rank.
Cowgirl opened a metal gate and the cows followed her in. I kept well back and stood by a big glass tank. The cows went straight to the milking stations, no barging or squabbling, while the others just waited their turn. Cowgirl went round and attached tubes to the udders, one by one. I’d seen it on the telly, like, but in front of you it’s different. I couldn’t keep my eyes away, to be honest. The pumps sucked the milk along tubes, while the cows ate from a trough in front of them, and then milk started gushing into the tank next to me. It wasn’t long before Cowgirl was ready for the next lot. “You wanna put the suckers on?” she asked me.
I didn’t have the nerve. “Got to get back.”
“Go then,” she said.
So I left.
I came down the last part of Craig-y-Nos hill without pedalling, eyes open this time. I waited for the bike to slow to a complete stop. No one was around, as if there was nobody left on earth ’cept me. I hadn’t found the waterfall place I was looking for so I was fed up.
I got off the bike and lay down in the middle of the road. It was mad, but I was in a mood and didn’t want to go home, not straight away.
The road felt hard and cold as I gazed at clouds and the tops of trees above me. I liked the silence – wasn’t used to it. When it started to rain I still
didn’t get up. The raindrops felt cool. My leg and arm throbbed where Cowgirl’s mam had patched me up, and I thought about Cowgirl’s mad, staring cows. They’d be back in the fields by now and I wondered if they minded the rain.
I heard a car coming down the hill. I should’ve got up, but after everything that had happened I didn’t care. Even as it got nearer and louder I still didn’t move. The wheels moaned and groaned as they came to a stop behind me. I heard the car door open.
“You all right?”
A farmer-type was glaring down at me.
“No … I mean, yes.”
I got up. There was something familiar about his face, but he seemed more angry than concerned. As he got back into the truck I picked up my bike and moved out of the way. I watched him drive off, and just as I was about to lie down again my mobile rang. It was Mam.
Where are you?”
No way was I going to tell her what I’d been searching for, or that I’d cycled from the top of the valley with my eyes shut and almost got crushed by a herd of cows. “Out on my bike.”
she said, like she was telling me
dinner was ready. Ruby was my gran’s dog.
I said you’d go round and bury it for her.”
“Oh, Mam! You and Darren are nearer.”
OK, Gemma, I’ll go, shall I? And you can get back here and make dinner with your brother then? You know how much your gran loved that dog…”
“All right, all right. I’ll go!”
I’d been in the countryside, but now it was all concrete and shutters – back on the Bryn Mawr estate after ten minutes’ hard pedalling. I live in the new part of the Mawr, which is a big estate stuck on to the old bit. In between is the Bryn Mawr Common, which is covered in litter and bits of furniture. You don’t want to live here, I tell you. The old part of the Mawr is a bit nicer. There’s rows of terraced streets, where Gran lives, and alleyways that run along the back of them. Gran has a house on one of the terraces. By the time I arrived it was pouring with rain. I went into the backyard. Gran opened the door and gazed up at the grey sky.
“Least it’ll make the digging easier,” she said, as I stood in front of her getting soaked through.
“Don’t ask me in, Gran!”
“Sorry,” she said, which made me feel guilty, as she’d just lost her dog – even though I’d never
As I dug the hole Gran watched from the back window.
“Remember it’s got to take the shrub too!” she shouted.
“Yes, Gran!” I was freezing and trying to be patient, but I wanted to get it over with. Gran was the only one who’d liked Ruby, because she was the only person it didn’t snarl at or bite. I could feel someone watching me, apart from Gran, and when I glanced up I saw Mr Banerjee staring at me over the wall from next door. He must be ninety, if he’s not a hundred, and he’s got creepy, bulging eyes.
“Dog dead?” he asked.
I nodded, then the back door to the alley swung open and Jamie Thorpe came in. “S’up, Gemma?”
“Cool.” He stood there in the rain, as if it was a sunny day.
Gran banged on the window. “Get AWAY!”
Jamie ignored her. “Bit me once, that dog did. Had to have a jab.”
“Yeah, I remember – Ruby hated having that jab.”
“No, me – I had the jab.”
He didn’t get my sark – bit thick he is.
“C’mon Jamie!” someone called from the alley.
Gran came out into the backyard. “Get away, you little hoodie!”
“Not wearing a hood,” Jamie replied.
Gran marched across to me, snatched the shovel out of my hand and turned on him. “You get or I’ll be digging a bigger hole.”
Jamie stared at her – he just wasn’t bothered. So Gran went for him. “You little…” He ducked away just as the shovel crunched on to the doorpost.
“Glad your dog’s dead!” he shouted.
Gran slammed the back door closed and turned on me. “Just stand there why don’t you!”
“He’s not worth it, Gran.”
“I can’t even bury Ruby in peace. And poor Mave getting burgled only yesterday, while she was in her own home…” Gran raised her arms to the sky. “This place is going to Hell!”
She was losing it, and I was a bit freaked. She went back inside and came out with the dog wrapped in a blanket. I went to take it off her.
“No. I want to do it.”
The back-alley door opened again. Gran turned around sharp, but it was Mr Banerjee standing there in his long Indian gown. He stepped forward and laid some flowers on Ruby’s body. “For your dog’s soul,” he said.
That set Gran off crying. “Thank you.”
She knelt down and placed Ruby in the hole, taking ages to make sure it wasn’t squashed. Mr Banerjee was muttering prayers in Indian, I think, while I just stood there getting soaked.
Gran pointed at the shrub she had bought. I took it to her. She placed it into the hole and pushed the earth all around, pressing it down gently. She stayed on her knees for ages – saying goodbye to Ruby, I guessed. Finally, she stood up with a groan and looked up at the sky. Rain pitter-pattered on her face. Her chin crumpled and she let out a sob. I touched her arm. “Gran?”
She looked at me in a funny way. “Stay and have something to eat with me.”
It was like she was begging. I felt sorry for her, so I nodded. Though to be honest, I preferred to eat with Gran than go home.
Gran’s got a lovely real fire. It’s one of her “busies” as she calls it. She always says, “
If you don’t keep busy, you’ll fade and die.”
I was stoking the fire as Gran came back in. I sneezed.
“Come on, girl. Get yourself upstairs,” she said. “Dry yourself and put on one of your granddad’s jumpers.”
I wasn’t going to argue with her in the mood she was in.
It’d been ages since I was in Gran’s bedroom. I dried myself down and looked for something to wear. Gran
keeps everything. I opened a drawer and there were Granddad’s jumpers. I could hardly remember him, but I suddenly felt sad – Gran was clanking around downstairs and Granddad was as dead as Ruby. The jumpers smelled rank, but I wanted to get back to the fire, so I grabbed the top one and pulled it on.
Just before I went I heard whistling. For a moment I thought it was Gran’s kettle, but it was coming from next door – the Banerjees’ side. I put my ear to the wall. Someone was playing a flute. You could tell it wasn’t a record – it was someone playing properly.
Gran shouted from downstairs. “
What you doing up there?”
By the time I got down the table was laid with bread, ham, cheese and Gran’s own pickle. “Need any help?” I asked.
She came through with a pot of tea. “No. Sit.”
She sat down and started spreading butter on the bread. I’d never seen Gran so quiet and serious.
“I’m starving,” I said.
All you could hear was the clink of her knife against the plate, and she just stared at the table as she ate.
“What happened to Mave then?” I asked.
“Burgled in her own home,” she said, still staring. “She answers the front door and there’s this boy asking for odd jobs. ‘No,’ she says, but he keeps
her talking. Then she hears a crash indoors. So she goes back inside and catches some boys red-handed, looking through her cupboards. They got away with her jar of pound coins.”
“Terrible,” I said.
Gran sighed. “It’s getting worse on the Bryn Mawr. We all go down the post office as a mob to get our pensions, frightened something might happen on the way back. This estate is ugly, like it’s in the middle of a war. We’re all scared on this terrace – scared of opening the door to a stranger. Like prisoners, we are.”
She seemed well depressed.
“Heard someone playing the flute next door,” I said to change the subject.
“Mr Banerjee’s grandson. His family are back in the area.”
“Oh yeah?” I said. Not that I was interested – don’t have much to do with the Banerjees. “Funny lot, aren’t they?” I said.
“No,” Gran snapped. “They’re lovely people. As far as I’m concerned my own family could take a leaf or two out of their book. They moved back just to be near Mr Banerjee. They look out for each other, and me – more than my own daughter.”
here, aren’t I?”
“And when was the last time you all came round?”
“No. Sunday before.”
We ate in silence.
“I hate cows,” I said.
Gran looked up, her forehead crinkled. “What’s a cow ever done to you?”
“Something frightening about them,” I said. “The way they glare at you.” I had her attention, so I told her about what happened with Cowgirl, acting it out big time. “One of the cows was going to trample me to death!”
Gran clucked her tongue.
“Suddenly Cowgirl come from nowhere…”
“Weird girl at school. Cowgirl, we call her. Huge and scary, like her cows. ‘Do you no harm,’ she says.”
“She’s right,” said Gran.
She was listening and I was glad, even if she must have thought I was a wimp. I told her about Cowgirl’s mam cleaning up my cuts at the farm and then watching Cowgirl milk the cows. When I finished Gran said, “What’s this girl’s name?”
She nodded. “I think I knew her grandfather.”
“When I was a land girl during the war. I was scared of cows too, at first. Did my best to avoid them, until I had no choice. Then in no time I realised they’re lovely, gentle creatures. I had to milk them – by hand, mind you – none of this machinery business…”
I’d heard her talk before about working on a farm during the war, but I suppose this time I was interested. She was only sixteen. Milking the cows, helping out in the fields and all sorts.
“…I was shattered every night,” she said. “Went to bed straight after dinner, sometimes as early as nine o’clock. Then in no time the farmer’s wife was knocking at the door again. ‘C’mon girls! Up you get.’ It never seemed to stop. But after a couple of weeks I got into the stride of it and loved it, like it was in my nature. There was one farm worker I remember – strong, and hardly said a word – a few years older than me he was then. His name was Gareth Thomas. I think he might have been this Kate’s granddad.”
She was miles away for a few seconds, then she snapped out of it and started stacking the plates. “You need to be getting back to your mam.”
“’S’all right,” I said, as I preferred staying with Gran after the day I’d had.
“No. You get home, but I want you to invite Kate
here for lunch.”
I couldn’t believe it. “No way, Gran,” I said in a panic.
She banged the plates down and stuck her finger out at me. “I just buried my Ruby, Gemma. Have you forgotten? I don’t ask much of you, and if you want that fiver now and again, behind your mam’s back, you’ll do as I say.”
“But I don’t know her, Gran!”
“No, that’s right – only been to her place for tea, had her mam patch you up and watched her milk cows. Aye, don’t know her at all, do you?”
“You’re scared of her, aren’t you?”
“She’s a girl, Gemma, just like you. And you shouldn’t call her Cowgirl – her name’s Kate. I like the sound of her, so I want you to invite her for lunch, day after tomorrow. You can be here and back to school in no time.” I opened my mouth but Gran raised her hand. “You’ll invite her and that’s that.”