Authors: Peter Lancett
I’m off the bike, manoeuvring it so that the front wheel pushes open the garden gate on its squeak-free hinges. Dad sees to that. It’s on a spring too, so it bangs closed behind me.
It’s awkward to do, but I take the trouble to put my bike into the shed and snap the padlock shut. I just simply know that if I leave it in the backyard, even though it’s hidden from the street, it probably won’t be there in the morning. I know where I live, and while I’m not ashamed of it, I’m far from being proud of it.
I’m holding my canvas bag in one hand. If I look down at it, I fancy I can
see the bulge made by the gun. Maybe I’m imagining that, but I twist the bag in my hand just the same so that the bulge is tucked inwards, facing me. It’s better to think about the books in that bag; stuff that I need to help me with a couple of school assignments.
Yeah, I’m not proud of this place and I want to get the hell out as soon as I can. And while those kids might be right, and reading books doesn’t
make me something
, I know that books will set me free. I have just one goal, and that’s university. One far from here I’m hoping, and I don’t care how much debt I rack up in student loans. I just want to be somewhere else.
The back door is unlocked and I step into the kitchen. Mum is at the sink, washing dishes. She smiles at me and looks down at the bag swinging against my thigh.
‘Been to the library again? I guessed as much. Your tea is in the microwave. Want me to warm it up?’
She’s worked in a supermarket all day and she’s come home and cooked for the four of us, and now she’s doing the dishes and she still has time to smile. The thing is, she’s as proud as anything that I’m turning out right. Well, what I let her see of me is, at any rate. I think that she wants my university dream as much as I do. I’m surprised, really, because she’s already had a success to boast about. My sister is in her final year at the University of Sussex in Brighton. She’s reading Law and she’s doing really well. She doesn’t come home often, not even in the holidays.
It’s not likely that my kid brother is going to be academically inclined though. He’s fourteen and he hates school. He stays away as often as not. He screens it from Mum pretty well, although of course
know the days when he’s not there. I’d never say anything, and he knows that. We get on OK, him and me. But we don’t hang around together. He has his friends. I have mine. And, anyway, most of the time I want to get on with my school work. I want to be able to choose which university I go to. I keep
thinking of Brighton, where Catherine is now. I like the idea of being by the seaside. And it won’t be awkward or anything; she’ll be gone by the time my turn comes around.
I look at the microwave and I can smell that it’s a slice of meat pie in there. I’m a sucker for Mum’s meat pie.
‘Yeah, warm it up. I’m just going to take these to my room. I’ll be down in a minute.’
I don’t even blink, I don’t even concern myself with what’s in the bag. Mum was never going to ask me to tip out the contents on the kitchen table. I think that she’s naïve about what goes on in the streets outside. Probably just as well. I think that I should help her more, talk to her more. But I never do. I just let her cook and clean and work for me. Not
for me. But you know what I mean.
I wander into the living room on my way to the stairs. Dad is asleep in his chair, facing the television. The local news is on and I just about make out the fuzzy images
of cars being raced around the streets of an estate pretty much like mine. Might even
mine. This is a big estate after all. It’s going to be a story about anti-social kids but I don’t stop to look and listen. I leave Dad to his slumber with the cup of tea going cold on the little wooden table beside his chair. Dad works hard too, as an electrician, and he’s doing lots of overtime at the moment.
I take the stairs two at a time. I can already hear the noise of a shoot ’em up video game. That will be my brother in his room. I hear the screeching of tyres and the gunshots and behind it all the thump thump rhythm of the hip-hop music. I like hip-hop and R&B, but I couldn’t work with it booming right in my ear. If there’s one person in this house who would be impressed rather than appalled by what I have in my bag, it would be Sean. He’s not a bad kid, I think, but he’s into street culture. On the video console, he’s Gangsta Number One, but in real life he doesn’t run with the roughest kids on the estate. I don’t think he does. It’s at times like this that I’m glad that Catherine has gone and we each have
our own room. Like I said, I’d never be able to study with that row going on.
On the landing at the top of the stairs, I step past Sean’s room and push open the door to my own.
Sean talks like he’s Jay-Z or something. I don’t understand how he knows I’m here with all the noise from his dumb game. Now his face is round the door jamb, grinning.
‘Been waiting for ya bro. Wanna race some? Wanna get thrashed?’
I shake my bag at him and I know that books are the same to him as garlic to a vampire.
‘Maybe later. I have some work to do first.’
‘Yo’s wasting yo life, bro.’
He’s gone and his door is shut behind him before I can reply and really, to tell the truth, I’m glad. In my room I take the books out of my bag and lay them on my bed. I leave the gun in there. Where am I going to hide it? If this was a movie, I’d have a lockable metal box in which I keep my diary, or some such shit. But this is real and I don’t keep a diary. The solution is much simpler than it would be in any movie. My bed is in a corner of my room and butts up to two walls. I’m just going to put that gun in a plastic bag and shove it right into the corner, under my bed. No one will ever find it there. And it is only for a day or so.
I don’t normally throw the bolt on my door, but that’s exactly what I do now. Because in truth, now I’m safely here in my room, the gun is beginning to fascinate me. I take it out of the canvas bag and I weigh it in my hand and just look at it. I turn it over, I feel its weight. I smell it. The gun oil is somehow sweet. I fancy that I’m smelling for gunshot residue like on CSI, but I wouldn’t recognise it even if it was present. It’s terrible to admit this, but I’m even wondering if it’s
been fired. I’m sure that it must have been. And I wonder if anyone has been shot with this particular gun.
I sit at my computer with the gun on my lap. I’m surfing the net because I want to know what type of gun it is. How crazy is that? Actually, I find it quite quickly on an American gun dealer’s website. I hold the gun in front of me and compare it with the picture on the screen. No question about it, I’m holding a Ruger P95 9mm automatic. And I discover that it carries a fifteen round magazine. I’m becoming quite the expert, in just a few minutes.
The gun is held in two hands, the way I’ve seen them hold handguns on television and in the movies. I’m squinting down the gunsight along the top of the barrel, and the strange thing is, I do feel powerful holding it and pointing it.
Bang bang bang on my door.
‘Steven, your tea’s ready.’
I swear that I squeal and the gun skitters out of my hands and clatters to the floor beneath my desk.
‘Yeah, I’ll be right down.’
I hope my voice isn’t too muffled. I don’t want Mum trying the door and wondering why it’s bolted. I find the fallen gun and now I wrap it in a plastic bag. I can feel my heart racing as I squirm under the bed and push the package into the far corner. I run my fingers through my hair to straighten it before unbolting my door and heading – still trembling with shock – for the stairs. Bloody guns.
I'm at school. I'm sitting in a classroom next to my best friend Andy Hartnell. It's geography; not my favourite subject, but it's OK. And the teacher is Ms Augustine, and you know what? I'll admit this â I quite fancy her. She's in her late twenties, I'd say, and she has this long blonde hair that she sometimes wears in a pony tail â like today. And she smiles a lot, which is when I fancy her the most.
This class is pretty well behaved, I'd say. I mean there's talking and fooling around, and passing notes and throwing paper at each other. But none of it is malicious. And when Ms Augustine turns round and asks
for quiet, well, she actually gets it. For a little while at least. I know from what I read in the papers that older people would say that even this class is out of control, but I can tell you what it's like in classes where they just don't give a damn. There are classes in this very school where kids are walking around, swearing at each other, shouting across at each other, and even fighting. Not all the time, but it goes on. I'm just glad I don't have any classes like that. I mean, what chance have you got of learning anything when the kids are just jerking around like that? I know, I know; I'm meant to find that kind of stuff OK. But you might be surprised by how many of us just want to do well enough here so that we can move on. I'm not the only one. University, remember? It's all I think of. And if I can't learn, then I won't get there.
I don't know what I actually want to be when I'm older and out of here. I've thought perhaps of being a lawyer, like Catherine. But really I have no idea. Maybe a journalist. One thing is for sure though. I don't want to be a teacher. I've seen what happens when
a teacher tries to take control of a class. You know, like the classes I've just been on about. I've seen the swearing and the abuse. I've seen the taunting. And I've seen the beatings.
This school is actually not so bad. There are schools far worse than this. But let me tell you some of the things that have happened right here, just this year. First off â and I'd like you to understand that this was a class of thirteen and fourteen year olds â there was what happened to Mr Kowalski. He was trying to teach maths through the usual noise and shouting, when one kid got up and walked across the classroom and punched another lad right in the face where he was sitting. Mr Kowalski tried to intervene and told the first boy to get out of the classroom. That sounds like a pathetic response, but it's about all that a teacher can do, no matter what happens. Teachers are not allowed to touch us at all, no matter what. And we all know that too. It's our âhuman rights' isn't it? It's the law. A teacher touches any of us and we don't want them to, then it's a quick call to the
police and it's the teacher who will end up suspended. We all know that. Teachers and kids alike. Anyway, this boy in Mr Kowalski's class just turned to him and asked who was going to make him get out. And with everyone watching, the boy threw a book that hit Mr Kowalski in the face. Mr Kowalski told him to leave the class once again, but the boy walked right up to him and punched him in the face. Seriously, a thirteen-year-old kid did this. And the boy kept punching and punching, with Mr Kowalski just trying to defend himself and not hitting back, until Mr Kowalski was on the floor. Then the boy just spat on him and walked out. Mr Kowalski never came back after that. But the boy is still here. He was excluded for a week; a week out in the streets and then he was allowed back. I know that this is a true story because my brother Sean is in that class and he was actually there that day.
And like I say, despite such major incidents, this is far from being the worst school in the area. Mostly it's just niggling disruptive behaviour. Sometimes there's
a competition to see how quickly you can make this other teacher, Mrs Conway, cry. It can be funny. She's stupid letting herself get upset so easily. But it's enough to make my mind up for me. Nah, I could never be a teacher. Never.
Anyway, back to this class, and there goes the bell. Ms Augustine lives to teach another day. I hang back while the others pour out of the classroom. I hold the door open for Ms Augustine, like I always do, and she smiles and says thank you, like she always does. I don't know what her perfume is, but I do like it.
Now it's break time, so I go outside. There's a place around the back of the school where you can pretty much be certain no teacher is going to disturb you. Why the hell would they want to when they can stay in the staffroom and have a quiet life? So anyway, that's where I head. When I get there, Sammy Williams is there with a couple of other boys from his class who I don't really know but recognise. Sammy nods to me and I notice those cold black eyes of his beneath the peak
of his Burberry cap. I nod back and reach into the inside pocket of my jacket. I take out a packet of cigarettes and silently offer one to Sammy. Sammy shakes his head. I offer one to the two other boys, but one of them pulls his hand from behind his back and waves a huge spliff in front of my nose.
âWanna try this with us?'
Sammy's voice is low and slow, so it seems like he's tried enough already.
âIt's really good skunk.'
I shrug and put my cigarettes away. The boy with the spliff hands it over to me and turns away. It's clear he doesn't want to talk to me. Sammy is holding out a disposable lighter, so I touch the end of the spliff to the flame and suck. The smoke is hot, much hotter than cigarette smoke, but the taste is sweet as I drag it deep into my lungs. It really is good skunk.
Now, normally, I wouldn't expect Sammy Williams to be offering me a smoke of skunk.
We don't exactly mix. On the other hand, we've known each other all our lives. Sammy lives in the next street down from me and his brother was in Catherine's class when she was at this very school. They even went out together for a while. Their paths have parted since. Sammy's brother is in prison. I've told you where Catherine is. But I'm guessing that the real reason that I'm being given more than just the time of day here is because of the favour I'm doing for Big Roddy. Because I'm hiding that gun. And because Sammy knows that I can be trusted to do it.
âYou should have had that bird last night.'
I'm passing the spliff to the boy who had given it to me, so I have to turn to Sammy.
âShe was well up for it. We all had her. Some of us more than once.'
Sammy is grinning beneath his dead eyes so that it's clear that he certainly had more than his share.
âBet she was dripping all the way home.'
One of the other boys sniggers and Sammy sniggers too. Then he starts to laugh.
âWho was she anyway?'
I have to say something, if only to stop that stupid spliff-laughter.
Sammy just shrugs.
âDunno. Just some slapper who was in the mall next to the station. She wanted to hang, so we let her chill with us so long as she'd screw us all.'
I don't want to ask anything more. It is all too depressing. All the same, I can't help thinking that perhaps I'd missed out. And then our heads all turn at once, towards the school gates, like we've all had some sixth sense experience. The school gates are a couple of hundred yards away and what we can see is an agitated gang of kids around the gates, and then one or two running off
in different directions. And most of all we can see the kid who is running towards us.
As this kid gets nearer we can see that it is Rob Harrison. He's a few years younger than us and really far too fat to be comfortable running like this. Pretty soon he's slid to a halt in front of us and he's gasping and wheezing fit to puke. Sammy grabs him and slams him against the wall.
âWhat's going on?'
Eventually the fat kid is able to blurt out something marginally coherent.
âIt's big Roddy Thompson. He's been beat up and stabbed.' He pants, âThey've killed him.'
Sammy still has hold of the kid's jacket lapel and throws him to the ground where he lies, still panting and gasping for breath.
You can tell that Sammy is unsure though, the way he's watching the agitated kids up by the school gate. Next thing, Sammy is making his way up there and the other two boys follow him. I stand where I am and watch them go. On the ground, Rob Harrison is starting to breathe easier.
âIt is true you know.'
I look down at him, taking my cigarette packet out of my jacket again. I light a cigarette as the fat kid holds out a hand for me to help him to his feet. I just blank him and walk away like he doesn't exist.
In a way, I sort of know that it
be true, that Big Roddy can't be dead. All the same, I bet you know what I'm thinking about. That's right, the slick black Ruger P95 wrapped in a plastic bag under my bed. Is it mine now? Or will Sammy or any one of the others claim it? I'd have to give it up if one of them asked for it.
I'm no angel as I'm sure you're gathering, but I'm not going to make enemies for no
reason. The streets on our estate can be more dangerous than you'd ever imagine. I smile as I wonder what the hell I think I'm going to do with a gun in the first place. It's all stupid anyway. Big Roddy's not dead. It's just rumour. Happens all the time.
I finish my smoke as I walk back to the main school building. The rest of the day is just going to drag, I know. I just want to get home to the Ruger.