When I was a kid you could see into our kitchen, right down to the floor. Everyone else had stuffed wood or cardboard over the lower panes, cause they didnít like people seeing their feet. Our flat stood out cause my mother couldnít be arsed to do nothing. When she gone, I found a cardboard box in the street, took it home, and flattened it against the window.
My bruvver said ĎWhat you done that for?í and I told him shut up, and he did, cause that was the time when he done what he is told.
Thereís always newspaper blowing across the bare patches in the grass. You go through this high wall, leaving the cars behind, and there it is. Dunno where the papers come from. Thereís bunches of kids running and screaming, and a few people like me what is going home, but the place is never full, itís too big. On the paths, you watch out for bikes and, of course, the scum what is everywhere. I get yelled at by the scum, like all the girls do.
The two blocks of flats, one each side, is like long walls what reach on for ever. Concrete, grey concrete, but not just smooth concrete. They made it rough, like gnarled all over, maybe it was cheaper. When I was a kid, I loved the pigeons, they was my friends, and they liked flying onto the walkways in front of the flats, but then one day it all changed. I got frightened theyíd fly too close to the rough concrete and their feathers would be torn off, and theyíd flap in panic and break their wings, and fall twitching and bleeding on the walkways. They never did go too close, but I knew one day, they was going to. I lay in my room and cried, afraid that day would come. Now Iím no longer a kid, I donít cry. But when I walk home, I donít watch the pigeons, and most of all, I donít look at the concrete.
Now our mother has gone, I look after little bruvver, because there ainít no-one else to. The only good thing she ever done was, when she couldnít be arsed to claim the social, she sent me and I signed for it, and nobody said nothing, maybe cause Iím tall. So when she gone thatís what I done.
And bruvver, he was frightened, I could tell, his eyes was big, and you could read the fear, and he stuck near me. Then I realised he thought Iíd walk out on him too, so I told him I never would. It was me and him against the world. That made him better, straight away. Then he started going out more, and I didnít know where he was, and wished he wouldnít. I couldnít say nothing cause I was his sister, not his mother.
He gets hold of some money, and he gives me some, and I know how he got it, but I ask him anyway. He donít answer. Then I say, ĎDonít get in no trouble.í He turn away, like he ainít heard, and I donít know if he has or he hasnít. I want to tell him donít do it. But heís changed, and I donít know if I could tell him what to do, and I donít try in case it goes bad. You canít look in his eyes, itís like thereís shadow over his face, saying you canít come in. He never been like that, and I think, this ainít happening. But it is happening, and somehow I gotta cope. So I take the money, and I feel sick.
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Duffy, what lives next door, she says we should get out and live in the tower block instead. Sometimes I like Duffy, who done kind things, and sometimes I think she a real idiot. Duffy is wrong about the tall flats being better. Down in the low blocks Ė laugh, theyíre ten stories high Ė everything is shit, but I see the place names on a bus, and believe it could take me somewhere better. I been in the tower block, and up there you can see there ainít nowhere better, and you canít believe in nothing.
Thereís a stain on my bedroom wall. It begins at the ceiling, and is yellow brown. It starts small, and then one night it grows, and spreads like fingers reaching out for my head. When I see it I scream, and bruvver tells me Iím stupid. At least he speaks. Most times now when I try to talk to him, he sort of ainít there, and I donít know if I wind him up, or bore him, or if nothingís wrong and I just imagine.
I tell Duffy about the stain and she gets the housing man but he done nothing. He talks lots. He says them walkways are called streets in the sky and I think what crap, they ainít streets and theyíre fixed to the building not the sky. What I do know is, the scum hangs out on the walkways, shouting, fighting and pissing, and roughing you when you tries to go through.
It six months from that mother woman gone, and now little bruvver no longer frightened, and donít listen to me no more. He thinks he is a big man, selling shit and making lots of money, and I tell him it all gonna go bad. I tell him, he is two years less than me, he is a little boy. Then he goes ape and I seen nothing like it, he yell and cuss and hit me bad and my face bruise. Six months no mother and we done OK, but now itís me frightened not him, and me frightened of him. Now I let him be, and he is one of the scum, hanging out with them and bad mouthing people.
Thereís an old white woman three doors away and she wonít go out because of the scum, I donít know how she eat, and I try to talk to her and help but she too scared. So I give up; you do what you can and you canít do what you canít. I tell Duffy and she do better than me, but thatís Duffy. The old girl still scared to go out, and me, Iím scared to go in, with not looking at the pigeons and the concrete, and the evil stain over my bed, and bruvver beating me.
Cooking: I do all the cooking, and to cut the stuff you need a knife, and the knife it gone, the black handle knife what cuts any meat or veg, and watch your fingers. I ask bruvver whereís the knife, and he call me a bitch. I carry on with a blunt knife, cause carrying on is all I got left. Them carrots get sliced straighter and more even than any carrots ever. But I canít stop the tears what streak down my face while I work.
Then I know, I got it wrong. My mother gone and I was OK, I didnít cry, cause I already switched off, what she done never mattered. But I cried about the birds even though they never, and I got wound up about bruvver but I canít change what he doing. He will do whatever, and I gotta shrug. If he get banged up by the pigs or beat up by the scum, nothing I say will change it. Just like I canít help the old white woman, I canít help him, so I mustnít care no more. I done what I done for him and thatís it.
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Next time I walk home, I try to stare out the concrete, but I canít, and in the flat I try looking at the stain like a reaching hand, and I canít do that neither. But still, my thoughts is right: I gotta stop these feelings, feelings will do for me, and I ainít one to be done for, Iím a survivor.
I walk home again, and for once thereís no scum sneering at my bum, and no pigeons, so I could look at the concrete if I want, but I donít want. I walk past the lift, I never use the lift, cause it scares me shitless, and I push the rotten door with sort of wire netting sunk in the glass, and walk into the stair well where it stink like always.
There on the concrete, the smooth concrete by the stairs, is lying me bruvver. His legís out odd, like he couldnít bother to put it proper when he lay down, and his chest is a mess, the clothes what I washed torn and clogged with blood, and blood is all over the floor. I stop looking at his chest, and look at his face. His eyes are staring open. He looks surprised. I donít know why he is surprised, cause I ainít surprised. Except surprised by myself. I feel nothing.
I go up the stairs. My feet bang on every step. I wish I could go up quiet, with no sound at all. I donít know what to do. I canít leave him there, but what? In the end, I go to Duffy. She calls the coppers and stays with me while they talk, asking questions. I listen, but donít look at them.
They ask me: ĎHow old are you?í
Iím not stupid, so I say: ĎEighteen.í They donít believe me but they donít say nothing.
They ask me where my dad is and I say: ĎDonít know.í I do know, but it was them what put him there, they should know, not me. They ask me where my mum is and I say: ĎDonít know. She gone six months.í They ask me who I think done it and I say: ĎDonít know.í Everyone know already it was the scum, but which scum, who knows, we never will. They say they want to help me, by bringing my brotherís murderers to justice. I donít say nothing. Finding scum donít help me. Put some scum in prison and there is still scum everywhere, always more scum to knife little bruvvers.
I think they want to take me away but Duffy tells them no, she is looking after me.
I go back into my flat, where they been all over looking for whatever. In my room, I look away from the stain, and drag my bedclothes off into the living room. The floor is hard so I go back and pull the mattress off the bed onto its edge, and it keep falling over, but I manage to shove it into the living room too. Bruvverís room I will never go into.
I get under the bedclothes, right under, like with the quilt over my head, so itís dark and I donít have to close my eyes. Iím carrying on. Tomorrow, Iíll go to school, like always. I decide not to sleep, not tonight, not ever. But I canít help it, thereís so much I canít help, and I sleep, and dream.
Iím flying above the grass, then Iím drawn in amongst the streets in the sky, where the scum are jeering, as I go closer and closer to the rough concrete.
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© Roger Woodward, 2013