Authors: Cathy MacPhail
I hammered along the walkway, could hear the anger in my footsteps. I took the wet stairs too quickly, lost my footing and slipped. I went right down with my back bouncing off every step. I let out a yell as I landed at the bottom. My butt ached, my back ached. I felt a hand on my shoulder.
I looked round quickly, sure it was Vince. He’d come after me to insist I come back home. I was ready for another argument.
But it wasn’t Vince. It was Lucie.
Lucie is in my class at school. She lives nearby, in one of the other walk-up apartments. She has blonde hair that always looks as if she’s cut it herself – I don’t think she ever bothers combing it. That night she wore it almost up in a ponytail, but not quite. Half of it hung in spikes on her shoulders. She was another loner. Off the wall. ‘A strange girl,’ I heard some of the teachers say. I thought she was just different, and I kind of liked her for that. She sat down on the stairs beside me, offered me some of the gum she was always chewing.
“You hurt yourself?” she asked.
“No, I always come down the stairs on my back.”
She gave me a punch. “You think you are ‘all that’.” She sketched the inverted commas with her fingers and giggled. “As the girly girls say!” One thing Lucie could never be called: a girly girl. She sniffed. “Had a fight?”
“As usual,” I said.
“Bad thing, aggression,” she said, as if she was an expert. “Better being laid back about things.”
“If you were any more laid back you’d be horizontal,” I laughed. And
it was true. She never seemed to get upset about anything. Her mum and dad weren’t really her mum and dad, but she’d been fostered by them since she was ten. They were better than a real mum and dad, she always said. I didn’t know what had happened to her before, and she never talked about it, but I knew it was bad. It was so clear she loved this new family she had, and they loved her.
“Want to go for a coke?” she asked suddenly.
I liked Lucie. She never said or did anything you expected. It would have been nice to go for a coke with her and just sit somewhere and talk. I could talk to Lucie better than I could talk to anyone, even Baz. But just then I saw him. Baz. He stepped out from behind the flats, almost on cue, as if he’d known I was thinking about him. Lucie followed my eyes. “Why don’t you just come with me?”
I stood up. “Another time, Lucie.”
“I might not ask again,” she called after me as I hurried off towards Baz.
When I met up with Baz he stared back to where Lucie still sat. “That’s that Lucie, isn’t it? Why are you talking to her? You keep well back from her. Stick around with Lucie and they’ll begin to think you’re as weird as she is.”
He always made it clear he didn’t like her. I never asked him why. Part of me didn’t want to know.
“She’s really ok,” I said.
“You think everybody’s ok, mate.” Baz’s frown was gone; he was laughing again.
When we got to the precinct the boys were waiting for us.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
Gary shrugged. “We were thinking about going to the community centre.” He said it quietly. He didn’t look at Baz, almost as if he knew what he would say.
Baz didn’t disappoint him. “Oh, that sounds like an exciting night out,” he sneered.
Claude was swearing like a trooper. “Heard some of the boys saying it was good there. You can play snooker, and there’s music...”
“And lashings and lashings of ginger beer?” Baz smirked. I thought it was funny because I had just said that to my mum, and I hadn’t expected Baz would have even heard of the Famous Five.
Claude looked baffled. He’d obviously never read Enid Blyton. “Aye, I think there’s ginger beer as well.”
That made us all laugh, but it was clear Baz wasn’t interested in going
to any community centre.
I thought it sounded ok, but I wouldn’t go against Baz. Mickey came along then, with his mutt on a lead, and Gary said to him. “Have you heard anything about the community centre, Mickey?”
To my surprise he shook his head, “Don’t want to go there. Can’t anyway. Out of bounds for us.”
“Out of bounds?” I asked.
He looked around us all. “You wouldn’t know, Logan, but the rest of you do. We’d have to go through Young Bow territory. They decide who gets in there and who doesn’t.”
“I forgot about the Young Bow,” Gary said.
“Young Bow territory?”
“You must have seen the graffiti?” Gary said.
And I vaguely remembered it. Scrawled across the bridges over the dual carriageway, or on walls where we walked to Tesco. I’d even seen it from the motorway driving with Mum and Vince.
“You scared of them?” It was Baz who asked. “Scared of a bunch of numbnuts who call themselves the...” he stifled a giggle, “the Young Bow? Aw, come on.”
“I’m not scared of anybody,” Gary said. “But I’m not daft enough to go looking for trouble.”
“Me neither,” Claude agreed.
Ricky whined as if he was agreeing with them too.
“How are they gonny see us?” Baz wasn’t about to let this go. For him, now, going to the community centre was a challenge. “A quick dash over the bridge across the dual carriageway, and we’re there.”
Gary shook his head. “A quick dash and a quick death. Not for me, pal.”
“Never took you for a coward, Gary.”
As soon as Baz said it, Gary leapt to his feet. I thought there could be a real fight. I stepped in between them. Held Gary back. “You’re no coward, Gary. And you’re right, no point looking for trouble. But this is a free country. We should be able to go where we want. I mean, a no-go area, here in Glasgow.” I took a step back, looked around them. “It’s a free country. That’s all I’m saying.”
I could tell Baz was pleased with me. I had diplomatic skills, he was always telling me. They came in handy with Baz.
“I double dare you!” he said, a big grin on his face. “Come on, we were just saying nothing ever happens here. Well, let’s make something happen.”
Everyone stopped talking. My heart was thumping. I was thinking fast. What would be the harm in just going to a community centre we had every right to visit?
“Well, I’m not going. Ricky wouldn’t like it.” In answer, as if he agreed with Mickey, Ricky let out a solitary bark.
“You sure you ain’t a ventriloquist, Mickey?” Baz asked. “You got that mutt well trained.”
It broke the tension, made us laugh. I felt relieved. I wondered if any of the others felt the same.
Only Baz seemed disappointed. “Take him home, Mickey. Just for tonight. Let’s go somewhere without the dog for once. Let’s do it.”
I wanted to say,
No, let’s not get involved
. If this Young Bow were as bad as Gary and the others said, there could be trouble. I wanted to do what my mum had been asking me to do.
Let’s stay out of it
. That’s what I wanted to say. But how could I go against Baz? And anyway, he was right. We weren’t doing anything wrong. We wanted to go to the community centre. What was wrong with that? So instead I drew myself up as if I, too, was scared of nothing. I grinned. “Well, we’re always saying there’s nothing to do around here. So why don’t we make something to do?”
I glanced at Baz. He was grinning back with those bright white teeth. Pleased with me.
We waited at the precinct for Mickey to come back minus Ricky, then we headed to the bridge that would take us to the other side of the motorway, and the community centre. It was a warm summer night, the kind of night people in Glasgow make the most of. There were lots of people about. Couples out on dates. Mums and dads out strolling with their children. Boys on bikes, racing dangerously, young men standing on corners in open-necked shirts with the sleeves rolled up well past the elbow, showing off their muscles.
We were just a group of boys heading for the community centre. No one was to know how nervous we were feeling about it. And we wouldn’t have been doing it if it hadn’t been for Baz.
“Just promise me, one sign of trouble and we run. Ok?” Mickey had said as soon as he came back, as if he’d been thinking about it all the way. He shrugged. “I don’t care if anybody calls me a coward for saying that.”
“I’m with you, Mickey,” I told him as we began walking. “I’ll be out of there faster than a speeding bullet.” I looked at the boys. “What do this Young Bow crowd look like anyway?”
“You’ll know them when you see them,” Gary said. “Their leader calls himself Fury.”
“Fury?” Baz laughed. “What does he think he is?”
Claude said, “I think that might be his real name. Sandy Fury.” That set us all off laughing.
The further we walked, the more relaxed we became. The estate wasn’t all tower blocks and run-down flats. It began to open up to newly built houses
with gardens and garages. Gary pointed that out with pride, “They’re always trying to improve this place, I mean look at that park.” In the park people were walking their dogs, there were boys playing football, toddlers running around giggling while their parents sat on the grass watching them. It was such a peaceful summer evening I was suddenly sure nothing would happen. It was too nice a night for any trouble, and there was still no sign of this gang.
I fell into step beside Gary. “How did you hear about this community centre, Gary?”
“Couple of the girls in my class go there, said it was good fun.”
Claude, walking ahead of us, turned round and giggled. “Walk in there and that’s the last we’ll see of Gary.” He put on a girly voice. “Gary, Gary, I love you. Gary, Gary, will you be my boyfriend?”
That made us all laugh. All except Gary. “I’m not going there looking for girls,” he said.
We were still laughing as we crossed the bridge. There was no sign of anyone barring our way, and I thought, with some relief,
They’re not going to appear
We were almost at the other side, we had almost made it, when a crowd of boys stepped into view. It was as if they had been waiting for us, as if they had been guarding the bridge just to keep us out.
Gary had been right. I knew them as soon as I saw them. Wasn’t rocket science to see they all belonged to the same gang, the Young Bow. My first thought was they looked daft. They were all dressed the same; they all looked the same. Hair slicked up with gel, all dressed in black, studded leather jackets, they looked as if they were copying something they’d seen on TV or in a film. I saw Baz put his hand over his mouth to stop himself from laughing out loud. But he was the only one who saw the funny side. We all stopped. I heard Mickey mutter under his breath, “Aw, naw.”
The leader (why is it you can always tell which one is the leader?) moved to the front. He had an earring pierced into his eyebrow. This was Sandy Fury? He drew himself up to look taller than he was. He still wasn’t
as tall as Baz, I noticed.
“What’s all this then?” his eyes scanned us, rested on Mickey. “Oh, look who it is. Where’s the pet ferret the night?” His friends all seemed to find this hilarious. “Ricky, isn’t it? Or, are you Mickey? I never know which one’s the dug.” His gang found this hilarious too.
I could sense Mickey beside me, his whole body tensing. But he said nothing.
Made bold by our silence, the boy took another step forward. “So, where do you think you’re going?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Community centre’s out of bounds to you lot.”
Almost unnoticed, Mickey had taken a step back, so had Claude. Me and Gary held our place. It was Baz who spoke for us. “Says who?” He didn’t sound the least bit afraid, and I was shaking in my trainers. How could he sound so sure of himself, when I was so scared? I wished I could be like him.
“I know you… I’ve heard about you.” The leader boy pointed a finger at Baz. “You’re a nutjob.”
The words were hardly out of his mouth when Baz ran at him. Fury hadn’t expected that. Baz took him completely by surprise. Took them all by surprise. They stood still as statues for a second. Baz leapt on the boy and they both tumbled back onto the ground. I could see the other boys in the gang were ready to jump in. I shouted, “Come on!” We couldn’t let Baz fight on his own. The boys didn’t let me down. They ran and we all fell on them, like Predators on Aliens. I felt someone punch my eye, then my face. But I got in a good few punches myself. I wasn’t a fighter, but in Aberdeen I had learned to hold my own. I was vaguely aware of a crowd gathering at the Young Bow side of the bridge, and I heard someone yell, urging us to stop. I even spotted some on their phones taking videos of us. I didn’t even know which one of the Young Bow I was fighting with. We were all tangled up, arms and legs and kicks and punches.
Then, in the distance, I could hear the police siren.
“Noo, you’re for it!” said someone in the crowd.
It was the sound of the approaching siren that made us get to our feet, still fighting and throwing punches, but at the same time pushing each other away. That siren was coming closer. The Young Bow stepped back. The leader pointed at me, then his finger moved round us all. “This isn’t finished, pal. Watch out, we’ll be coming after you lot.”
People were standing around, shaking their heads, watching us. I only realised then that my mouth was bleeding. I wiped it off with the back of my hand and looked about. A police car screeched to a halt on the walkway back on our side of the bridge. The Young Bow saw it too. They were off their mark quick. But I could see another police car on their side, cutting off their escape. I knew they wouldn’t get very far.
Mickey was hoofing it back across the bridge. I’d never seen him run so fast, and Baz had disappeared too. I grabbed at Gary, “Come on!” We both began to run. But we didn’t make it. By the time we got across, two policemen were waiting for us. They were already holding Claude by the arms.
“It wasn’t our fault!” Gary shouted as he ran toward them. He was pointing back at the Young Bow. “We were only going to the community centre, they wouldn’t let us past.”
were fighting with
,” I said. “It’s them you should be arresting.”
One of the cops held up his hand. “We’re not arresting you.” He even managed a hint of a smile. “But you can’t fight like that – absolutely not in a public place. You’re lucky we had cars cruising the area when the call came in.” He was talking as if we would have been beaten to a pulp if they
hadn’t turned up.
I wasn’t having that. “We could have handled them,” I said.
He raised an eyebrow as if he doubted it. Then he said, “Don’t worry, you’re not in any real trouble.”
Claude, Gary and I were bundled into the back of the police car.
“Where are you taking us?” I asked, though I knew the answer. They were taking us all home. Just what I needed: my mum seeing me brought back by the police.
Gary was really annoyed. “Aw naw, do my mum and dad have to know? I never did anything wrong. It wasn’t our fault.” How many times did we have to tell them?
One of the policemen turned round to us. “We’ll make sure your parents know that.”
It was the first time I’d seen where the other boys lived. I hadn’t gotten to know much of the estate, still couldn’t find my way around it, and I’d seen nothing of Glasgow. Gary lived in a cosy-looking house in a neat line of terraces. His garden was filled with flowers, and there was a wooden bench beneath the front window. His mother was out of the door and running down the path as soon as the police car drew up. Right away I could see where Gary got his looks from. His mum was really good looking, and she had copper-red hair that seemed to flame in the light from the setting sun. “What happened to my boy?” she shouted, and as he came out of the car, she grabbed him and clutched him close against her. Gary’s face went red when she did that.
“I never did anything wrong, Mum,” he mumbled.
The older policeman said nothing, he only followed Gary and his mum up the path and inside the house. Claude and I didn’t say a word while we waited. I think we were both a bit scared. The policeman who was left in the car with us was younger. He said, “You know, sometimes just arriving home in a police car is enough to put you off a life of crime.
That’s what we hope anyway.”
“A life of crime? We were the ones who were attacked!” I told him again.
Claude leaned forward, covering his face with his hands. “My maw is going to kill me.”
“Ah well,” the policeman said. “If she does, that is a custodial offence. You tell her that before you croak it.” He obviously thought he was a bit of a comedian, hoped that his light-hearted tone would make us feel better. It didn’t.
Gary’s mum had already phoned Claude’s mum, so she was prepared for our arrival. By the time we got to his house – one of the newest on the estate, still all spick and span – she was waiting at the gate and when the car came to a halt she didn’t look as if she was going to kill Claude, it was the policemen I thought she was about to attack.
She was a ball of fat that shook like a jelly as she pulled open the gate and ran towards the car. “These boys were only protecting themselves; you should be doing something about these blinking gangs – stopping decent boys from going to the community centre! And what do you lot do?
! Away and solve a murder! We get plenty of them here as well. It’s my tax money that’s paying for you lot, and this is the thanks we get.” Now I could see where Claude learned so many of his swear words. All through this tirade Claude’s mum was swearing like the offshore men I used to hear in Aberdeen.
This time neither of the policemen went inside the house. I think they were scared of her actually, and I didn’t blame them. They went as far as the front door, stood there until it was slammed in their faces, and then they turned and got back into the car.
“Ha, wouldn’t like to bring home a broken pay packet to that one,” the comedian said. The other one laughed. I didn’t quite know what he was talking about.
As we drove to my house, I wondered what my mother would say.
Would she hug me like Gary’s mum, or bawl at the cops like Claude’s?
I could feel my mood changing the closer we got to the flat. I could feel my anger growing too. We had done nothing wrong. We had every right to go to the community centre. And yet, I was the one who was going to get into trouble. Taken home in a police car for all the world to see, as if I was some common criminal. It wasn’t fair. Nothing was fair. My life wasn’t fair.
What did I have? I had no dad. My mother thought more of her new boyfriend than she did of me. I had been taken away from the friends I had in Aberdeen, and dumped here. I was trying my best to stay out of trouble. None of what had happened had been my fault.
I was slumped in the back of the car. The older policeman must have seen by my face how down I was. “Don’t worry, son. We’ll make sure your mum knows you’re not in any real trouble. It’ll be fine.”