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I knew something important was happening because a taxi pulled up and Mum told me to come downstairs. I was ready for school, but Mum’d only thrown an old puffer jacket over her pyjamas. She hurried me into the taxi, and I was grateful that her pyjama bottoms were black at least.
She told me that Kammy was in hospital. I tried to ask about what happened, but she started chatting with the taxi driver to avoid answering me. She laughed too loudly at his story about a friend who talked so much they were worse than a parrot. Through the whole drive her hands were never still. She was always sliding her zip up and down.
In the rubber-smelling hospital waiting room mum told me that Kammy’d been joyriding. The car had crashed at 60 on Five Lane Ends. Luckily for him, the West Yorkshire police headquarters was just down the road. The car was found quickly and that probably saved his life. Mum said that another boy, the driver, was dead. She hugged me tightly and gave me 50p to get a coke from the vending machine. We cried as we shared it.
Mum’d told us not to go to Leeds by ourselves. So next Friday, after she’d gone off to her shift at Morrisons, we skived school and got the train from Forster Sq. Kammy paid the £2 each for the tickets–his treat he said. I didn’t care where he’d got the money.
We weren’t really sure to do when we got there–but we knew that the first stop was The Hamster Tube. That was what we called the old plastic hood over the escalator up to Leeds Shopping Plaza.
“Poor fat Bianca, getting stuck in that tube,” Kammy said.
“We shun’t a fed her them chips.”
“At least it were a happy death for a hamster.”
The HMV in the Headrow Centre was quiet. Guitar Hero on PS2 was set up to for people to play for free. We were both crap at first, but no grumpy HMV person came over to get us to leave, so we got better. We only knew “Teenage Dirtbag” but it was fun, and holding the big plastic guitars made us feel like we might actually be rockstars.
We got Greggs from the station on the way back–cheese and onion slice and a devon ice split for under a £1. Greggs’ cream was so good it was like normal cream on crack.
Mum was putting oven chips in the grill when we got back.
“How were school?”
“Er – great,” I said.
“Oh, what were great?”
“We–we cooked a special dinner in food tech, beans on toast.”
“You didn’t ask me for any beans to take.”
“No, little twat forgot and I had to buy her some from’t shop, didn’t I,” Kammy said, “that’s 30p you owe me now.”
“Sweetheart. Hope you said thanks, Alisha?”
“Thanks, for saving my arse,” I said.
For my 5th Birthday, Mum’d got me a special chocolate cake. I remember how carefully she opened the white card box to show me the icing. It was piped in two different colours; pale blue for little flowers and Alisha written in curly yellow. It smelt like coffee and melted dairy-milk and I climbed on the kitchen counter to get plates. It was the best day I’d ever had.
Mum hadn’t even cut a slice when we heard Kammy’s dad shouting. He opened the back door and shoved my brother in the kitchen, he almost hit the lino on all fours.
“He won’t go to madrasah, he told the teacher they were all a load of Pakis,” he said. “Don’t you ever tell me he’s my son again. I don’t want anything to do with him.”
He didn’t give her time to reply before he left.
Kammy pulled the white embroidered cap that he had to wear for mosque school off his head. He squashed it into my birthday cake and threw it on the floor. It splatted like a cow-pat. I screamed at him and told him that he was a stupid naughty boy. If I had a dad to take me to special places I would be a good girl, and I definitely wouldn’t ruin other people’s birthdays. We fought and I yanked fistfuls of hair off his head.
Alone in my room, it was like my stomach had been thrown away and replaced with rocks. I punched my bed and cried. I’d never seen a cake with my name on it and now it was gone.
I woke up with later with tear crusted eyes, and heard Mum talking to him next-door. He was crying, and Kammy didn’t cry. My chocolate cake didn’t seem important anymore. He said he didn’t know Paki was a bad word – a half-lie. He knew it was nasty, nasty enough to make everyone in mosque school look at him. Mum told him it would be okay, his dad would come back and Kammy could apologise. He never came back.
I went into his room and his face was bloated from crying, there was a big plate of chocolate cake mess on Mum’s lap. We sat together and ate the cake that she’d scraped off the floor.
For my birthday this year, Karla, Callum and me got Lambrini from the corner shop that accepted bus passes as ID. We took it up The Rec and passed it around. When it was gone it was like I was made from sherbet, everything was fizzy. We were giddy, and we ran around the pinky twilight terraces daring each other to lick walls. I was a hungover human-slug the next morning. Mum left for work, and I didn’t go to school. I watched Homes Under the Hammer, and Bargain Hunt. Were daytime TV presenters told they had to have fake tan before they got the job? Or was it something that happened afterwards, like the cool girls using concealer instead of lipstick? Cool first or concealer first?
In the school canteen after dinner, Karla gave us some cigs to smoke, on the sly like. The make-up covered lot on the table over were talking about fake tan. Callum leaned over and said that they were so orange that you could see them from space. Hayley, a natural ginger who’d been white as a sheet in primary school, said ‘ah luv eht, I won’t to be so dark I look like an Arab.’ She flicked her hair – brittle and black from dyeing – Karla dropped her cigs and laughter ripped through both tables.
It wasn’t like Casualty at all. Everyone was busy, Mum and me weren’t the centre of anyone’s story. We were next on the list and would be crossed off when they’d done with us.
I ate six pieces of chuddy while we were in the rubber smell waiting room. I balled it all up in my mouth, like a fat wet Earth. It was wide and heavy between my teeth. It was too hard to chew and made my jaw ache.
I saw a flashing ambulance pull in through the window. I was trapped in gloop-air and mum’s head was in her hands. It was all taking too long.
I bit into the chuddy Earth and the pieces in my hand to make smaller Earths. I stuck them under the chair, arranged in a solar system away from a prominent screw. In school I’d’ve saved them to throw at a teacher.
An old man in too high trousers coughed and gave me daggers.
I sneered and noisily bit off another bit of chuddy. The saliva on my fingers shone. He should mind his own bloody business. I bent to stick the new ball to the chair and didn’t sit back up. My face was hot and blushed, it had betrayed me.
I decided to stop doing homework in year 4. No one else I knew did it, so what was the point? I was interested in History though, so I picked it for GCSE. I nicked a textbook from The Old Hag’s class back in year 9. We were doing Weimar Germany now, and the textbook had pictures of wheelbarrows overflowing with cash. Apparently, it was worthless because of hyperinflation – the Germans had printed too much money and now it was worth nowt. What I wouldn’t do for a wheelbarrow of cash.
Callum and me called The Old Hag a fanny eater in the last class. It was a right laugh to see her knocked off her high horse like that. Not that I didn’t like learning about the Suffragettes, but making Callum laugh and watching The Hag’s face turn into a red slapped arse was much better.
The air was gummy and I couldn’t breathe. It was squeezing all of me like I was in a car crusher on Scrapheap Challenge. I didn’t want to look, didn’t want to see the shadow of the thing that was Kammy.
His skin was yellow and the top of his head covered with a fat purple bruise. His tracky top was ripped, and blood fingers soaked through it. His eyelids were swollen shut. His chest moved up and down, but he wasn’t doing the breathing himself.
The doctor said he’d live, but I wasn’t sure how. What parts of him were left?
Kammy told me that Omar was the best person to get weed from. He’d sell it to you in The Cage at dinnertime because teachers were never in there. The idea of Omar selling weed in the cage seemed daft to me, The Cage was always full of year 7s swinging off the bars pretending to monkeys. And Omar was one of Kammy’s cool year 11 mates, definitely not into monkey-games.
Kammy said that weed was better than alcohol; it was chill and you didn’t get a hangover. When mum was on the evening shift, he offered me a joint and asked if I wanted to watch a pirate tape of The Exorcism of Emily Rose. I told him that had better things to do. He gave me some party rings and said that was okay. He always knew when I was putting on a front and didn’t tease me for being scared of a daft film. He was a good brother.
We all got chips on the way back from school. Swain House Fisheries didn’t look up to much – it had grubby green tiles and the woman that ran it was a bit of twat. But the twice cooked chips, 20p a cone, were the best ones in Bradford. My mouth watered. When it came to pay, I couldn’t find the other 10p in my pocket, I swore that I had 20p in there.
“Soz, I’ve only 10p, I won’t get –” I said.
“Ere,” Karla said, adding an extra 10p to mine.
The chip shop lady handed me the hot cone.
“It’s nowt. Pay me back later.”
When we were nearly home I asked Callum if he wanted to go to Morrisons. “Nah mate,” he said, “You’ll have me doing your whole house’s shopping,” and left. I hadn’t meant it like that, just wanted someone to spend time with – we all went to Moribobs, it’s not like there was owt else to do. I walked the rest of the way on my own, and thought about how shit it would be if there really were hyperinflation. What if a cone of chips cost £300,000? I’d never manage that.
At home Mum had died her hair maroon with blond stripes like bacon. I lied and told her that it looked cool, like Christina Aguilera. After tea, mum scrabbled in her purse to give Kammy a pound to buy black biros for his exams. I didn’t ask for an extra 10p to pay back Karla.
I was in the shower for ages. Mum was out and there was no-one to bang on the floor to tell me I was wasting water. The warm water was like tiny tongues on my skin and stayed in well past prune-fingers. I felt like a used carrier bag clogging up the drains. My throat was heavy.
Mum said I didn’t have to go to school, but staying at home would be worse. It was too empty.
Karla ran over to me when I was walking through the estate, and asked if I’d heard about Mo Ahmed. He’d been killed joyriding at Five Lane Ends. She said another boy was injured but his name wasn’t in the T&A. I looked at the ground, and saw some spit-globs on the pavement, Mrs Baker had said spitting caused TB. I squeezed Karla’s arm, and told her that the other boy was Kammy. I asked her not to tell anyone, I didn’t want any weirdness at school. Karla passed me a cig, and told me my secret was safe with her.
“I don’t have that 10p for the chips. Sorry,” I said.
Karla laughed, and told me not to be so daft as to worry about 10p right now.
I wanted to rip everything in Kammy’s room apart. He must have persuaded Mo to drive the car, he was always doing something he shouldn’t. I upended his silly man bag and ragged the strap off. I threw the strap across the room and it clattered against the window. Black biros, some science revision notes and a rolled-up five pound note fell-out of his bag. I picked up the notes, thinking that there might be something there for me. A note in his margin or some other daft thing that would let me feel like he was still here. Stupid. I pocketed the fiver and left.
Mo Ahmed was a big name in year 11. I’d had a crush on him since he told me I looked cute when Mum gave me that horrible bowl cut. He was a tall top-set boy, who always seemed to know what to say. He even made the teachers laugh.
Classroom doors were slammed all morning, as year 11s ran crying out of lessons. I heard some twats talking about using the drama to avoid double Maths, and by dinner the whole year group was sent home. Me and the rest of year 10s got to stay, so I sat at the back of History class and took better notes than I usually did. Callum was bored by me, and drew crappy dick drawings in my margin. I ignored him, and let The Old Hag’s facts about votes for women fill up my page.
Mo Ahmed’s dad came in to give an assembly. I sat cross-legged on the hall floor and flicked mud off the bottom of my trousers. I liked Mo, but his dad was off his rocker, you don’t come in and do an assembly after your son’s just died. You leave well alone, and wait for it all to go away.
He wasn’t like I thought at all. He stood in front of us with such quiet dignity that everyone was silent. Even the tossers who saw assembly as a personal audience for their twattery were quiet. Not one of them made a blow-job with their fist and a tongue in their cheek.
Mr Ahmed told us that he wanted us to learn from Mo, to know the risks of joyriding, of taking what wasn’t yours. That if anyone asked you to get in a stolen car with them, say no. Even if it feels exciting, even if you think they’re going to batter you, you say no. Because if you say yes, you’re dead.
Just like Kammy’d said, Omar was in the cage. He was with Mudassar and they were both striped by grey light shining through. Some tiny year 7s were hanging off the bars and howling like baboons.
They were both pointing at a tatty copy of Of Mice and Men. When Omar saw me coming he chucked the book at Mudassar and told him to piss off, and take his gay book with him. Mudassar pocketed the book, and gave Omar the finger as he left.
I stood up a bit taller and held the fiver I’d found in Kammy’s school bag tightly.
“Sorry about Kammy –” Omar said.
“He said you’d have weed.”
“Um – yeah, one sec.” Omar rummaged in his inside pocket and pulled out a fist sized ball of foil. “How much d’you want?”
“As much as I can get for a fiver.”
“Mate, an 8th’s the smallest I do, and that’s £15.”
My face was hot, why hadn’t Kammy prepared me for this?
“Look, I’ll do you a special deal, for Kammy n’that. You give me your fiver, and I’ll roll you 3 joints, how’s that?”
He got more stuff from inside his coat: a bag of baccy; big rizlas; some ripped orange train tickets; and a something that looked like a compact. Omar did something complicated with layered rizlas and in the end I was glad to only have had a fiver. I was shit at rolling cigs and there was no way I’d’ve been able to do that.
I lit one while Mum was at work. Kammy still hadn’t woken up. I lay back onto the bed and let the world drip away. He was right it was better than a cig. It seemed to make time slow down. I listened to a Nirvana CD that Karla had ripped for me and watched a crack of white paint fall off the ceiling. The room was shedding its skin.
I took old newspapers from the school library when we visited Kammy. It made Mum smile because she thought that if I read them then I would do well in school. But it just gave me somewhere to look when his eyes were still closed.
Karla’s maisonette wasn’t like my house. There were tea-light holders on a coffee table and framed pictures on the walls. Karla had a TV in her room, and her mum asked if us if we wanted pizza.
Karla told me she’d got a ripped tape of The Exorcism of Emily Rose for us to watch. I wanted to see what Kammy had seen, so I said okay.
I was surprised. It was so ridiculous it wasn’t scary at all – like why on earth would the devil speak German? We laughed so much that by the end I had pizza all down myself.
I walked back to save the bus fare, past the overgrown field where gypsy’s piebald horses were tethered. It was to stop them escaping.
Alone at the old quarry, I kicked scree down the sheer drop onto a burnt out Corsa. No one came up here in the day, only at night to neck bottles of White Lightening and set things on fire. From here Bradford almost looked good, its streets spilled over hills like a dirty sandstone sea.
I came up here to think, but my mind was blank. Magpies were cawing on a leafless tree and I threw a stone at them to get them to shut-up. I picked up some more stones, looking for ones that were smooth. It seemed important. I rolled the smoothest through my fingers and my throat was heavy again – like those I’d eaten those smooth stones and they’d got stuck there. A dickhead Magpie came back and started cawing, I lobbed the stone at it and told it to fuck off. Then the tears came.
Mum wasn’t in when I got home. She’d wrapped a dairy milk in a note. It said that she was at the BRI and that Kammy had woken up. She said that we’d get the bus down to visit him tomorrow, and that she’d left me fish fingers in the freezer for tea.