‘Shouldn’t have that on this time of the morning,’ she says as she barges in without knocking. ‘Costs a fortune.’
‘It’s bank holiday. Cheap rate,’ I retort and lean quickly in to cover the screen as she strides across the room, flings open the airing cupboard and fills her arms with new-washed Nike trainers.
‘What time you going running?’
‘Soon. First race is at ten. Ian! You finished those sandwiches yet?’ And off she goes. Leaving the door wide open. I sigh and shut it after her. Then back to the computer for a last minute check. Is it today? Yes. May the first. Do I know where it is? Yes. Got my A to Z. Pocket of my army trousers.
Turn the computer off and go downstairs. In the living room David is watching some stupid kids TV programme and in the kitchen Dad is spreading white sliced bread with margarine. In the mirror Mum is torturing her hair and Dad has to shout over the drone of the drier, ‘What time’s your train?’
‘Quarter to ten.’
‘You want a lift to the station?’
‘It’s alright. I’ll walk.’
Sit, eating my cereal, drinking my tea, as the sandwiches are packed into boxes, the boxes into bags and the bags into the boot of the car. My brother is dragged from in front of the TV and dumped on the back seat.
At the front door she hands me a fiver. ‘Get yourself a MacDonalds.’
‘Then get something else.’
Dad starts the car up. ‘What time you be back?’
‘By about seven I expect.’
‘Enjoy yourself.’ And they’re off. Up the road and round the corner. I hold my breath and listen for the last of the motor.
Grab my bag and out the back door.
The greenhouse is at the top of the garden. Dad grows cucumbers every summer but it’s mine the rest of the year. I close the door, open my bag and one by one place the pots in.
I’m ready to leave by nine fifteen. Make one last check I’ve got everything. Money. Key. Book, pen. Water, Ventolin, sandwiches. Penguin.
I’ve never been to London on my own. We went with the school to see the National Gallery. That’s where my parents think I’m going today.
The station is surrounded by police. I try not to make eye contact as I join the crowds on the street. There are people everywhere. Some carrying plants and flowers. One or two with wheelbarrows.
A woman wearing facepaint hands me a leaflet. ‘Thanks.’ It tells me that should the police get me I have the right to remain silent and should consult a lawyer before I say anything. There’s a number at the bottom.
Look up from the leaflet. See a woman climbing a lamp post. And there, there’s another one. There’s something swinging on a rope between them. It’s a banner. It says ‘Let London Sprout’.
Someone’s put a maypole up. There are girls dancing round it. There they’ve put grass in the middle of the street and they’re having a picnic. Someone else has put grass on this statue’s bald head. Looks like a mohican. Fucking brilliant.
Wander into the centre. The grass is lumpy underneath my feet. Someone must have laid turf in the night. It’s still wet from where they watered it in. People are digging up patches of grass and putting in plants. I try not to tread on any as I pass. Some plants look as if they’ve already been stood on. Others are wilting in the sunshine.
The website said bring water. But it looks like most people didn’t bother. I’ve got two litres. This bag’s killing my shoulder.
I stop in the corner and put it down. I look around. The website says form groups. I kind of assumed it would just happen...
Realise I don’t know anyone.
I must have been staring because he turns to me and says -
‘Window shoppers not welcome.’
He’s about the same age as me. Bit older maybe. Mohican, like the statue, except his blue. And a ring through his eyebrow. He’s digging up tulips from the flowerbeds with his bare hands.
‘Window shoppers not welcome.’
‘Fuck off or give us a hand.’
He turns back to his tulips. I find my fork and join him in the flowerbed.
‘Why are you pulling up plants that are already there?’
‘I’m liberating them.’
‘Flowerbeds are a form of Fascist oppression.’
He starts ripping up grass and replanting the flowers. I try not to break too many roots as I dig the bulb out and take it over.
‘Does it matter where?’
‘You mean you haven’t got permission?’
‘From the policeman.’
‘Do I have to get...’
He laughs. ‘Anywhere you like man.’
Feel stupid. Start digging.
‘What are they filming?’
‘Us. Fucking perverts.’
They’ve got cameras. Those little digital ones. Suddenly imagine my parents seeing the film. What if I got arrested? What if the police showed it to them?
Move round so I’ve got my back to the cameras and concentrate on trying to make my tulip stand straight. He’s finished. His tulips are lopsided.
I’m putting the finishing touches to my garden, watering the plants in and arranging stones around them.
‘You want some of this?’
I had a joint once. When Trevor’s parents went away the weekend. Didn’t really do anything. I’m asthmatic. I’m not very good at inhaling.
I check no-one’s looking and take it from him.
‘Been on one of these before?’
‘Yeah. See those riots last year? I was there. Fucking give the pigs what for.’
I won’t cough. I won’t cough. How embarrassing.
I try again.
Five minutes later I’m laid back on the grass watching the clouds floating past.
‘Give us a drag Bod.’ A woman has joined us.
‘Maya, this is Jason.’ I notice I’m grinning.
She says, ‘Some great stuff going down.’
‘You come on your own?’
Turn back to the sky again. Try to focus on something but the clouds keep moving.
‘Fucking brilliant man! Smashed the Macdonalds in.’ This guy with dreads comes running over. Bod says, ‘Where?’ Dreads says, ‘Up near Trafalgar Square.’ Bod says, ‘I’m there.’ He jumps up. ‘Coming?’ I realise he’s looking in my direction. Gather up my things and go after him.
There’s this statue on which someone has written ‘Men’s toilet’. Bod laughs and takes advantage. We notice some policemen and run. Bod’s still got his dick hanging out. ‘Fucking pigs,’ he shouts.
There’s this sea of heads and Nelson’s Column in the middle. Bod tries to push through but there are too many people. ‘Fuck this,’ he says and pulls me into a side street.
There’s this row of police vans and policemen piling out of them. They’re wearing masks. They’ve got shields on their arms. ‘Fucking pigs,’ says Bod. I try to keep up.
The police won’t let us past. They’re standing in a row across the road. On this side there are protesters. On that side there are protesters. The police from the side street are piling in, hundreds of them, forming more lines behind the front one. I don’t understand what’s going on.
‘Why do they have to spoil everything?’
‘Because they’re fucking pigs.’
Eventually we get in. Notice the police are letting through tourists. We squeeze past and pretend not to speak English.
Inside the square it’s emptier than I expected. And strangely silent. Everyone’s wandering around like they’re waiting for something.
There’s the police and then there’s us. Now what?
I’ve just noticed that the sun has gone in when something smashes and a woman screams. She’s got a baby in a pushchair. She shouts, ‘Keep together. Keep together’ as her other kids run after her. Bod’s laughing. He’s got a bottle in his hand. He says, ‘Your turn.’
His eyes are as blue as his mohican. My heart stops beating. I look down to see my hand take the bottle from him.
I was never any good at throwing. I really wasn’t expecting to hit anything.
It smashes in slow-motion. I stand there waiting for the earth to open. It doesn’t. The policeman just keeps staring staring as the splinters fall around him.
Fucking pig. I’m addicted.
When the police start moving in we run. Back out the way we came. ‘You see that Pig’s face?’ ‘Yes!’
We stop out of breath. ‘Fuck I need a drink.’
‘There’s this party at Maya’s. You want to come?’
‘Where is it?’
I look at the time.
‘I should probably be going. Got school in the morning.’
Fuck. Did I really say that?
Now I’ve really blown it.
‘Well thanks for everything.’
‘Fucking showed them...’
‘Fucking ... capitalists.’
‘Fucking ... Marxists.’
I laugh. We’re stood on the kerb. People pushing past.
‘Marx was a socialist.’
‘Same fucking thing.’
His blue eyes again.
‘Better go. You got a number? Be in London again soon.’
I haven’t got any paper so he writes on my travel card. I say I’ll call him maybe next week and watch his blue mohican disappearing and reappearing and disappearing again along the crowded street.
When I get in Mum and Dad are watching television.
Dad says, ‘Didn’t want a lift then?’
And Mum, ‘Your dinner’s in the oven.’
It’s seven. I’m in the kitchen eating my Marks and Spencer’s vegetarian lasagne when Mum calls me in, ‘You see this Jason?’
‘Been a riot in London.’
I can hear the reporter from outside the door, ‘...defacing a statue of Winston Churchill before proceeding up Whitehall...’ Mum says, ‘Oh. Innit terrible?’
My heart’s beating triple time as I come into the room. ‘...the Cenotaph was damaged...’ I loiter behind the sofa. ‘...the Macdonalds raided...’ Looking at the screen over their shoulders.
This wasn’t the same protest. Where were the plants? The maypoles? What were all these fuzzy grey pictures of smashed windows?
‘...The National Gallery was shut...’
Mum says, ‘Isn’t that where you went?’
‘Must have been after I left.’ But the screen contradicts. Because there I am. And there’s the bottle leaving my hand.
The silence from the sofa lasts forever and is filled by the voice of the newsreporter, ‘Police are requesting that viewers who recognise any of the protesters please call the number now appearing on your screen.’
She says, ‘Pass me the phone Ian.’
‘What are you doing?’
‘That wasn’t why you were let go to London.’
‘You don’t understand!’
‘It wasn’t like that!’
‘It was the police’s fault.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous.’
‘Everything was fine until the police came along.’
She says, ‘Ian will you pass me the phone.’
He says, ‘Your great grandfather died in that war.’
‘World War Two. They teach you anything at that school?’
‘The Cenotaph. Do you know what it’s for? It’s for all the soldiers who died in that war. And without those men you wouldn’t even be here,’ he says as he picks up the receiver.
Out the front door and onto the street. He runs after. ‘Get back here!’ He’s faster. But he’s wearing slippers. One of them falls off. He has to stop.
I stop around the corner. Fuck! What if he comes after me in the car? Keep running. Sweating and crying. What am I gonna do? Fingers find a solution scrambling in my pocket for a tissue.
Take a deep breath. Insert ten pence.
I’m in the call box outside the station. Keep checking out the window that Dad isn’t coming.
Dial number. It rings.
Look at the time. There’s a train in two minutes. If he answers now I might just get it.
‘Bod, it’s Jason, I was wondering...’
He’s hung up. No. Fucking mobile. Fucking money’s run out.
No change. No time to get any more. Got to get the train now or wait another hour.
Arrive on the platform as the train’s pulling in. No time for the ticket machine. I’m looking up and down the carriage all the way back to London praying the inspector doesn’t come.
Victoria. My last tenner. Buy a Mars bar. Line up the change on top of the phone.
‘Bod it’s Jason.’
‘Jason!’ Have to shout. ‘We met this afternoon?’ Music blaring in the background.
‘Yeah man. How’s it going?’
Shit. Another 20p.
‘You at the party?’
‘Fuck man. Don’t know where I am.’
‘Well is it still alright if I come?’
‘Do what you like man.’
‘Where is it then?’
‘What’s the address?’
I’ve got ten seconds left.
‘Don’t know man. Fifty-nine.’
Brixton is on the Victoria line. Still got my travelcard. Still got my A to Z in the pocket of my trousers. I memorise the directions. Left out the station then right at the junction. Left out the station then right at the junction.
Left out the station. Then right at the junction. Acre Lane. Can hear the music. Number fifty-nine.
‘Hello dear.’ It’s Maya, ‘Wasn’t expecting to see you here.’
‘No, neither was I. Is it alright?’
‘Course. Come in.’
‘You brought anything?’
‘Sorry I didn’t realise...’ She smiles, ‘Doesn’t matter. We’ve got wine, beer, water...?’ I’ve gone the colour of the rag-rug on her floor. ‘Can I have a beer?’
She says, ‘Bod’s in there.’
He doesn’t hear me.
He looks up. His eyes take a long long moment to focus. He nods. I smile. Sit down. Justify my presence in the room.
‘Had to come.’ He’s rolling another joint. Doesn’t look like he needs it. ‘Parents were gonna turn me in. Saw us on the television.’ He lights up. ‘You see it?’
‘The news report.’
‘No man. You give us a blow back?’
He laughs. ‘Come here and I’ll show ya...’
My lips are just a few centimetres from his. I’ve got my mouth around a lit cigarette. Trying to keep my tongue away from the tip. He says blow into it.
Two blue disks floating in pink. They point in my direction. But he isn’t really looking. Isn’t really seeing. His eyes stop dead on the surface of his skin. There’s nothing coming out and nothing going in.
He pulls out. Joint in his mouth. Burns my lip.
Suddenly the music stops. Dreads, the guy who came running over in the square, has turned on the television in the corner. It’s a repeat of the report from earlier.
There it is again. And there I am. I made it to the headline.
‘Let me shake you hand man.’ He slaps me on the back and crushes my fingers. Big guy with a beard, ‘Welcome to the revolution.’ Someone cheers.
I smile. Turn to Bod. Bod isn’t interested.
Dreads is pacing in front of the TV screen, ‘Totally fucking misrepresented.’
‘That’s what I told my parents.’
It’s out before I have a chance to stop it. Parents. Jesus.
‘They just twist it and turn it to their own purpose.’
Perhaps no-one noticed.
‘That’s because we’re a threat,’ says the guy with the hat, ‘They feel threatened because we see through their fucking system.’
Dreads says, ‘Too fucking right man.’
I ask him, ‘Who put the grass down?’
They’re doing a full report on the television and for the first time they’re showing pictures of the digging and planting.
‘In Parliament Square?’
‘Fucking Parliament I expect.’
‘But it was lumpy.’
‘Never trust government to do anything properly.’
‘I thought it was turf. I thought someone had put it down in the night.’
‘We were pulling up real grass then?’
Beard says, ‘Wish it had been.’
Someone laughs. ‘We were freeing it,’ says Dreads.
‘We were killing it.’
‘It dried out in the street.’
‘Whose fucking side you on man?’
He stops pacing. I notice the Nike trainers.
‘I don’t understand. What’s the point of digging up something that’s already living...?’
Beard pulls a pack of Marlboro from his pocket. ‘It’s symbolic.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘It can’t just be symbolic. It’s got to be symbolic of something.’ Don’t know where all this is coming from. ‘Hasn’t it?’
‘Fucking lost me man.’
‘Well what about that?’ They’re now showing the Cenotaph. ‘Is that symbolic?’
‘My Great Grandfather died in that war.’
I open my mouth and my Dad’s voice is coming out.
Hat says, ‘Listen man, I’m sorry about your Grandad,’ as he swigs from his Coke can, ‘but you’ve got to understand that war is just another form of Capitalist exploitation.’
‘Without that war we wouldn’t be here. We’d be living in a world ruled over by Hitler.’
Dreads says, ‘Couldn’t be any worse than Tony Blair.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous.’
And now my mother.
‘Who let this little cunt in here?’
Bod says, ‘Don’t look at me. Fucking followed me here. Fucking queer.’
I sit frozen. Daren’t turn my head in case my eyes make contact so I stare at a point on the carpet. In the corner of one eye I see bastard Bod, his blue mohican bobbing to the music.
Bastard Bod. Bod the Bastard. Bobbing bobbing bobbing.
I get up quickly and go out to the garden. Down to the bottom. It’s dark and it’s quiet. Smells like my greenhouse. Take deep breaths. Take it out on a tree trunk. Imagine it’s him.
And then I’m crying.
She puts a hand on my shoulder, ‘Why don’t you go home dear? Bit out of you depth here.’
‘I can’t...’ And again I’m crying. Telling her how my parents have turned me in...
‘Your parents know where you are?’
‘They don’t care.’
‘Why don’t you let me ring them and tell them you’re safe and you’re sleeping here and you’ll see them in the morning? Mm?’
‘Long as you don’t mind sleeping on the floor. Now what’s their number?’
I don’t know what she says to them. I stay out in the garden. Lean back against the tree. Look at the moon. Look in the window. At this distance the dancers are out of sync with the music. Look kind of stupid. A flash of blue moves amongst them. Can taste the tears again.
Look at the moon. Keep looking. The bark presses against my skin. The leaves are rustling.
There’s that in there and then there’s all of this out here.
I don’t feel like crying anymore.
When I open my eyes in the morning they feel swollen. Everything’s aching. Got hardly any sleep. Throat feels like shit. I go to the kitchen for a drink.
It’s 9 a.m. First period is just starting.
I suppose I should go. I want to say goodbye to Maya but don’t want to wake her. Think of leaving a note but can’t find any paper.
I leave the ticket on the doormat, Bod’s numbers scribbled out and in tiny letters the tinniest of thank you notes.
Back at Victoria I can’t resist making the most of my travelcard and instead of surfacing to the station I change over to the Circle Line.
The statues have been boarded and the cleaners have moved in. The grass is in ruins. One or two sad stick constructions, plants wilting over them. I walk round and round the square. When the policeman isn’t looking I jump the barrier. Over to the corner. There’s one of them still there. I dig it out with my fingers.
It prickles in my pocket as I walk home from the station. Looking around, at the skivers and the smokers congregated outside Macdonalds, at the shoppers and the shophands sharing communion in Poundland, I can’t help thinking we got it wrong.
My parents are pleased to see me. My worldly assets are stripped. I’m sentenced to indefinite imprisonment and two weeks hard labour at the kitchen sink. But I still have my kingdom at the top of the garden and, starting with the salvaged cutting, I take advantage of an afternoon off school to do some much needed repotting.
When I’ve finished they’re standing in rows, sorted by size and neatly labelled. I’ve got fifty-seven varieties of Cacti and Succulent. But now that doesn’t seem so many of them.
Looking up at the sky I notice the panes are dirty. It makes everything look fuzzy. It’s windy. The clouds are racing. On the rotary line behind the greenhouse a pair of new-washed Nike trainers are hanging by their laces and spinning.
This is stupid. Like a game in a fairground. Waiting with the weight in my hand for the target to swing round.
Here they are. I take a deep breath of thick greenhouse air.
When I open my eyes the world isn’t fuzzy anymore. The air is thinner. The door is banging in the wind for want of a brick to prop it open. And outside one Nike trainer is lying in a bed of broken glass. The other is still spinning, spinning.
I’m getting better at throwing.