The four of us waited in the queue to go in for lunch. Bumper’s mother had made him sandwiches, Elvis and me were going to buy our lunch and Gilbert was on free lunch, Nashy dinners as they were known.
As lunchtime approached, Kevin Davison realised that he’d eaten all of his sandwiches and he didn’t have any dinner money. He was still hungry so he did what he knew best. He casually walked up to Gilbert, punched him squarely in the face and took his dinner ticket. He then went into Bumper’s lunch box unchallenged and took his Tunnock’s teacake.
“Don’t mind do you?” he asked, then walked off without waiting for a reply.
“That’s not fair,” said Gilbert, “it’s curry today.”
It was the first time I had been on the Forest Court Estate. I had seen countless other’s all over the world and they rarely differed. I felt sorry for Elvis. He was a good lad with his own business yet he was living on one of the most run down estates in the city. A burnt out Ford Sierra blocked the entrance to the car park so I left the car on the road opposite. The orange street lighting illuminated it to provide a little security. A young lad, about ten years old, rode by slowly on his mountain bike looking me up and down working out what he could scam from me. He doubled back.
“Look after your car, mister?” I remembered this from when I was a kid. We used to offer to look after people’s cars when they went to the match. Patrolling the streets on the look out for potential wrong doers. This offer was more sinister.
“I’ll give you a fiver if it’s still here when I get back.”
“Five quid and I’ll let you keep your kneecaps.” He thought about it for a while then he must have realised that the only people driving a BMW Z3 on the Forest Court estate were likely to be drug dealers or connected in some way. He accepted my offer. I knew he wouldn’t bother hanging about long waiting for a fiver but at least my car would still be in one piece when I got back. I walked past the burnt out Sierra and headed for the stairwell. Broken glass was strewn all over the car park and the usual graffiti covered the walls.
In the entrance of the stairwell sat a man in his forties with his head in his hands. Balding with an ear ring in one ear, he had a tattoo on the skin between the base of his thumb and forefinger on his left hand. The initials FC showed that he was an original Forest Courter. Like a borstal spot, it showed where you had come from and marked you for life. He had lived here all his life and was unlikely ever to move.
He looked over at me but not in the threatening way you expect when confronted by a stranger in a dark stairwell. He looked a broken man, not caring who or what I was. Usually the appearance of a man in a suit would set the alarm bells ringing. Inevitably it would be the police or a funeral director. He looked as though he would be happy to see either as long as they took him away from here. I tried a half smile as way of a greeting.
“Alright Mate. Haven’t seen you for a long time.” His voice sounded familiar. I looked a little closer and realised I recognised this man. I couldn’t put a name to the face but I knew that I had gone to school with him. He hadn’t aged well.
“And you can take your frigging clothes with you an’ all.” A woman’s voice screamed from the balcony above us. A pair of jeans hit the ground at our feet.
“Meet the missus,” he said as he picked up the jeans. The crotch had been crudely cut out with scissors. “Caught me playing away from home with the barmaid down the club. She’ll get over it, it’s not the first time.” He shrugged his shoulders in a gesture of apathy.
“Here’s the fucking rest of them.” I looked up just in time to see a wardrobe being edged over the balcony. I dived into the stairwell as it came crashing to the ground, splintering all over the car park. He shrugged again.
“See you later, mate,” he said, possibly expecting the marital bed to come flying down and join the wardrobe.
“Hope it all works out for you.” I said as I headed up the stairwell to the fourth floor where I would find Elvis’ flat.
The light was out on the stairs but you could feel the ever-present dampness. It was slippery under foot due to the slimy residue that had built up on the concrete stairs over the years. The ammonia like stench of urine burnt the hairs on the inside of my nose. This place was depressing. Surely Elvis could do better than this.
In between holidays Elvis, Bumper, Gilbert and myself went to St Christopher’s primary school. I enjoyed school, not that I would admit it but apart from football and watching Claire Pearson, it was my favourite pastime.
Claire was in my class and she was beautiful. We were the two top performers in our year and always got chosen for the special tasks like doing readings in assembly. This was great as I always got to sit next to her. I knew I was going to marry her when I was older, I loved her.
“Pete, could you go down and see Sister Mary? She wants you to take a message down to the St Patrick’s for her.”
It was always a bonus when I was sent to the big school as the school secretary. Mrs Patterson had a jar of swizzle lollipops and she always gave me one when I went down there.
I walked the couple of hundred yards from our school gate to that of St Patrick’s, clutching the brown envelope in my hand. A stone bounced just in front of me and ricocheted across the pavement. I looked towards the far side of the road where a group of about a dozen lads sat on the wall next to the all weather pitch. They weren’t from St Patrick’s as they were wearing different ties; they all carried sticks or bats of some description. Mrs Patterson ran from the main entrance and ushered me inside.
“Are you alright, Pete love?” she asked with concern as she took me into her office. The stone throwing hadn’t bothered me but she seemed to think it was serious. “Phone the police, Linda. They’re back again.” The three women in the office stared out of the window as Linda picked up the phone. “It’s ok Linda, Mr Swinbank’s going to have a word with them.”
I watched as a great hulk of a man, bigger than Uncle Tim, walked across the road towards the group of lads. He had two other teachers with him; they each carried a hockey stick and a brief discussion followed. The young lads walked off grudgingly, scuffing their shoes on the ground as they left.
Mr Swinbank came into the office to make sure that everyone was alright.
“I’ll walk you back up to school, son. You never know what that lot will get up to next.”
I agreed with Mr Swinbank, disappointed that Mrs Patterson, who was now busily munching on a cream cake, had forgotten to give me a lollipop.
Another installment to follow same time next week.
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