“Don’t you fucking speak to my son like that you little shit!”
Angie had taken issue with Daryl’s decision not to allow her son, Justice, to join us on our Saturday bike-ride. Daryl had a strong case: Justice did not have a bike. Daryl also hated to be told what to do. But Angie was a proud woman and was not about to let a pikey estate kid tell her that her son wasn’t good enough. The unstoppable force had met the immovable object.
We were stood at the centre of the road spiralling off from the estate’s main avenue; the surrounding clumps of cheap, low-rise housing stock commanding clear views of our absurd vignette. The whole estate seemed to be hanging out the little windows of their flat-fronted houses, watching us. Three weeks previously a young girl had collapsed in some kind of fit at the same spot. A dumb crowd had gathered to watch her gyrating uncontrollably. She had regained consciousness- probably nauseous and confused- surrounded by strangers pointing at her crotch and laughing. The girl had wet herself. Three weeks later and the same mob were watching a woman in her nightdress castigate a twelve year old boy for not taking her son on a bike ride.
Justice was sat on his doorstep, looking utterly distressed. His pudgy eyes were close to tears. I gave what I hoped was a sympathetic grin, wondering if he too was recalling the epileptic girl wetting herself in the middle of the street. His mother was yelling at him to fetch his bike. He pulled himself to his feet and ambled lethargically through the gate to his back yard, Angie staring angrily at the spot where he had been sitting moments before, tapping her right foot impatiently. Daryl’s furious countenance was fixed on Angie; his small, screwed-up face crimson with indignation. I took care to position my bike between the adversaries as a shield. The cry of a seagull caused me to look up; I watched it crossing the clear sky, not without envy.
Justice reappeared from his yard with a red racing bike. The front wheel squeaked as he pushed it tentatively towards us. Daryl was unimpressed:
“It hasn’t- got – a fuck-ing chaaiiin...”
Daryl’s sarcastic retort was met with a sharp slap about his head. Instinctively he launched a hopeful fist towards Angie’s face; she caught it deftly with her left hand. She had fought many battles- not just for her children- and was not about to be defeated by an impertinent pubescent boy with bum fluff on his lip.
“Right, that’s enough, shitbag. You’re taking him. Tie his bike to yours and tow him.”
Daryl struggled, enraged, but was utterly impotent. He was strong but not strong enough for Angie.
“You’ll tow him. If you get tired you can swap. Or your little mate can tow him.”
She did not look at me. I muttered a feeble “Yeah, sure”- but it was a command, not a request.
And so Angela held on to Daryl’s bike as he ventured back to his house to fetch some rope. Justice wheeled his bike up beside mine.
“Alright?” I said, to Justice.
He looked down at his new trainers without answering. His mum ran her hand over his light-brown afro hair, studying me carefully. I smiled at her. She did not smile back.
The three of us made our way through the estate in a neat line. Daryl led, Justice slouched uncomfortably in his saddle behind him, and me at the back. We passed occasional groups of older boys, bored and bare-chested on their narrow strips of front lawn, pointing and laughing at Justice’s corpulent form. The late afternoon sun was heavy; with Justice’s additional weight Daryl was tiring rapidly. When we reached the edge of the estate I took over Daryl’s duties and he raced ahead on my lime-green mountain bike. I could only carry Justice so far; eventually we switched places and Justice towed me.
It was a liberating feeling, the world rushed by me without any effort. I thought of how I used to hang my head out of the window of my dad’s car as we wasted another access Saturday hurtling towards some inconsequential destination at the end of an a-road . I yelled something loudly as Justice peddled swiftly along the endless lo-rise homogeneity of the Hornby estate dissolved into the flat expanse of the south Essex countryside… fields of rusty-yellow wheat or bright yellow rape were all that lay between us and the infinite possibility of blue sky.
Daryl hung a sharp left, tearing into a wheat field. The ground was baked hard as tarmac, we laughed loudly as our bicycles cut narrow scars through the landscape, racing towards the pillbox. Daryl was first to arrive. He threw his bike to the floor, climbed atop the pill box and watched us sternly as Justice and I approached. Justice broke sharply; I hadn’t been paying attention- my bicycle ploughed into the back of him. We fell into a heap on the floor, giggling manically.
If not for Daryl we would have probably stayed like that for a while, an orgy of velophiles- Justice beneath Daryl’s bike, me beneath Justice’s… but Daryl was not impressed. Cupping his hands about his mouth, stood atop the pillbox, he released a massive cry:
“FUCK YOU ANGIE!”
We were silenced. Justice’s grinning visage swiftly folded itself into a frown. With angry intent he heaved himself up to the top of the pillbox. I hurriedly scampered after him, fearing that he was going to attempt to punish Daryl for this insult. I was mistaken. Just as Daryl had done, Justice cupped his hands over his mouth and yelled as loud as he could:
“FUCK YOU MUM!”
I joined in:
“FUCK YOU ANGIE! FUCK YOU DAD!”
There was no-one for miles. Our grating, adolescent yelps took on increasing authority and confidence as we yelled expletives at our absent fathers, continuing until the sun started to sink, casting long shadows from the poplars lining the far side of the field. Utterly exhausted we each laid ourselves prostrate on the roof of the pill box. The swifts were darting across the clear sky, releasing their shrill calls, almost in mimicry of our own cries earlier. The sudden smell of cheap tobacco smoke pulled me briefly from my reverie- Daryl had lit another of the Superkings. When he eventually passed the cigarette to me, I wondered if this was how it was after men and women made love, staring into nothingness with a feeling of utter content, smoking silently.