Feral Youth

Growing up on a south London estate and excluded from every school that would take her, Alesha is the poster girl for the nation's 'feral youth'.
When a young teacher makes an unexpected reappearance in the 15-year-old's life, opening the door to a world of salaries, pianos and middle-class housemates, Alesha's instinct is to pull up her hood and return to the streets.
But fuelled by a need to survive, she falls into a cycle of crime, violence and drug-dealing, her one true ally deserting her when she needs him most. While everyone around her is rallying against the authorities in a war of haves and have-nots, Alesha finds herself caught in the crossfire, inextricably linked to the people she is trying to fight against.
Can she see a way out? And as riots sweep the nation, whose side will she take?


16. 16

Deanna shoves the local paper in front of my nose. ‘You can’t miss carnivaaal!’

‘Carnivaaal!’ echoes Tisha, playing up the yardie tones like her mum.

My eyes swivel to the mad grins of the girls in the picture. One’s dressed up like an over-colourful chicken, the other just looks like she’s collected every shining, glittering, sparkling thing she can find and stuck it to her naked black skin.

‘It ain’t no carnival,’ I say, even though I know it is. It’s like a cheap, small version of Notting Hill, only without as much thieving on account of the smaller crowds. Me and JJ been bare times before.

Tisha screws her face up, looking at me like I just dissed her favourite thing in the world. Deanna eyes me warily, smoothing her dress over the growing bump. I ignore them both. Truth is, I do wanna go carnival with them. I like spending time with Tisha. Even Deanna’s OK when she ain’t in full-on rage mode. I ain’t never been on no family trip like that in all my life. Going carnival with Deanna and Tisha could be fun. I can see us laughing at the crazy outfits, everyone covered in glitter and paint, Tisha’s eyes as wide as they go. But I can’t.

I can’t be seen on the roads with them. I can’t be seen on the roads at all, but especially not with them. I can’t bring them into it. If the Crew was to see me… I can’t even think about that. I won’t let my brain go there. I’m staying right here, on the settee. End of.

‘I’m tired,’ I lie. ‘Gonna take a nap.’

Deanna shakes her head slowly, letting out this long, loud sigh and swinging her bag on her shoulder.

Tired.’ She rolls her eyes. ‘I’ll show you tired! Come, Tisha.’

She moves to the door, holding her hand out for her little girl, but Tisha’s still looking at me screw-face, blocking my route to the settee.

I step sideways, away from her grabbing hands, but she launches her little body at me double-quick and catches hold of the bottom of my jeans. I keep heading for the settee, making a big deal of dragging along my over-heavy legs. I can feel the laughter bubble up inside me and looking back at Deanna, I see there’s a little smile on her lips too.

‘I ain’t… going… carnival!’ I keep on dragging her along, my arms reaching out for the sofa.

Tisha’s body squirms like a fish, her little legs starting to kick the air. Then there’s a clonking noise that makes us all jump. Tisha goes instantly quiet. I look down and my heart starts to thump like a drum.

I throw myself to the floor and scoop up the blade, which fell just millimetres from Tisha’s scared-looking eyes. The flat’s gone eerie quiet. Even Tisha ain’t making no noise. Deanna’s face is hard.

My brain’s still trying to think of what to say when this calm, smooth-talking voice fills the air.

‘Get out of here.’

I force myself to meet Deanna’s eyes, which glare back at me, glazed over with hate.

‘I’m –’

‘I said…’ She lifts a long, skinny arm and points at the door. ‘Get out.’

‘I didn’t mean –’

‘Mi no kya,’ Deanna says, spitting the words in my face.

Slowly, I reach down behind the settee and pull out my bag of stuff. Tisha don’t even move as I walk past her – she just keeps on staring at the floor, like she’s frozen over. Deanna’s frozen over too. The only thing that’s moving is her eyeballs as they track me to the door. I can feel them on the back of my head, pushing me out the flat.

The sunlight explodes in my face, forcing my eyes to the ground. I turn to pull the door shut and I feel this massive lurch inside me. It’s like someone’s just reached in and took all my strength. I’m all empty, my brain only just working out what this means.

‘I’m sorry.’ I force myself to give it one last go. ‘I forgot it was there. I never would’ve –’

Deanna’s cold eyes cut me off, staring back at me from the darkness of the flat.

It shunna bin deh in da first place,’ she says, in this voice I don’t hardly recognise. ‘You don bring dem tings into my house.’

The door slams.

I stumble down the walkway, stopping at the top of the stairs and seeing that my hand’s still wrapped round the handle of the blade. I turn it over slowly, my mind filling up with stuff as I watch my reflection come and go. Then I slide the blade back in my sock and head down the stairs, over-slowly, trying to straighten the thoughts in my head.

I’m homeless again. That’s the bottom line. That’s the thing I need to be focusing on as my feet drop from step to step, taking me back to the streets I come from. I know there’s things I need to be doing right now, like sorting a place to cotch and pulling together the p’s I owe, but it’s like there’s something in my way. Something in my head I can’t get past.

I see Tisha’s big, scared eyes staring up at me from the floor. The blade come that close to her head. That close. One centimetre and it could’ve sliced through her chocolate skin. My chest’s still tight from when I realised what I done. I feel truly bad for what happened. I wanna let that girl know I’m sorry. I wanna tell them both, Honest to God, I didn’t mean for anything bad to happen. I wanna go back and… and… I wanna… My knees go wobbly under me and I find myself grabbing the metal hand rail, propping myself in the corner of the stairwell as this lump rises up in my throat. I wanna go back.

There’s tears behind my eyes. I try and put my mind onto other things, try and shake it off, but it’s like my brain’s stuck in rewind mode, flashing up scenes I don’t wanna see – scenes from the life I was just getting used to. I can hear the saucepan Deanna banged to wake me up in the mornings. I can feel myself rocking on the settee as Tisha tried to bounce me off. I can smell jerk chicken and pork fritters and spices and curry and I can see Deanna cussing at me for not knowing what a nutmeg looks like. The tears fill my eyes and spill out, trickling down both sides of my nose. I wipe a sleeve across my face and take a deep breath, trying to blink it all away, but then I get this whiff of Deanna’s washing powder and I feel my throat clog up again.

I breathe out, pushing myself off the rail and forcing myself to get a grip. I was going soft. I can see that now. I was getting used to the games and fun and laughter, letting feelings get in the way of real life. Feelings is what gets you in trouble. I know, coz I seen it. Push, this boy who moved in with the mandem and worked his way up in the Crew, he met a girl and went soft. Stopped watching his back and forgot about his beefs from the past. Two weeks later, he was in intensive care with a knife through his chest. A few millimetres over and he’d be dead.

Thoughts of blades and millimetres sends my brain skimming back to Tisha and what just happened. Deanna’s words ring in my ears. It shunna bin deh in da first place. That ain’t fair. Now I think about it, I can see it ain’t fair. I got a grip on the situation now. I can see it wasn’t my fault.

I couldn’t of known she was gonna lunge at me like she did. I mean, what if she’d of lunged at the knives in the kitchen drawer? Whose fault would that be? That kid’s getting out of control – that’s the truth of it. You can’t blame me for how that kid’s turning out. It’s Deanna’s fault, not mine.

I clear my throat, rub my eyes one last time and bust my way down the last few steps, pulling my hood down low as I go.

I know Deanna ain’t gonna see things that way. She ain’t gonna blame her own baby girl – she’s gonna blame the yoot with the bad name who come in off the streets, looking for trouble with a knife down her sock. She’s gonna say it was the yoot’s fault for busting the blade. She’s gonna say you don’t need to be busting no blade these days.

That’s a lie. I know it’s what they say on TV and on the posters round the endz, but it’s a lie. People like Deanna and Vinny and the teachers at school, they try and tell you that you be safer if you drop your tools, forget all your beefs and lose the protection. But that’s bullshit. Dropping your tools makes you a target. Look at Push. The beefs don’t go away. The mandem ain’t gonna drop their tools coz of what they seen on some poster at the bus stop. You never know who’s gonna step to you. You never know when you’re gonna need to defend yourself. I ain’t going nowhere without this blade.

I pull out my phone and ping JJ, angry thoughts bubbling away in my brain. Really and truly, it was never gonna work between me and Deanna. I knew that from the start. We’re different types. We got different views of the world on account of our different situations. I’d put money on the fact that Deanna had a good mum just like her, always looking out for her, checking she gets what’s best for her just like Deanna does with Tisha. That’s why she’s like she is. I didn’t have no one looking out for me. I look after myself. That’s why I carry a blade. That’s why I rob and thieve and roll with bad types. Deanna ain’t spent no time on the roads. She don’t know what it’s like to see one of your own bredrin lying merked on the street. She’s too busy with her photos and curtains and nutmegs.

I’m heading for a little parade of shops – the type that’s open more in the night than the day. There’s a fried chicken hut, a newsagent and an off-licence. I pick up my phone and call JJ, even though it’s gonna use up my last bit of credit. No reply. That riles me, but I’d be lying if I said I was surprised. He’s got a routine these days – a routine that don’t involve me.

I try and push my brain onto something else, but it’s stuck in this dark, nasty groove, going round and round the same set of things that I don’t want in my head: Deanna shutting me out, JJ shutting me out, school shutting me out… The anger swells up inside me as the thoughts spin round. What’s the point? What’s the point in trying when everyone just wants you out of their lives? I bust my way into the off-licence and reach for the biggest bottle of vodka I can find.

The coil’s in a plastic bag, getting sweaty down my bra. I slide my hand in. It’s a thick wad, maybe fifty notes; mainly tens with a few twenties. I know I shouldn’t be spending it – I know I need to be holding on, saving up and settling my debt with the Crew. But right at this moment, I don’t feel like saving. Right now, it feels like I been living off scraps and minding my spending and watching my back for long, and look where it’s got me. The blood in my veins is hotting up and my brain’s flicked to self-destruct mode. I need to get out.

The bored-looking Indian boy looks up from his phone. ‘Can I see some ID?’

I give him my worst death stare and slam the bottle on the counter.

‘You want me to pay for this or not?’

The boy’s eyes flutter to the floor.

‘That’s nineteen ninety-nine,’ he says, like he’s embarrassed.

I hand over a twenty. ‘Keep the change.’

The door swings shut with a bang and I wander onto the street, enjoying the quick fizz of power before the dark thoughts come crashing back into my head. I yank the top off the bottle and suck in as much as I can before the sting kicks in. My whole body jerks, my eyes scrunching shut as the fire burns my throat. My belly heats up and goes hard like there’s acid inside it and everything’s melting away. I keep drinking. Keep sucking it in, waiting for it to reach my brain.

Then it does. I lean on this bin that’s got old smokes stubbed out on top, feeling the whole world spin and sway under me. It’s like I just stepped off a roundabout.

I make my way to a nearby wall, my fingers touching the brickwork like it’s all I got left in the world. I take more swigs, waiting for my mind to go numb like the rest of me. My mind’s got other ideas. It’s like it’s waking up with the smell of the vodka, flashing more things at me I don’t wanna see, like mum conked out on the settee, smeared in bruises. That man crashing his way through our door.

I push off the wall and keep walking as the pavement sways and swerves. I keep swigging, nearly stepping into a bus lane as I hit the main road. Some woman yells at me. I yell something back. For a while I just stand there, eyes glazed as the traffic flows past, thoughts flipping and flashing through my head. When I was older, she’d send me to the shop to nab booze. I got good at hooking the tag off the bottle. It didn’t help. I learnt that, after a while, but my mum was screaming for her medicine and when you’re a kid and someone’s screaming at you, the best thing is to do what they say. Anyway, she was worse when she wasn’t taking it.

A skinny boy in a shirt and trousers is hanging about, looking lost. I make a beeline, tugging my hood low as I go. The words tumble out my mouth, no need to even think about them. Rah, gimme your wallet. He’s scared. I see shaky hands reaching into his pocket. And your phone. I’m feeling bold, like nothing can touch me. I grab the wallet, push my face up to his and wait for the phone. It’s a Nokia – a piece of junk like the type we tried to make nan use. Don’t do nothing except make calls. I watch as he hurries off, thinking rah, I can do what I like. I got the power. Mostly it’s the other way round. People got power over me. The authorities, the Crew; they look down on me like I’m dirt. They got the power. Well, not today. Today it’s my turn. Today I’m in charge.

I chuck the Nokia straight in the bin, then fumble around with the wallet, looking for cash. Power. That’s right. That’s what I got. Only that ain’t the direction my brain’s taking. I keep feeling hands round my wrists, pains and jolting down below, the bang-bang-bang of my head on the wall. I take a long swig, looking down at the cards as they slip through my fingers.

There’s credit cards, debit cards, phone cards, loyalty cards – bare loyalty cards. I swear, this boy was loyal to every single shop on the high street. I pick out the loose change from the zip pocket – less than three quid – and turn round, hearing voices behind me.

‘… pissed!’

‘… a bottle, blud!’

‘That’s buzz, man. Look!’

It’s just tinies. I follow the pointing fingers and see there’s wet marks all down my top. Vodka, I guess. I try and focus on the little faces but they keep swerving off. I think I seen them before at the Shack. I can’t tell. I know it ain’t smart, showing my face on the roads like this, but right now I don’t care. They’re shouting at my face and laughing. I move to them, but something hits me in the leg and I lose my balance.

A bollard. They’re laughing hard now. Pissing themselves. My knee hurts. I yell something, which makes the tinies laugh more. I can feel my skin getting itchy. They’re on their feet now, dancing about in my face like they’re teasing a dog. I can feel my arms moving in front of me, but they’re just slicing through air. I’m seeing my mum on the kitchen floor, all slow to react as the fists come down – bam, bam, bam.

My hands curl into balls, nails digging into my flesh. Then this blast of hot, noisy air sends me reeling. A bus. By the time things stop swirling around, the kids is peeping out at me through the scuffed-up window, giggling as the bus pulls away. I give them the finger and head down the street, tower blocks leaning and swooping as I go.

My feet keep moving like they got their own plan for a route, but I’m lost – don’t have a clue where I’m heading. Bad thoughts keep flashing through my mind and the quicker I push them away, the quicker they come. There’s mum on the floor, then I’m back at Deanna’s, feeling her eyes burning holes in my skull. Then I’m in isolation at Pembury High, then I’m watching them wheel nan off to the home and then there’s hands round my wrists… something lurches inside me. I feel dizzy and sick. I keep walking, keep drinking, waiting for it all to blank out.

A station appears and more shops. I’ve lost track of where I come from. Maybe I been here before, maybe not. Maybe I’m walking in loops. My head’s spinning faster now, thoughts whizzing so quick I can’t hardly tell what I’m thinking no more. It’s like my brain’s turned into a food mixer filled with all the bad things in my life. Guns and drugs and fear and anger and debt and exclusions and hatred and falling blades… I feel giddy. I think I’m gonna puke. I can’t do this. I can’t hold it all in my head. I gotta make it go away.

I chug more vodka, leaning against the railings that run up to a crossing. My phone pings. I fumble about, all shaky and sick and confused. Then I squint at the words on the screen.

I’m using BBM :-) says the first line, which adds to my confusion. Please let me know if you need anything, Alesha. Sorry if I upset you the other day.

I breathe in deep then let it out. Same again. The thoughts slow down in my head just enough for me to reach out and grab one. I’ve worked something out. Suddenly I know where my feet wanna go.

Join MovellasFind out what all the buzz is about. Join now to start sharing your creativity and passion
Loading ...