I wasn’t allowed out at night so, after my parents thought I’d gone to finish my homework and to bed, I went out the window. A younger brother asked to come too and I had to bring him along.
Ah! The pleasure, the joy, the freedom to be out on the streets at night – especially when it had been forbidden. I was wearing my new blue trainer shoes. They felt good. They looked good. I felt good.
We wandered on towards a street of brightly-lit shops, most of them still open. Around the corner we went – and walked into the tail-end of a robbery! It was a sports shoe shop and the robbers, young lads, were spilling out of the shop, bumped into me … and people were shouting. And then one of the bystanders or shop assistants pointed at me and shouted that I was one of the robbers!
Well, even if I could convince people I was not, when the cops questioned me, they’d at least take me home to confirm my address and check my parents. And I was not supposed to be out.
Getting out of there quick seemed like the only rational option.
As I ran, I cursed my new trainers as I heard my accuser shout: “Look, he’s even wearing a pair of the stolen trainers! The blue ones.”
I had to get out of the area and, if possible, change my shoes. How to do that? Nearby was a late-night school gym and that’s where I headed. Asking the brother to wait for me outside in the shrubbery, I ducked in.
I passed by some youth around my age in a corridor and got by them casually with not too many words. It surprised me that they were all black. I soon found a changing room with shoes and clothes scattered about – and no-one in there — great! There was even a pair of white trainers my size — my luck was in! But as I was changing into them, the door opened and a black kid walked in.
“Who’re you?” was his immediate question, eyeing me suspiciously.
“Marlon,” I replied, giving the first reply that came to my head. I was just thinking that was an unlikely name for a white boy and he might even think I was taking the piss out of current Afro-Caribbean youth names when he asked “Marlon who?”
And like some conditioned response, I replied “Brando”. My heart sank but I kept my face unconcerned. With any luck he only watched kung-fu and chain-saw massacre films.
His eyes narrowed. “That’s an actor’s name”. Damn! For a second I considered blagging it but knew it wouldn’t work.
“Yeah, sorry,” I replied, shrugging. “Just a joke.” And I gave him another name.
Just then, the door opened and a younger black kid looked in. I’d met him earlier, on the way in.
“Hi, Ian,” he said when he saw me. I’d probably told him my name was Ian Fleming. That wasn’t the problem, though; the real problem was that was not the name I’d just given tough guy., whose eves widened.
Young black kid had hardly closed the door and gone before tough black kid grabbed my arm, opened a door to another room and shoved me in there.
It was a toilet and looked like there was shit everywhere. And it was not in turds but in semi-liquid form, like an explosion – or more likely, several explosions – of severe diarrhoea. To say it was disgusting would so far below reality as to be a lie.
“It’s covered in shit,” I complained.
“So clean it up,” he replied, shut and locked the door.
The memory of what followed is all too clear to me but I’ll spare any of you the description. Suffice it to say that I cleaned it up, or most of it, dumping it in the pan and pumping the toilet flusher a number of times.
I had nearly finished when the door was unlocked and another black kid, this one in plastic apron, rubber boots and gloves, looked in on me.
“Done?” he enquired.
“Yeah,” I replied, washing my hands in the sink. “And it was truly disgusting.”
“You had it easy,” he replied. “You’d want to see the mountain of dog shit I’ve had to clear.”
He was wrong about that – I definitely did not want to see it. Right then I wished never to see shit again as long as I lived but it was just another of many wishes already in my short life that I knew would not be granted.
“Come along,” he said and beckoned.
He seemed friendly and anyway, what choice did I have? There was no other way out of that room.
He opened another door and I followed him into a compound of dog pens.
“Mamelukes” he said, showing me around.
“You mean Malemutes,” I began to say but trailed off when I saw them. There’s a lot of things I don’t know but I do know these were not malemutes – not even close. And Mamelukes were an Egyptian slave soldier caste. I don’t know what kind of breed these dogs were but they reminded me of that latest of accessory dog breeds, the shar pei. They had very short hair and wrinkled skin. But the pups were kind of grey-coloured and huge.
Despite my guide’s reassurance as he brought me into one pen, the pup was growling fiercely at me. Its mother (I presume) in the next pen, barked at the pup as if to say “Shut up, silly! Can’t you see this guy is a friend? He’s with our feeder and pen cleaner!”
Her head came up to the height of my chest. Even though she looked like she was friendly towards me, I was glad she was in the next pen, with a wire fence between us. Otherwise I would never have dared do what I did next.
Grabbing the pup around the muzzle so it couldn’t bite me, I flipped it on to its back and started scratching its stomach. The pup wriggled madly, at first in anger or fear, but then out of pleasure. When I let it up, dominance and pleasure-giving role established, it was all over me. Wagging its tail like mad, squirming, its wrinkles running up and down its loose skin. It was ugly, really but kind of appealing too.
My guide took me out of the pen and locked it but then, looking off to the side, exclaimed: “Oh no! One’s got out. It likes being chased and it’ll take me ages to catch it. Help me, please.”
I set off after him and we passed beyond the pens into a piece of undulating open ground where cabbages and other vegetables had been grown – some were still there, unharvested. In the distance, something was moving fast. Strangely, it looked like a head of cabbage.
I ran after the guy and caught up with him just in time to see the pup’s hind legs disappearing into a burrow.
“Quick, head it off at the other side,” he said.
The other side of the burrow was only a few steps away and emerging on to a ridge, where I took up station to block the pup. I heard and felt more than saw it coming and what flew out of the burrow at me was no pup or cabbage head but some kind of large flying insect. By reflex I reached out and grabbed it and some of its feet scratched my fingers. And then it was a bird.
It had been some time since I had taken any drugs and never the psychotropic kind but that was definitely a bird in my hand now. A pretty one too.
Next I remember I found the brother and we made our way home, me still with the bird quite placidly in my hand. And we walked into the house through the back garden and it was daylight and no-one was telling us off for being out all night.
We had some visitors I could see through the open door to the kitchen and it looked like my Ma and my younger sister had been having an argument. The visitors seemed quite shocked when the Sis said loudly: “I don’t give a shit!”.
My older brother walked past them munching something and gave me a sardonic lift of the eyebrow in passing. That was really weird – not so much the eyebrow but the fact that I don’t have an older brother – but it didn’t seem to bother me much at the time.
“Look at the bird I have!” I called to my sister.
A smile of malicious delight spread over her face. “Shove it up!” she shouted.
The visitors gasped.
The bird flew away.
And I woke up in my own bed.