A short story following teenager Mark as he makes his way to the bus stop on the night streets of London.
His feet met the pavement and retraced steps he had taken countless times before. The cracks looked as they had always done, mud covered the cement he knew lay below and when he walked extra slow, he could make out the ants burrowing through. He focused his eyes on the ground as he walked, lips clamped shut, nostrils flared and eyes squinted, he dug his hands deep into the front of his trousers. He had been walking for about 15 minutes and as his eyes followed the destination-less map on the ground, he let himself get drawn deep into thoughts of how things were going to change. Just earlier on in the day he had been at the studio recording lyrics it had taken him months to perfect and save the money to book the studio time. Night after night he had been out working hard, hustling for the money needed. Often risking his life, he had lost the fears of the jobs and getting caught, going to the studio was one of the only things that kept him going and without the hope of going there, he had little to plan for. His songs were going to make things change.
Making his way past the train station, Mark kept his eyes on the pavement but could feel the community officers looking at him. He laughed to himself as he imagined what they would be thinking about him. Young, black male, hooded up, probably carrying a knife, possibly weed as well and on his way to meet other members of his gang to cause more trouble. They were right. To extra screw with the minds of the officers Mark slowed his pace down, tensed his muscles and raised his shoulders, and turned to glare each officer in the eyes. Staring straight at them he walked past and even turned to look back as he walked away. When he got bored of staring and his neck began to hurt he turned his focus to the pavement once again. Mark had hurt his neck the evening before playing football and now could feel that the extra unnecessary strain he had just put on it would cost him with pain now. Bringing one hand out of his trousers to massage his neck, he could feel the tension being released and he stopped for a second breathing in and then out slowly. Stopping he realised how tense his body had been for the whole week. His trousers were weighed down and unable to completely let his guard down, Mark’s shoulders felt heavy even as he completely relaxed them. Slowly rotating his head from one side to the other Mark looked at everyone else on the road going on about their business. There were not many people out at this time, mainly few older black women who he thought were probably nurses or care assistants like his mum making their way home from long shifts, or the Asian men who had just closed their cash and carries. Other than that there were a few white drunks, a black drunk, homeless man and the community officers. Other than the drunken screams underlined with a deep and husky, “got 20pence”, the street was quiet.
Mark walked the few paces to the bus stop and sat down to wait for the night bus that went down to his estate. He did not have money for a bus ticket and was hoping that the child travel card he had bought earlier would get him on the bus. He didn’t have his photocard and knew that some drivers liked making a big deal about that. He was only 15 but tall and muscular for his age, Mark knew that he looked a lot older than his age. Most times he used that to his advantage, he could get girls who were older than him and get into over 18 clubs, but when he just wanted to get on the bus and go home, his looks could cause problems.
Sitting at the bus stop Mark let his head rest against the shelter. It was good sitting down. Looking up at the sky, it was a clear night and the crescent moon shone dimly afar. In Africa Mark remembered that at times like this he could see all the stars clearly. Here there were too many lights and it was hard to make them out. He imagined being in Africa and pretended that the same stars there were looking down on him. His grandma was a star to him, from the day she had died, Mark held her hand under the cold African night and cried remembering her words, her promises that she would always be the brightest and biggest star watching over him, protecting him. He knew it was silly but he began talking to her audibly. He didn’t have any space in his house to think in peace and quiet and think aloud. Sharing a room with his 2 younger brothers made it hard to get any time to himself.
Mark began quietly at first, whispering, closing his eyes and telling her he loved her, and missed her.
Remembering the warm semolina porridge she would make, the hot yam chopped into tiny pieces just so that he could fit it into his mouth easily and eat the meal with the big people. I used to sit close to you and cover my body with your wrapper, my toes were close to the fire and you always warned me about getting to close. We would laugh and you always said that if I got to close, i would get burned. Grandma you were right. I am caught up in some fire now and it’s burning ma ma. I miss you telling me what to do, it’s not the same here. I wanted you to be proud of me and wanted to do the best for you and mum but it’s hard. Sometimes we don’t have electricity and we have to boil water to bath and boil milk on the stove and I look at how bad mum is feeling and I have to go out and do something about it. That’s what a man is for isn’t it. You always used to say it to me before Grandma, remember, you used to tell me that if dad is not around then I have to be the strong man you know I am. Dad isn’t here now grandma. Most of the time the house is cold and we only have corned beef and bread and squash or the same rice and stew for weeks. Believe me Grandma I know it’s not an excuse but I can’t just sit and watch as everyone else gets new tracksuits and trainers and iphones, what makes me different? Why have I been chosen to have such a rubbish life. Why do I have to suffer and hustle for everything. Grandma you knew me but to everyone I’m having to prove myself again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again.
The bus pulled up and Mark could feel his vocal chords vibrating in his chest as he shouted. His hood had dropped off and to cover his watering eyes he pulled it back up praying that the driver would just let him on the bus.