I opened a bank account on my sixteenth birthday, just for the sake of it. My dad doesn’t even have a bank account. He gets his benefits on a Giro and does cash in hand jobs – when he works, that is. Standing in front of the cash point, I start to smile. I bet most people round ’ere have fuck all in their bank accounts, course, but with the cash I’m making I really should have more than £16.61 in mine.
‘You’ve not been paying your money into the bank have you?’ Waj asks as we pull away fast, tires spinning. A song starts and it’s typical Waj – old American funk and hip-hop, all that 70s shite – but he thinks he’s educating me and, to be fair, he is the boss.
This country wants nostalgia.
They want to go back as far as they can,
Even if it’s only as far as last week.
Not to face now or tomorrow – but to face backwards...
‘Course not,’ I say, after a bit.
I’ve been putting the cash, and there’s a lot, in an old Jaguar sports bag under my bed. No one ever goes in my room so it should be safe there, for now.
Waj just nods. I look out the window as we drive past the old shoe factory where Mum used to work, when she was about my age. It shut ages ago, course.
Nostalgia, that’s what we want.
The good ol’ days – when we gave’em hell...
‘I hate this place…’ he says – to himself, I think.
We’re in the most run down part of town, and that’s really saying summat round ’ere. The road we’re on runs through what used to be a community, with a school, a doctor’s surgery – all the things you’d expect. I can remember it when I was little ’cause it’s not that far from us. My dad used to take me to the park on Sundays, to kick a ball about and that.
This ain’t really your life,
Ain’t really your life,
Ain’t really, ain’t nothing but a movie...
It’s also where Roger lives. Roger’s this older bloke I met about three years ago, when I first left home. He’s the soundest person I know. Fuck knows why he lives round ’ere. Nearly all the houses left are boarded up or crumbling, the only factory’s closed and there are no pubs anymore – just an off license, that’s it. There are these massive speed bumps everywhere and all, so you can take in the misery as you crawl along at ten mile an hour.
We pull up in front of a bit of land I think used to be a park but isn’t owt anymore, just concrete and overgrown weeds. There’s a row of maybe six terraced houses opposite, nowt either side, which looks a bit odd. Waj stops the car and turns to face me.
‘I need you to collect,’ he says, his voice calm. ‘Go to number twelve and ask for Sandra. They’ll tell you she’s not in but they’ll be lying, ok? It’s a squat and she’s a junky with too much junk. She’ll definitely be in.’
I get out and find number twelve. There are a few lads, a bit older than me, messing round on bikes in front of the offy. They eye me up but I just stare back and nod. Then I bang on the door, nice and hard. Eventually, a woman answers through the letter box.
Waj doesn’t like dealing with this sort. They’re what he calls ‘the bottom of the pyramid’. He prefers the sort with money that live out of town – the ones that use pills and coke for a good time on a Saturday night, but drive an Audi TT in the week. Kids and junkies, he leaves to me.
She looks like she probably used to be pretty but is so thin and sickly now – dark brown bags under bloodshot eyes, teeth brown and rotten – I can’t bring myself to keep looking at her.
‘Is Sandra about?’ I say, through the letterbox.
‘You don’t need to shout!’ she shouts. ‘And no, she’s not. She’s…well she’s out, ok? Come back tomorro’…’
I step back and eye up the house. The windows are closed with metal shutters and I start to think about how they got in.
‘Open the door,’ I say, calm.
‘She’s not in,’ she says. ‘Fuckin’ come back t –’
‘Open the door,’ I interrupt, my voice louder now, ‘or when I go round the back and climb through the window, I’ll cut your fuckin’ nose off, cunt.’
I’m not bluffing. Not about the knife anyway. I’ve no idea if I’ll get in through the back window – just a wild guess.
I step back and take the knife out my pocket, so she can see it through the letterbox. There are some voices, then the door opens.
‘Don’t shoot the messenger, ok?’ the woman says. She’s got badly bleached hair, black roots three inches deep, wearing a pink dressing gown with fluffy cuffs. ‘She told me not to let anyone –’
‘Yeah yeah. Where is she?’
‘Upstairs,’ she says, laughing, ‘but she’s shootin’ up so I dunno how, y’know…’
I go upstairs, making sure to avoid two needles on the top step. The bathroom’s right in front of me, the door open. Someone’s sprayed diarrhoea all over the shop, and no fucker’s bothered to clean it up.
I can hear noises in a room to my right, so walk in. It stinks and there’s no furniture – just a candle and two people, one lad and a much younger girl who looks off her face, shagging on the floor.
‘Oi fuck off will yer…’ the lad moans. He’s a skinny, pale fucker, and looks gone and all.
‘Where’s Sandra?’ I say, not moving.
‘I said fuck –’
I stop him short by digging him in the back of the skull, then pull him off the girl, who just flops on the floor. She’s skinny with cropped blonde hair, and like she’s passed out. I keep hold of the lad and start choking him from behind, so he can’t move.
‘Where’s Sandra?’ I say, my voice still calm.
‘Ok ok I’ll tell yer!’ His track marks look fresh, and I start to feel sorry for him. I look down at his cock and it’s only half-hard and tiny. ‘She’s next door...’
I dump him on the floor and go in the next room. As promised, there’s a girl in the room. There are a few candles strewn about but again no furniture. She’s on her back and I spot a needle on the floor next to her.
‘Waj sent me to collect, Sandra,’ I say, standing over her. ‘Where’s the money, love?’
She doesn’t say a word, just looks up at me, her eyes glazed over, then smiles. She looks like she probably used to be pretty but is so thin and sickly now – dark brown bags under bloodshot eyes, teeth brown and rotten – I can’t bring myself to keep looking at her.
In the corner of the room’s a pile of old magazines and videos. I walk over and pick up a couple of cases, realising they’re empty. I try a few more – still empty – until I get to a copy of Made in Britain. It feels heavier than the others so I open it. Inside, there’s only about two hundred in twenties. I always hated that film.
‘Sandra,’ I say, smiling at her ’cause she’s still smiling at me, and despite the fact I know full well she’s not on this fucking planet, ‘Waj tells me you owe him three hundred, but I’m gonna give you a break.’ I walk over to her and crouch down. ‘I’ll sort the rest out wi’ him, ok?’ She’s still smiling at me as I stand up and walk towards the door. ‘You’re welcome…’
Made in Britain is the new book from Gavin James Bower and is available to buy here.
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