I’m stood on the corner of Clifton Gardens, looking at the shop and trying not to look suspicious, which is difficult since I’m wearing a big black puffa jacket and a rolled-up balaclava on the top of my head.
It’s getting late now, the shop will shut soon, so it’s nearly time to make my move. I keep checking my phone, and it’s ten minutes since I saw someone go in and out, so it’s now or never really. I dot my cig against the lamp-post and have a quick look around to make sure no one’s peeping out their window, and then I head across the road.
Here we go.
The bairn won’t stop fucking screaming. Don’t know where he gets it from. He’s nowt like me. According to Mam, I didn’t say owt for years. In fact, at one point she took me to doctor’s because she was worried that there was summat wrong with me, like I was slow or deaf or summat. They did some tests and they all came back fine.
The week after the tests, and we’re at my Aunt Jan’s house, and we’re having Sunday dinner, and Aunt Jan’s keeps asking me if I want more mashed spud, and I keep shaking my head, but she keeps asking, and eventually I turn around say: ‘Fuck off, I don’t want any mashed spuds.’
Mam said she didn’t know whether to breathe a sigh of relief or clatter me around the head.
So yeah, he’s nowt like me.
I’m trying to psyche myself up, but I feel fucking ridiculous. Me, wearing a puffa jacket I haven’t worn since back before Eminem had a face-lift, rolling the balaclava down over my face. I’m supposed to look scary, but I feel I’m wearing a shit terrorist Halloween costume.
I need to focus, get my shit together if I’m going to pull this off. In theory it’s simple, but the adrenaline’s kicking in now, so all the careful is dripping out of my ears.
Short, deep breaths. A bit of grunting and roaring like, try and control the nerves.
I can do this.
Our lass is all right. Great with the bairn like. But she’s always banging on, there’s always fucking summat. Money usually. She knew the score when she got with me. There’s nowt out there for people like me. I didn’t want her to get pregnant. That was a decision she made. She could have got rid of it. Him. Could have got rid, but she chose not. I stuck by her. My mates said I was fucking mad.
‘Yer off yer fucking head mate,’ Mark said. Bit rich coming from a fucker who’s stoned most of the time, but there you go.
Push on the door and the bell tinkles as it opens. Take the knife from my pocket, ready to start throwing shit down, but there’s no one behind the counter. Fucking cheeseballs.
I look around, and then I hear a voice says: ‘I’ll be with you in a sec.’
Looking at the mirror above the door, angled to the back of the shop, I see Patel crouched down, putting some stuff on a shelf. Fuck’s sake. Put the knife back in my pocket. I figure that it’s best to whip it out in front of him. It’s ok, it’s ok. Improvise, adapt and overcome. Like the special fucking forces.
It was good for a bit. Mam was chuffed to fuck. She’d been at a loose end for as long as I could remember, ever since Dad walked out. Her daily routine involved supping cheap-shit wine and watching repeats of American soap operas and talk shows, so I think she was excited at the prospect of having summat to do on an evening other than pass out in a stupor.
Our lass managed to get herself a flat. Although officially I was still at Mam’s, I spent most of my time round at our lasses. She wasn’t too happy when the lads came around for a session, but I never complained when her mates came round.
We were skint, but we’d get more benefits once the bairn was born, so we went to Bright House, got a cooker and a big fuck-off telly and that. The terms were mental, like five quid a week for the rest of our natural lives, but we didn’t care. ‘We could all get blown up tomorrow,’ was the way our lass put it, and she was right.
Patel gets up and comes over. ‘Alright mate?’ he says as he scoots behind the counter. He doesn’t clock the balaclava at first, and when he does, it’s like one of them Youtube videos where people record their mate’s reactions to eating a hot chili or summat.
I whip the knife out, all menacing like. ‘Empty the fucking till,’ I say in my best Christian-Bale-as-Batman voice.
I’m expecting him to obey, but he’s frozen on the spot. A big red flushed chili face. He’s staring at me, dead intense like.
‘Put yer fucking hands where I can see ‘em,’ I bark. ‘Don’t be pressing any panic alarms.’
He puts his hands up, I’ve shocked him into action. Good. Just need him to empty the till so I can fuck off now.
The bairn popped out, big, pink, round and loud. And there we were. Domestic fucking bliss.
Money was tight. Never seemed to be enough. Just the cost of the bairn alone: prams, clothes, toys, all of that shit. Our lass started banging on at me to get a job, start earning. I tried explaining that I didn’t need to do that now that I was knocking a bit of weed out. But it wasn’t good enough. ‘You fucking smoke more than you earn,’ she said.
The letters came through the door, letters about the telly, the fridge, the fucking leccy bill. And all the time the bairn is fucking screaming, and our lass is getting on me case, and it’s like, fucking hell, when did all this creep up on me?
It all came to a head one afternoon when Mam came round. It was only half-two and she was half-cut already. She stumbled in through the front door, saying, ‘Where’s me bairn? Where’s me bairn?’
Our lass looked over at me and rolled her eyes. ‘Don’t fucking say owt,’ I said.
We’d finally managed to get the bairn to sleep after feeding him, but Mam insisted on holding him. She kept banging on about it until our lass relented and fetched him into the kitchen. Mam took the bairn, held him.
‘Aren’t you beautiful?’ she cooed.
Mam had a fag in her gob, crappy knock-off baccy, and as she spoke the end of it dropped onto the bairn’s forehead.
The bairn woke up immediately, screaming his head off, and then our lass started screaming, ran over and grabbed the bairn off Mam. ‘What the fuck have you done yer stupid cow?’ our lass yelled, and this set Mam off roaring.
Our lass had the bairn’s head until the running cold-water, while Mam’s sobbing, saying, ‘I’m so sorry, I’m fucking useless.’
I felt as though my head was going to explode. I walked into the living room. Stood in front of the big telly, the one that our grandkids will probably still be paying off long after we’re dead, and I just kicked it, planted my foot right in the centre of the screen. The glass shattered, and the telly rocked back and forth like a boxer reeling from an uppercut, tipped over onto the floor.
Next thing I knew, I’d smashed everything up. The table, the shelves, everything on them. Bits of glass and plastic everywhere.
Patel’s scooping the money into a small blue carrier.
‘Do you want the coins as well?’
I belt the counter with the butt of the knife, and he tips the shrapnel into the bag.
He seems to be taking forever, and with that, I hear the bell on the door go. I’m caught off-guard, and I spin around to see who’s just walked in. And that’s all it takes. There’s an explosion somewhere off to the side of my head. The shockwave sends me careening into the spinning rack of birthday cards, which I take down with me. I look up to see Patel leaping over the counter, a small wooden bat in his hand. I hold up my hands to try and shield myself from the blows that rain down on me. I hear a sickening crack as a couple of my fingers break.
Eventually, Patel stops. I’m aware that there’s someone else near me. I hear Patel’s voice as he rings the coppers.
As we wait for them to arrive, Patel lifts my balaclava, exposing my face. Even though I’m bloody and bruised, he recognises me. He looks more sad and disappointed now than angry.
‘Why?’ he asks me, shaking his head. ‘What the fuck was you thinking?’
‘I have absolutely no idea.’