Looking in the mirror, how do I look? Not great. I’m not sure, I reckon I’m not that bad looking. People say I’m good looking. I don’t know though, honestly, I don’t know what good looking is. I pick up the bottle of aftershave, it’s quite expensive, Tommy Hilfiger, I push down on the spray a couple of times. I don’t think that’s enough. Another couple, that should do it. I reckon she can’t miss me now. One last look in the mirror, I adjust the collar on my blazer so it’s sticking up, my shirt untucked, I’ll put it in before I get to school.
The freezing air hits me as I open the door. It’s still dark, I breathe out, watching my breath freeze in the air as I walk down the stairs. The grass is frosty, shining from the orange glow of the street lamp. I quickly pat my pocket, making sure I have the packet of 10 Benson in there. The old man I see every morning is on his way back home from buying his paper. I wave at him, he waves back, saying something I don’t quite catch. I laugh as if I’ve understood.
I look back to see him turn around the corner and pull out the packet of cigarettes. I light one, taking a long pull, my head rushing as I feel the nicotine hit. I cough as I blow out the smoke. My mate’s mum tried to grass me up for smoking, she phoned my mum and said I was making her son smoke. My mum laughed at her, said that I’d never smoke, I hated cigarettes. I feel a bit bad, I don’t know how she doesn’t know I smoke.
Reaching the end of the road I watch the bus fly past. Fuck it, now I’ll have to walk 20 minutes down the road. It either comes early or I have to wait half an hour for it, how comes it never comes just as I’m reaching the bus stop? I button up my blazer, it’s colder than I thought, the wind blowing straight into my face, I can feel my cheeks raw, they’re probably bright red. I walk past two girls standing at the bus stop, they start whispering to each other and giggling, I look straight ahead, they laugh louder as I pass. What the fuck are they laughing at?
Half way down the road, it seems never ending. I quicken my pace to make sure I get to the station on time. Another bus passes me out. I thought they were every half an hour? How comes there’s been two of them this morning. If I’d have waited at the bus stop that would never have come, I’d still be standing there. I walk even faster, I can’t be that late can I?
Walking into the station the warm air hits me. I look up at the clock. It’s still only 7.15, that’s a touch, I’m on time. She’ll definitely be on this train that I’m getting on. I buy a newspaper from the stand and read the football news, waiting for the train to pull in. There’s a man standing next to me, he keeps huffing and puffing, tutting because the train hasn’t arrived yet. I smile to myself as he keeps looking at his watch and then up at the station clock. Looking at them ain’t going to help you mate.
“I’ve got a bloody meeting to go to!” he mutters, just loud enough for people to hear, make him feel important. I’m sure he isn’t the only one with important things to do on the platform. As the train pulls in he rolls his eyes and then looks at me, “bloody trains”, I half smile back. I honestly couldn’t give a fuck mate.
You know how long it takes to get from one station to another, even though the tunnels are pitch black and you can see nothing out the window you know when each station is coming. As it approaches Kilburn Park I try to catch sight of the little alcoves in the walls of the tunnel. I do it every day, every day the same thing comes into my head. When I was only a kid, we lived across the road from Kilburn Park station, one day on the way home there were police cars and ambulances outside the station. Mum told me a kid was doing grafitti and tried to hide in one of the alcoves but the train caught him and dragged him along. I still can’t work out how he got into one of them alcoves.
In my head I’m trying to put myself in his position. How could you be mad enough to go down on to them tracks just to paint a train? Madness. How must he have felt as the train was approaching? I don’t know why it sticks in my mind all these years later. Maybe because he wasn’t that much older than me. No fucking way would you catch me running about on the tracks.
The train pulls in, the driver opens the doors and then closes them almost immediately, the man in the suit smiles to himself. Probably thinks it’s because of him that the driver is going through the station so quickly. Next stop is where she gets on, my head starts going a million miles an hour. It’s stupid, I’m not going to say anything to her, I ain’t even going to look at her, I can’t. I don’t know why but I just can’t, it’s like there’s something stopping my head from turning and looking. The train pulls in, she’s not there.
I open my newspaper and start to read it. I can relax now. It’s fucking stupid ain’t it? A girl I’m never going to talk to because I don’t have the confidence affects my journey to school every morning. I’m an idiot. I bet that man in the suit wouldn’t have any problem talking to someone. I swear tomorrow, if I see her I’m going to talk to her. I’ll just do it. How many times have I said that to myself? Every day for the last two months. I’ll never do it, I can’t, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.
I get off the train to change to the District Line, the platform is packed. The man in the suit pushes past people tutting and muttering to himself. He runs up the escalator, I watch as his foot catches one of the steps and he trips, half falling as he grabs on to someone. I laugh as he looks back to see if anyone saw him full. The escalator is packed with people, some of them laughing, some of them looking down at their feet wanting to laugh. He turns around and bows, some people clap and he runs off up the escalator to his important meeting.
A couple of my mates are waiting on the platform for the Wimbledon train. We nod our heads at each other.
“Did you hear about John?”
“What about him?”
“People are saying he’s a drug dealer?”
“Who said that?”
“Loads of people are saying it.”
“I don’t believe that. He’s quite posh ain’t he?”
“Did you do your homework?”
“Not yet, I’ll do it when I get to school.”
“Fucks sake, I was going to copy yours on the train.”
“You should have done it last night then.”
“You didn’t do it either. You’re eyes look fucked man, did you even sleep last night?”
“Not much, I was sitting up smoking some weed my mate brought around. Didn’t realise the time. He said be careful with it, I must have smoked about four joints and I was fucked. My head still feels a bit mashed.”
“You need to stop smoking that shit, it’ll fuck you up proper.”
“Na, it’s okay, if I have to do some English homework I can write mad stories.”
“Did you see that girl this morning?”
“Na, not this morning.”
“Did you talk to her yesterday? I swear I seen you on the same carriage as her on the way home.”
“Na, she was busy innit, talking to her friends. I don’t want them laughing at me.”
“You ain’t ever going to talk to her. I swear every day you say you’re going to talk to her and then the next day when I see you, you say you ain’t spoken to her. I’ll just talk to her for you.”
“Na, don’t do that, man. I swear if I see her on the way home I’ll talk to her. I don’t know what you’re talking about anyway, you keep telling me how you get every girl’s number but I’ve never seen you with any of them.”
“I’m not going to be bringing them to school am I. You reckon I’m lying? I’ll bring one down after school next week.”
“Yeah, yeah. Come, get on the train man otherwise we’ll miss it.”
We don’t talk to each other as the train seems to take forever to get the last stop. This is supposed to be my last year before sixth form. I don’t even want to go to sixth form at this school. I hate it. I never wanted to go here in the first place, I wanted to go where all my mates went to school. It’s a good school, but most of the people, they ain’t my people. They’re all these middle class kids that go home to big houses and shit. Not all of them, but a lot of them.
I want to leave, but I don’t think my mum will let me. I want to go to the college just down the road. The train pulls into Notting Hill gate, that girl’s friends are all waiting on the platform, one of them sees me and smiles and then whispers into her friend’s ear. I smile back but can feel myself going red. Her friend looks up at me and gives me a dirty look. My mate punches me in the arm and laughs.
“What you doing?”
“Nothing, you’re a fucking idiot.”
“Shut up, man. Why don’t you go and get her number?”
“Na, I’ve got too many numbers.”
I know he’s talking rubbish. He’s one of them people, a good person, someone that you’d always want around, someone that would always back you up but you know that most of the things that come out of his mouth are rubbish. I remember one time he told me how his dad was a secret agent. This was years ago when we first started secondary school. A secret agent? How does he think anyone is going to believe that? I just smiled. I’m one of them people that will just let it go, I don’t want to say I know you’re talking shit, I just can’t do that, I don’t want to hurt his feelings.
Half the train is filled with kids now, all going to one school or another. The ones from the girls school pointing and laughing at the boys from our school. All the boys from our school trying to show off or pretend their hard, telling stories about things they did the night before or what they were going to do at the weekend. There’s a little kid sitting down on his own, he tries to laugh along but everyone ignores him. One of the younger kids tells him to shut up, he looks down at his shoes. He looks up again and catches my eye and then looks back down at his shoes. What am I going to do?
We all pour off the train, most taking their time, not wanting to get to school, trying to delay the inevitable. I walk ahead of my friends, I need to get in early and finish off my homework. It’s mad, four or five years ago when I just started I always did my homework, I never did anything I wasn’t supposed to. Now I’m not doing my homework because I’ve ended up spending all night smoking weed. I hope my mum doesn’t go into my room because you can’t mistake the smell.
My best mate is sitting at a table reading the newspaper.
“How comes you’re here so early?”
“Someone was looking for you yesterday.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I got off the train at Notting Hill there was four boys asking me if I knew you.”
“I don’t know who they were, they go to that other school. I said I don’t know you.”
“How do you know it was me they’re looking for?”
“The way they described you. It was you.”
“Whatever man, I don’t know who they are or why they’d even be looking for me.”
“Just be careful.”
“Yeah, yeah. You still coming around mine on Saturday night, it’s my birthday.”
“Of course, you asked that girl yet?”
“You’re such a pussy. I swear if I see her today I’m asking her for you. Come on man, if you don’t ask her it’s just going to be me, you and Ally.”
“I’ll ask her, I swear I’ll ask her on the way home tonight if I see her.”
“I saw her yesterday, she was looking pretty good.”
“Stay away from her man.”
“I’m joking you idiot, I wouldn’t do that to you. Remember them boys are looking for you though. They looked like they wanted to start something.”
“I don’t know who they are. I ain’t even done anything to anyone either so they must be talking about someone else.”
“It’s you they’re looking for, I’m telling you.”
I take out my books and start doing my homework as quickly as I can. Who could there be that would be looking for me? I had some trouble with kids in my area last year but they wouldn’t be looking for me on any trains. Most of them wouldn’t go out of their own area. There was them two kids that tried to rob me on the way home last week but I told them to fuck off. Maybe they got some of their friends and were waiting for me to try and rob me again. Why would they be waiting at the wrong station though? It ain’t me they’re looking for, it’s someone else, he’s just trying to wind me up.
The school day is long. My English teacher hates me and I’ve got double English. No matter what I do it’s never right. I did a presentation last week. I never prepare properly for anything, but this time I did, brought in a video, wrote down loads of stuff and was ready for it. I thought it went quite well and he still gave me a C. Some other kid in the class did his by reading from a piece of paper as quick as possible and he gets an A. It’s no wonder I don’t fucking try.
The teacher is reading from some book that is important for our exam. I’m looking out the window, nothing he is saying is going in. I see that kid that was on the train, he’s walking across the playground but he’s limping, like there’s something wrong with his leg. I’ve never noticed him before. It’s a big school but you usually know the kids that are disabled. He stares at the floor as he drags his leg along. That must be shit, being in a school when there’s something wrong with you, kids are fucking relentless, they’ll take the piss out of anything.
He trips, throws his bag down in frustration and then looks up and around to see if anyone is looking. He can’t see me all the way up here. I feel bad for him but what am I going to do about it? It’s one of them things, that’s how it is in school, you just try and survive yourself, try not to attract too much attention so other kids don’t start giving you grief. I can’t wait to get out of this place.
“Stop looking out the window and pay attention to the book!”
I look at the teacher and then pretend to look at the book. This idiot sat in front of my mother and told her I was apathetic. I had to look that word up. He said I have potential but I’m never going to fulfil it unless I try harder. What’s the point in trying harder if you never get any praise for it anyway. Some kids don’t have to do anything and they’re the most amazing thing in the world. Fuck it, it doesn’t matter. It’s my birthday at the weekend, a few mates around, I’m going to ask that girl as well. That’s all that’s important to me, just getting wasted.
“Can I talk to you for five minutes?”
“Yeah, what about?”
“Listen, I think you can do really well in your exams if you just pull your finger out and start being a bit more motivated.”
“I am motivated…”
“You’re not. Look, I know you don’t like your English teacher, I know that most of your other teachers think you have massive potential but they think you’re lazy.”
“I’m not lazy, sir. I just don’t have any confidence, I don’t believe in myself.”
“Why not? You’ve a few months left to sort yourself, if you even try half as hard as some of the other kids you’ll walk the exams and then you’ll be in sixth form with university to look forward to.”
“I don’t want to go sixth form here, I want to go uni but not this sixth form. I hate this school, you know that sir.”
“Just try, you’ve got all the potential in the world. Sort yourself out, get your head down.”
“Okay, I’ll try.”
What was that all about? No teacher has ever said anything like that to me before. Maybe he’s right, I should just sort it out, stop being lazy and make a proper effort. After this weekend I’ll give it a go. One last mad weekend. It probably won’t be the last one but I’ll just tell myself that.
Last 10 minutes of the day. I keep looking up at the clock. The teacher is talking nonsense, no one is listening. The bell rings and everyone rushes out the door. I walk slowly up towards the station, none of my mates are going home straight away, they have things to do. I see that kid with the bad leg in front of me, there’s two other kids walking beside him, calling him names. I quicken my pace.
“How do you even get home with such a fucked up leg. I bet it must take you about 10 hours.”
“How come you don’t have any friends?”
“Fuck off and leave him alone you pair of pricks.”
“What are you going to do about it?”
I grab one of them by the collar and throw him against a wall. His mate backs off, I let him go and they walk off quickly, not looking back. The kid with the bad leg looks at me and says thanks, I just half smile and carry on walking. I look back, he’s still looking down but this time it looks like he’s still smiling.
The platform is filled with kids. The train pulls in and it’s packed as well, I see her though, through the crowd. Long black hair, she catches my eye through the window as the train slows down at the station. The door opens and I push in through the crowd. I can feel her looking at me. I look around and she looks away as our eyes meet. I feel myself go red. I can’t not talk to her today, if I don’t I’ll never do it.
Most people get off at Earl’s Court, she’s still standing there with her friends. I ain’t going to talk to her with all her friends around. I’ll wait until we get on the Bakerloo Line. What am I going to say to her? What if she just ignores me or thinks I’m some kind of weirdo. You just have to do it. Doesn’t matter what happens. The doors start beeping as they begin to close. Someone jumps on quickly. It’s that kid that tried to rob me with his friend last week. He’s on his own but he keeps staring at me. It don’t matter, he’s not going to do anything while he’s on his own.
The whole journey to Paddington he keeps staring at me. I want to say something to him but I can’t be bothered with any trouble, there’s no point. She’s on her own now, only one more stop until we both get off. My heart is starting to race, I don’t want the stop to come, I don’t want to get off and have to talk to her, but at the same time I do. This is madness, why can’t I be like one of them confident people that just talk to girls no problem? If she ignores me or rejects to me I’m never going to be able to talk to another girl again.
The doors open, she walks off down the tunnel, she seems to be walking quickly, she doesn’t want to talk to me. I can’t do this, she really doesn’t want to talk to me. Why did I ever think she’d like someone like me anyway? I’m an idiot. I look back, that kid is behind me still staring at me. What the fuck is his problem? I swear he doesn’t normally get off at this stop. She’s quite far ahead of me now, that’s it, the chance is gone, another day, another time I’ve bottled it.
I see something drop out of her bag, looks like a pencil case. Everyone else just walks past it. I pick it up, now I’m going to have to talk to her. I take a deep breath and start to jog through the tunnel to catch up with her.
“Excuse me, you dropped this.”
She turns around as I tap her on the shoulder, she looks surprised but then she smiles. She takes the pencil case.
“Thanks! I didn’t notice I’d dropped it.”
She walks in step with me, not walking away like I thought she would do.
“Where abouts do you live? I see you on the train every day.”
“I live in Queen’s Park, well just up the road from Queen’s Park. And you?”
“Between Kilburn and Maida Vale.”
“I used to live in Kilburn when I was a kid. What’s your name?”
“You want to go to a party on Saturday night?”
“Mine, it’s my birthday.”
“You know, I’ve seen you on the train for months and I thought you would never ever speak to me and now you’re inviting me to a party.”
“So, you want to come?”
“I’ll come, where shall I meet you?”
“Meet me at Queen’s Park station on Saturday, 5 O’clock, I’ll be waiting for you.”
We stand in an awkward silence until the train reaches her stop. She smiles at me and waves as she gets off the train. I sit down on one of the seats. Why did I just stand there in silence? It doesn’t matter, she’s coming to my party. I look up at the ceiling of the train and smile. Through the window between the carriages I can see that kid is on the other carriage. I swear he’s following me. It’s still just him though. What if there are people waiting for at Queen’s Park?
At the last two stops I scan the platform, seeing who is getting on and off the train. The platforms are empty and there are only a couple of people on the train. I can’t stop smiling to myself. It’s been a good day. I can’t wait to get home, no, I can’t wait to get off the train and have a fag. My heart is still racing. I half run up the stairs at the station, I don’t think that kid is following me anymore, I’m going to walk through the park on the way home, I like that walk when I’m feeling happy.
I go into the shop to buy a can of Coke and a packet of Rizla. The man behind the counter is singing ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ to himself. He gives me a funny look when I was ask for king size blue Rizla and then laughs and carries on singing to himself. I laugh with him, leaving the shop and then turning down the side road towards the park. It’s already starting to get dark, I forgot the park might not even be open. Doesn’t matter, I’ll just walk down the quiet back roads.
I light up a cigarette and walk slowly down the road, I can’t even feel the cold. I wonder what Saturday night is going to be like now? It’s taken me all this time to build up all that courage and in the end it was easy. Me, the least confident person when it comes to girls finally does it. I can’t wait to tell me mates tomorrow. The streets have a strange orange glow from the street lights.
My head starts to wander as I dream about walking down the road holding her hand, going to the cinema together. Sixteen on Saturday, start of life, nearly an adult. I kind of understand what that teacher was saying to me too, he was right, I am lazy sometimes, I need to do something about that.
I hear a noise behind me, like someone scrapping their shoes against the floor. I turn around but can’t see anyone. Usually I’m alert but I’ve been lost in my own world. I carry on walking, listening to hear if there’s anyone behind me. I’m sure there was no one there, must just have been someone going into their house. I might walk back towards the main road anyway, at least there’ll be people along there.
I feel something sharp in my lower back. I turn around and see that kid. He’s looking at me, his eyes wide open like he’s frightened. I start to feel dizzy and fall backwards on to the floor, I see him run off down the road. Everything seems even more orange, the lights really intense. That kid that was killed by the train flashes into my head. There’s someone by my side but I don’t know who it is, they’re holding my hand and talking to me, they sound upset. I’m back in the train station again, talking to Emma. Now I’m drifting off into one of them deep sleeps, don’t look back in anger, I heard her say…
There’s people everywhere today, what’s going on? I look out the window, there isn’t usually this many people out and about. What I’m I going to do? How am I going to go out? I sit down on the chair again and tap the table with my fingers. I look back out the window but I can’t see down on to the street, only the buildings on the other side of the road. Some woman is smoking a fag on her balcony, watching the world go by. I take a sip of my coffee, it’s strong, like tar, I scrunch my face up as I swallow.
There’s a fellow on the radio talking about how it’s a new era for Britain, this Tony Blair geezer is going to change the country. Ain’t going to change much for me is it? None of them ever do. I was supposed to go and vote but I never, I made it as far as the old metal building but I couldn’t go in the door. I made it that far at least. Better than nothing I keep telling myself.
In the kitchen I open the fridge door, there’s nothing in there, empty, not even a carton of eggs. I’ll have to go out, I’ve got no choice. I’ll have one more coffee first, then I’ll get ready and go. Just walk out the door, that’s all I have to do.
This is the first short story from my new book Queen’s Park to the Elephant. Each short story is based on a tube station along London’s Bakerloo line during the 90s. The above story is inspired by my own experiences and also recent happenings in the area where I grew up. There has been a lot of senseless violence for petty reasons and the above story illustrates we’re all just people, there’s no need for the foolishness that goes on among the youth of today.
You can sign up at the link below for emails each time one of my books are released. I will only ever email you when a book is released, I’m not a fan of mailing lists but as an independent author they are a necessity! Thanks for reading and if you haven’t already please take a few minutes to have a look at the two previous books I have written which are linked to below.
Book release newsletter: http://eepurl.com/cScA0r
The Unwashed: My first book which is a book of short stories based on an inner city housing estate.
Liar: My first novel about a kid growing up with his heroin addicted mother and his constant fight to throw off the labels which people give him.