Posts Tagged ‘Mare Street’

Checkin’ on the Chicken


Marcus Garvey Tower Block. Hackney Downs, East London. Evening.

Quinton Nganbi reached under the hot grill and turned the chicken wings with his fingers letting out a yelp as the hot fat burned into his young flesh. He kicked the bottom of the cooker in frustration and then cussed when he saw the grubby dent he’d made in the white steel. His mum was going to tear him a new ass for this.

His phone rang and glad of the distraction he went to open the back door and out into the garden to try and get a better signal. As the call progressed, he noticed the sweet smell of chicken fat was gradually being replaced by a more acrid and bitter scent and casting his eyes lazily back up to the kitchen door he was horrified to see a black pall of smoke belching steadily out like an volcano. Dropping the phone he rushed back indoors and instinctively reached up to remove the grill, burning his fingers once more.

‘Clot!’, he chastised himself as both the grill and blackened chicken hit the floor in an explosion of grease and smoke. It looked like the bonnet of a burning car after a smash. Now his mum was surely going to dance on his grave.

Quinton stood arms out stretched, mouth open, shaking his hands like he was trying to take-off and cool his own burnt flesh. But as the smog dissipated he saw above the cooker a face he knew well. A face his mum dragged him to see every Sunday come rain or come shine. Staring back at him was the son of god.

‘Christ!’

Quinton gawped in disbelief at the perfect imprint of the face of Jesus Christ left behind the cooker on the smoke damaged wall. It was undeniably the messiah, each twist of grease and ash perfectly finding the contours of his bearded countenance.

Quinton stumbled back, catching his foot on the grill and causing the remainder of the grease to stain like blood round the linoleum. He rushed to the living room and pulled his mother’s bible from the shelf, flicking through the rice-paper pages not quite sure what he was hoping to find but needing to do something, as he then stood in the doorway staring back through to the kitchen and feeling a sudden sense of dread. He didn’t want to go back in there under any circumstances. Instead he ripped a few pages from the bible, stuffed them in his pocket and left the apartment without looking back.

 

Shoreline, West Reservoir. Hackney. Half an Hour Later.

Quinton sat on the concrete edge of the lake, his trainers just kissing the skin of the water in the evening sun. With the thin paper from the bible he rolled a joint and holding it tightly lit it hoping to draw a line under what had just happened. He breathed in deep from the blue smoke resisting the urge to blow a smoke ring in case that face should reappear. He felt an unnatural stillness to the lake this evening, even the birds had become silent in the trees and as he stared at his reflection in the mirrored water he noticed a slight ripple begin in the image. Perhaps it was just the weed messing with his mind? There was no breeze. He mouthed the words to a tune that had been on his mind as he drained the joint, pleased by how he looked in his reflection. He heard a sound behind him and turned to see a man crossing the path with his dog. Quinton felt his ghetto dream disappear and remembered that he wasn’t in East L.A but self-conscious and skint in Hackney. He kissed his teeth at the man for the interruption and turned back to the lake hoping to recapture the moment.

The dog came up to him and nuzzled under his arm. Quinton couldn’t resist stroking his head and patting him even though it didn’t fit with the image he was trying to project. He’d always wanted a pet growing up but had never got one. His mum always said she had enough trouble finding the money to feed him let alone another mouth. The dog rolled over onto his belly and Quinton stroked the soft skin, liking the total submission to his mastery that the dog was displaying. The man whistled and the dog quickly rolled over to follow him off into the brush.

Quinton found himself aroused by a sense of power but almost immediately felt frustrated. He was desperate and paranoid that at fifteen he was still a virgin, but he couldn’t find any girl who looked as great as they looked in the R&B videos: and he knew more than anything that if he got with an ugly girl then that would show his friends just how much he didn’t respect himself. Was an ugly girl really all he could get? No, his self esteem was worth more than that, how would people think he rolled if his woman wasn’t ‘peng’? No, it was more important to have respect than to be liked in his world and as not many people liked him he felt things were just fine.

His legs had remained still against the concrete wall but the water had began to tap the bottom of his trainers at regular intervals. He looked down between his feet to see there was now a definite disturbance in the water, at first like the oxygen bubbles of a large fish, but gradually a circle of water was beginning to broil like a hot kettle was being held just beneath the surface. Quinton found himself standing up and moving back from whatever he felt was coming feeling reminded of the cartoons he still sometimes watched, guiltily, caught on the bridge between child and manhood. Godzilla? In Hackney? Again he felt foolish and threw the joint roach into the centre of the bubbling cauldron. Something was coming, like a sliver of silver an inverted V shape broke the water as delicately as a hypodermic needle. Up the shimmering silver strip went into the evening air, catching the sun before it set over the surrounding tower blocks. Finally as the hilt broke through the water, Quinton recognized it to be a sword.

A green glow continued to bubble beneath the water, lit from some hot unseen source. A delicate hand twisted around the sword handle, diamonds of water and fish scales falling around the wrist. The sword too now began to glow with a bright green luminescence. Quinton was totally sucked in by the sight,  the sword seemed to beckon him, willing him to come forward and take it. He felt a sudden sense of ownership and right, he knew this gift was for him and him alone.

Without thought for his new trainers, he lowered himself into the water and swam out the short few metres to the prize. Treading water, he grabbed the sword with both hands and felt the cold and smooth hand let go her grip and the digits slip round his own enclosing palm like the tentacle of a squid.

Not quite daring to believe it was really his, Quinton swam back to shore, behind him the hand slowly disappeared back below the water line and the birds began to sing for the dusk again.

The sword clattered on the concrete retaining its eerie green glow. Quinton hauled himself out and sat next to it. It was his. He admired it in the dying light full of strange symbols and inscriptions lost on him, but fearing the glow would attract too much attention he felt exposed and the moment’s spell had been broken once more. The bark of another approaching dog, sure to be accompanied by an owner, sealed the deal. He must go. Quinton carefully shoved the sword down his left trouser-leg and pulled his T-shirt over the hilt which protruded up from his belt to around his chest. Walking like a man with a wooden leg but feeling self-conscious like a man who’d shit himself, he staggered back to his mum’s consoling himself that he’d sure be laughing tomorrow when he sold it.

 

Next Day. George Antiques, Angel Islington.

With the sword concealed under a long coat Quinton moved through the crowds as inconspicuously as a two foot broadsword would allow. Even at the best of times he still felt uncomfortable in this part of town. He didn’t understand the rules or what was expected of him in a place like this. The antique shops wound their way along the cobbled street, the old buildings leaning in like gossipy hunchbacks over his head. This was out of his postcode and he could easily be in trouble if the wrong gang was passing. Quinton looked out of the alley and onto the main road searching the telegraph wires for shoes slung over them by the laces. His worst fears were confirmed. He comforted himself with the thought that at least for once he was armed. He wasn’t sure which shop would be best to sell the sword, but figured the one with a small dagger in the window was probably a safer bet than the ones he’d just passed with their china dolls and lace bullshittery on display.

He went in and was surprised by the large bell which rang with his entrance. He felt like a greyhound out of a trap and ran forward with the sword pointing out toward the equally startled owner.

‘You may put your lance down, son. I’m not jousting today’ the owner quipped, the unease clearly heard beneath the sarcasm.

Quinton lowered his weapon and took a deep breath. This shop smelled old. Old like his grandma’s coats at the back of her wardrobe. Old like money. He felt sure he’d come to the right place.

‘You buy swords and shit, innit?’

The man had regained his composure and leant across a large oak desk playing with a clay pipe, the burned gray tobacco in the bowl matching his own hair.

‘I deal in metallurgy if that’s your question, although I’m not sure you’d be interested in any weapon pre nineteen eighties?’

‘Whatever. I’m selling not buying… So how much for this..?’

Feeling like he had the biggest dick in the world Quinton produced the sword in one elegant swoop.

The man’s eyes lit up in disbelief.

‘Jesus Christ! Let me look at that would you.’ All traces of sarcasm had drained from his voice.

Quinton handed him the sword expectantly, blade first.

‘It’s just an old sword though, hey?’

‘No it most certainly isn’t. You’re not old enough to appreciate beauty yet. You haven’t had the life-experiences to know shit from Shinola, son.‘

‘You don’t know me.’

‘True, true. But you don’t know this…’ He cupped his hand at the tip of the blade and carefully, gently, allowed his palm to run down the edge of the blade to the hilt, where he twisted it in his palm, reading the inscription.

‘Old English most certainly. The metal in the blade has clearly been folded more than the date would warrant… Ah, here we have a crest, Arthurian. Platinum! Solid bloody platinum…’

The sword began to throb and the green glow now familiar to Quinton grew from somewhere inside the blade. The shop owner dropped it fearfully onto the oak desk.

‘Jesus Christ. Where did you get this?’

Quinton shrugged his shoulders, ‘I don’t know, round the…’

‘WHERE?’ the man’s voice came impatient and strong, the clay pipe shaking in his mouth.

‘Fuck you prick. What’s it worth? Gimme two hundred and you can have it.’

The man’s jaw became slack and a bubble of hot snot began to build out of his left nostril.

‘What’s it worth…? It’s priceless.’

Quinton kicked the bottom of the oak desk in frustration, once more leaving a grubby indent on the soft wood. He quickly stepped back hoping the man hadn’t noticed, but he was lost in a reverie.

‘Shit though. Priceless? Not even worth a fiver? Come on man. That’s bullshit. You know it and I know it. There’s got to be a price we can agree on. It ain’t priceless you’re just trying to stiff me.’

Quinton went to grab the sword but the shop keeper brought to his senses defensively pulled the sword in close to his chest.

‘No! No, It’s too important. There’s no way this is yours. No. No way.’

With a convincing left hook, Quinton caught the man on the corner of his jaw sending the clay pipe splintering to the ground. The effect was impressive and immediate. The man let go the sword to instinctively protect his face, leaving Quinton free to run from the shop and back along the cobbled alley, charging with the sword as if running to some epic battle. The lunchtime shoppers parted around him like the Red Sea as he made his charge. Once clear of the antiques alley he leaned against a lamp post to catch his breath, the sword hanging from his side. Quinton looked up straight into the window of a passing police car. The officer in the passenger seat couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The squad car burst into life with sirens and flashing lights, turning viciously in the road, almost hitting an approaching cyclist. The officer in the passenger seat jumped out brandishing his night-stick but Quinton was already ducking into the nearby shopping arcade.

The officer launched himself through the glass doors and quickly gained on Quinton disadvantaged by the heavy sword. He caught the back of the boys legs with his long black truncheon causing Quinton to barrel into a popcorn stand, the ready-made bags cushioning his fall. The policeman was upon him about to rain blows, instinctively Quinton pulled the sword from his coat and deflected the first of them. The huge broadsword connected with the truncheon and split the vulcanized rubber down to the metal. This gave the officer pause for thought. Quinton got to his feet and began a running sword-fight through the shopping centre. The policeman was relentless in his pursuit and seemed oblivious to the distress of the shoppers caught up in his swashbuckling. With each parry and thrust Quinton played back in his mind how he’d got himself into this situation, what had he actually done wrong? One thing was now for certain, things had gone too deep. There was no turning back now, he was committed to getting away. He ducked into a supermarket and with a huge sweep of the sword he quickly took out an aisle of wine bottles, the glass shattering around the chasing officer and hopefully slowing him down. Without looking back to see how much, Quinton ran for the store-room and through to the loading bay sneaking out towards the high street.

Quinton continued running, he tore down the smallest alleyways he could find, zigzagging through the borough like a rat in a maze, the sound of sirens now all around him and shutting him down. Risking the main high street he caught his reflection in the large glass-fronted Camelot National Lottery offices, he liked how he looked with the sword at his side. Running round the side of the building he found himself in front of Hackney Town Hall, the steep stone steps leading up to the main entrance and a smaller side alley off to the side of the vast building. Behind him the sirens grew louder. Daring a look behind him Quinton saw the police car mounting the pavement, bathing the first few steps in a revolving blue light.

They came from the left and the right. Quinton knew he was cornered. His only chance of salvation was the side-alley at the top of the steps. He bolted for it taking the steps two at a time, trying to keep the sword up in front of him, but the tip of the blade dipped down and caught the final step acting like a pole-vault and sending him over the hilt and crashing against the wall. His left hand refused to let go of the blade and it arced over his rolling body embedding itself in the Town Hall wall. The sword shuddered through the concrete in a burst of unnatural green light, brighter than any soldering iron. A sound like the crying of a thousand souls in pain shattered the night air causing all those in the immediate vicinity to hold their ears. The sword tore into the wall like a knife through butter right up to the hilt where it stopped and remained firmly lodged.

Quinton rocked on his spine in agony, he was sure he’d broken his left arm. He twisted round to look back down the steps and saw three policemen, their nightsticks drawn, lurching up the steps towards him, their faces as eager as ravenous pigs. Clutching his broken arm to his chest, Quinton headed for the side alley and out of sight, his pain driving him on to impossible speeds. The policemen stopped their short chase and returned to inspect the sword. They were dumbfounded. Each took it in turns to yank on the ornate handle but it was clear it wasn’t budging. The fattest officer lifted up his helmet to wipe the sweat from his brow, his matted hair stuck to his forehead.

‘That’s not going anywhere, is it?’

‘Ok, best call it in then,’ replied the second.

The third officer scrunched up his neck and began speaking into the microphone attached to his dark blue jumper.

‘Two Seven to base. We’re going to need a drill down here… Yes, that’s right… drill.’

The voice squawked back harshly, seeming to bounce off the metallic hilt. ‘That’s a negative Two Seven. Be advised not possible till morning. Secure area.’

The officer released the intercom button and turned to the other two men who were now sitting down on the top step of the town hall, sweating from all the exertion.

‘Fuck it, I’m giving it one more try…’

With a base anger not befitting his uniform the officer pulled on the sword. He put his foot to the wall to get better leverage and yanked until he felt his eyes would pop out of his head. He groaned, he wailed, he cursed at the sword, but it would not move an inch. The seated officers began to laugh but quickly fell silent when they noticed an eerie green glow emitting from the hilt and travel up the policeman’s arms.

‘Shitting hell. Get away from that mate. Look…’

The officer saw his hands illuminating and quickly let go in fear.

‘Fuck that. It’s electrified or something, I ain’t touching that. It probably hit a junction box or live cable as it went in.’

The other officers got up and moved towards the squad car.

‘Well I guess it isn’t going anywhere, so balls to it. Just call it in and let the morning shift deal with it in the morning.’

Quinton had run a huge circle around the building and had taken to crouching unseen by some bike racks across the road behind the officers. He watched them return empty-handed to the squad car and drive off into the night. He felt an overwhelming desire to have the sword. He knew it was meant to be his and despite the risk he was damned if he’d leave it to be stolen by the council. Looking left and right he made a run at the steps, taking them three at a time. With a last power leap of four steps he found himself face to face with the hilt of the sword. With his right hand he reached out, closing his fingers around the cold steel and feeling the bevelled uneven surface of the ancient hilt. Quinton took a deep breath and pulled hard expecting no movement, but to his amazement the blade retracted from the concrete as smoothly as pulling out a birthday candle and the excess energy caused him to stagger back violently almost spilling down the steps.

Now free, the sword continued its wide arc, swinging into a low mounted CCTV camera and neatly chopping off the lens. Quinton heard them before he saw them: the unmistakable whining siren like a massive and dangerous baby. He spun round just in time to see the blue light of the police car. The two officers were already on the bottom step but their over-weight bodies allowed them only one step at a time in their ascent towards him. Quinton raised the sword above his head and shouted at the sky. His cry rang out across the borough as if amplified by the sword. A brilliant green light burst from the blade bathing the whole area in a supernatural glow. The officers threw themselves down on the steps, fearing an explosion, leaving them prostrate and kneeling a few metres down from Quinton who pointed Excalibur to each in turn as if knighting them.

‘Right, you fuckers. There’s gonna be some changes around here…’ he said.

Advertisements