A short excerpt from the upcoming novel ‘Youth’
A book about a young teenage boy, Sam, and his trials and tribulations with friendship, alcohol, sex and violence leading up his first mature summer.
They were definitely following him. He didn’t need to look over his shoulder to confirm where they were but Sam did so anyway. He immediately wished that he hadn’t.
“What ya looking at?”
The voice rang out harshly and followed him down the platform, the rasping syllables bouncing off the railings on either side. They had seen him cross the road to enter the DART station before he had seen them and they had changed their trajectory to match his. He stared at the board as he walked, willing for a train to arrive.
“Here, we’re talking to ya, do ya have a smoke?”
He had to face them, being rude was even worse. He took a deep breath and swallowed but there was no saliva in his dry constricted throat. He turned.
There were three of them, and another two or three with a straggling group of girls further up the platform. Ticket inspectors didn’t much bother on a Sunday so they were taking their time hopping over the railings.
“Well get us one then”
It was a statement buried in ridicule, but it was the sort of threat that was always made to precipitate the start of an aggressive confrontation. Sam heard the screech of the train’s horn signaling it was on the way, but they were barely 100 yards back from him. The train would surely arrive too late. He wished now he had gotten changed out of his football gear but it had seemed easier to simply put on his runners rather than get dressed whilst covered in sweat. He should have least taken out the shin guards though.
“Here will you kiss Mary, I think she likes ya?”
He turned back. The closest boy, maybe two years older, had his hands in his pockets as if he was just being friendly, but the sharp swagger in his movements indicated that he was on the edge. People liked that edgy feeling when there was the possibility of violence, especially when they had little else to do.
“Sorry I don’t want to kiss her”
The boy’s face suddenly contorted into a violent mask.
“You saying my bird isn’t good enough fer ya is that it? She not pretty enough for you, but she’s ugly enough fer me is that it?”
Sam didn’t know if there was any point in responding to that, any response was going to be twisted to use against him. He looked over his shoulder where the approaching train was making its approach in what seemed like slow motion. He figured that they would be more likely to leave him alone with lots of people watching. He hoped so. The boys were making their inexorable approach, closing the gap, fifteen yards now.
“That’s not what I meant, I’m sure she’s gorgeous”
The boys eyebrows raised mockingly.
“So now ya do wanna kiss my bird. Why would ya wanna kiss somebody else’s woman??”
The train pulled up alongside and then they were on top of him. The nearest smacked him on the side of his head in what was actually a very weak punch that clipped his ear, causing a sting. Another grabbed at his bag, trying to pull it off him, and the third just hopped around like an idiot.
Sam ignored the surprised faces who were watching this macabre dance with morbid detached fascination. He frantically pressed the button to the door whilst trying to keep hold of his bag and ducked his head in and around to avoid the punches thrown at it. The door opened just as the lads further away saw what was happening and began to run down to join in. Sam struggled halfway onto the train, so that the doors couldn’t close, but he couldn’t get in without leaving behind his bag which he refused to give up. One punch hit him square in the eyes and for a moment he felt like he might fall back onto the platform. If that happened he was done for. He had to stay on this train. The train driver leaned his head out from the main carriage further up the platform and screamed down at them, oblivious or uncompassionate towards Sam’s plight.
“Get off my fucking train so we can leave ye little gurriers!”
With one almighty pull Sam ripped the bag from the boy and kicked out, catching the other one in the groin. For that split second he was free and he fell backwards into the car. Mercifully the doors closed at precisely that moment and he was safe.
The lads thumped on the door trying to reopen it and when the train started to rumble forward they ran alongside it for a few yards brandishing their middle fingers like weapons. Sam sat back against the opposite doors on the floor panting. Nobody offered to help him and after a while he got up and took a seat opposite an older man in his early twenties with his girlfriend. The man refused to look him in the eye. Sam’s legs began shaking, and he had to hold them to stop his knees clacking together. He wanted to get sick. The DART took 12 minutes precisely to get back to Howth as it always did as standard. It was a sunny day, which was also standard for March. It was always sunny when you were still in school but never on your birthday. Sam had turned 15 a few months previous. He didn’t particularly like being 15. He was walking up the lane towards his house when a whistle split the air to his left. He looked up and saw Jesse waving at him. He nodded and followed him up the embankment where he joined the four lads, Jayo, Mouse, Jesse and Washing Machine. Sam wasn’t part of the group by any means but they accepted him at times. This was one of those times, and he would always eagerly take it.
‘Ya want a drag?’
Jayo spoke at him with an almost fatherly tone. At times like this Sam felt like he almost liked Jayo and felt protected by him from the others despite the fact he was the most violent of them all.
‘I’m not gonna ask ya again, if ya keep bloody spacing I’m gonna have to deck ya’.
Washing Machine giggled and Sam could palpably feel his excitement rising, emanating outwards like a cloud of steam and enveloping the group. Sam reacted quickly to gain control of his own situation and dissipate the expectation.
‘Yeah, yeah, that’d be deadly’.
It always amused Sam how his voice changed when he was with the lads. He spoke more like them with the inflections, the dropping of syllables at the end of words and the screwed up grammar. The lads had never heard him speak as he did with his parents or at school and if they did they would beat him up for sure. He smiled despite himself.
‘Think Sammy boy’s enjoying that smoke way too much. Faggot’.
Washing Machine grabbed the stick of nicotine from him roughly. He was always trying to assert his authority in any way possible and Sam never challenged him. He could have as he was slightly bigger but he feared the simple animalistic desperation that drove Washing Machine on. Sam found himself relaxing. He didn’t smoke, but just being in the relative comfort of the lads made the earlier events seem distant. It wasn’t usually like this.
‘We need some more smokes’.
Mouse didn’t actually direct the question at Washing Machine, it was just a simple statement, but Washing Machine didn’t allow it to hang in the air for too long. As they all knew he wouldn’t for he was the grunt of the group.
‘Yeah, we do, I’ll leggit down and get some’.
He paused for a moment, half in hope that somebody might offer him some money. Nothing. Finishing the drag off his cigarette in one long inhalation he blew it out in Sam’s face in a thinly veiled attempt to reassert himself, then hopped onto the high wall behind them and dropped down into the undergrowth above the lane that led down to the shops and the sea front. That was one thing Sam did hold onto, he would never fetch for the others. They always stood by that wall, where it formed a right angle. Protecting them from 2 sides from wind and rain, and any unwanted visitors, hidden in front by the thick growth of trees and bushes. Remnants of fires and broken branches, rubbish and various other bits and pieces, burst footballs and bent golf clubs surrounded their feet. It was their haven. Dirty and overgrown. But it was theirs. And that was the most important thing.