Gateway GA9 is several hundred metres away. A distance that telescopes when each foot refuses to take a step any further than the foot before it. I have no precedence for this level of exhaustion.
Drawing nearer my gate I am alarmed at the number of people who have collected loosely between its pillars. They stand in the dark, stamping cold feet and complaining. About me! I almost bolt, but their irritable mutterings are loud enough to be heard clearly.
“It’s that idiot, Sam. Finally! Bout bloody time! Thought we’d hafta wait fa Charlie’s group on the arvo shift. Hurry up your arse, lad! Why’s he walkin like a spastic?”
Oh, there are many reasons. None I feel up to sharing with this bunch of sour sops.
I sidle up to them and morph into the mass; belonging, yet apart. I notice something large and heavy has smashed our gates off their hinges.
“What happened to the gates?”
A few heads turn my way, though I’ve whispered conspiratorially to a man nearby.
“Never knew he could talk. He’s retarded, don’t worry bout im. Won’t hurt ya. Big baby really.”
Fine! Talk amongst yourselves as though I can’t hear.
With no one prepared to discuss the damage, I commit a few brain cells to think it through for myself.
It had happened over a month ago. I rerun that day of tanks, explosions and gang-leader executions and grunt with interest at B-block’s short-lived revolution. But it is a relatively minor fracas, overshadowed by any number of personal crises since then. Besides, I live in E-block; a world away.
I am relegating the memory into a file of unimportance when an ugly, bent crone pushes through the congregation. She wrenches me back to reality with a cracked-glass screech.
“Saaaaaaaaaaaaaam s’at you? Hold this ya stupid, fat buggar. I bin standin ere for an hour. Where ya bin? Thass a new coat. It smells. Stolen, I bet.”
Her appearance matches her demeanour. Repellent. She’s as wrinkled as a month old bed-sheet, hook nose, patchy grey hair and nasty red-rimmed, glittering eyes. Her lips are pursed and stuck in a twisted, lemon-sucked state that spit words between snarled teeth. My eyeballs almost pop out and a scream of “Zombie” is on the tip of my tongue before I settle for something even worse.
She continues talking non-stop, rocketing back and forth to a small pile of her belongings, stacking packages in my arms that I take by fearful reflex. Her elderly entourage is encouraged by my compliance. They press forward, demanding their gear be carried as well. One withered old woman whispers an offer of sexual favours into my face with fetid breath.
“Walk me home like a gentleman, wontcha, Sam? Enid made me carry her stuff so ya owe me, ya do. Make it worth your while, I will.”
I’m no gentleman, and I silently thank my mother’s possessiveness when she rages at them to back off. The grey brigade are cowed by the little woman’s vitriol. Several men scoff at my misfortunes, guarding their own reputations by denigrating mine, but I notice they do it out of my mother’s view.
My chin is propped uncomfortably on top of the largest box she’s loaded into my arms. The torn paper wrapping exudes a musty sour smell that’ll make me sneeze before long. The hag is holding several bags and considering my freight. It must occur to her that my hands are underutilized merely holding the weight of these boxes.
“Hang onta these too.”
She forces several thin-strapped bags around my fingers which immediately cut off my circulation. I am still perplexed at forgetting my own mother, but mostly I wonder how I might return to that state once again. Her whining voice hasn’t stopped yet.
“Where’s ya bin anyways? Ya was sposed to help me pick up this stuff, ya great, dopey, lunk.”
I condense the details of an appalling afternoon.
“I’ve had a really bad day...”
Her sharp tongue cuts me short.
“Ya never talk, an now that ya do, ya complaining. Shut up. I saw ya go off with them Hennesay lads. They got ya doing jobs on the side again? An now look at ya. Face like a busted arsehole. Deserve everything ya get, ya do. I get’s to say what ya do an’ don’t do, an don ya forget it. We’ll be talkin bout this when we get in. Ya lucky I’s in a good mood.”
I sigh as the old witch continues to natter away, fussing with her long skirt, and tucking handfuls of it under industrial strength panty elastic.
“Get ready to move, boy. Might run some o that fat off ya. Lord knows ya could use some exercise. Ya s’big as two men so I spect the drone’ll be ere in a minute.”
“A drone? So, that’s why we’re waiting?”
“Got the brain of a imbecile, ya have. How the Christing Hell do ya even find ya way ome every day?!”
Asking for an explanation was lazy and a wasted effort. I construct my own understanding of why we want to draw the drone. It comes back to me readily enough. Namely we’re about to misuse the Illegal Assembly Act. Breaking the law again increases my anxiety levels but I’ve assured myself that everyone does this.
Well, the weak and vulnerable do; a classification I identify closely with.
The ‘attract a drone trick’ is so old it is a childhood song dug up by my brain that spills over barely moving lips.
“8 will make the SPUDer’s hate, 9 will draw a beggars’ fine, 21 you better run”.
My mum scowls and shakes her head at my sing-song words.
“Off with the fairies again, he is.”
The cross-chatter in my mind needs a micro-second to explain to itself. The new-old memories are complex, and my reaction to the rich vein of recall is to space out.
Eight people gathered together draw SPUD notice and annoyance.
Nine or more might receive a small fine, or will be moved along.
Over twenty-one people meeting in one place were likely to be shot at first and questioned later.
Not here, though. It’s dark, and the SPUD’s never patrol at night.
A quick head-count confirms we have enough bodies assembled to trigger either a tracking satellite, or a long distance infra-red camera. The feeling of being watched makes my skin crawl. I try to remain calm about being photographed. A ‘person of interest’ report must be circulating by now, describing me as an accessory to murder, a distributor of restricted material and... oh, yeah; a litterer.
I attribute my freedom to the bandages I had obscuring my face. Luck’s hand had kindly slapped then from me when I picked up this coat. If not for that fortune I would be apprehended for sure.
The night sky is watched by several sets of eyes, all hoping the automated drone, with its cameras and bullhorns is not too far away. The sooner it gets here the sooner the predators inside the walls will scatter and hide; allowing us to reach our homes unmolested.
Then we hear it. The SPUD drone putters overhead, circling and blaring “Disperse” over and over in a mechanical voice. Almost everyone has already started to move under its watchful eye.
Determined not to be the tastiest bison at the back of the herd I heft the boxes and bags and start forward. My line of sight is severely hindered by this unwanted load, it is pitch black, and to make matters worse I must tiptoe between the railings of the twisted, flattened gates that lie in my path. It is with great surprise and stabbing pain that I walk into a jagged metal hinge sticking out from a pillar.
It stabs me in the groin.
I feel it keenly over the top of all my other pains, and bellow an OOOOF!, before dropping the bags and collapsing into a foetal position. My mother is screeching again; the safety of her possessions far more important than my injury. She whacks me with a cane, wrenched from her nearest elderly acquaintance, as I roll about.
“Stupid, clumsy, moron!”
Abruptly she realises what has happened and, in psychotic glee, cackles until spit runs down her chin.
“Copped that in the nuts didja? Won’t be playing with Mr PeePee tonight then will ya? Can hear ya through the wall, ya know. Ya dirty little buggar. Now get up! Get up!”
Mortified at having my private activities broadcast, I stand, still clutching my groin. Almost everyone has stopped to catch the show. Thoughts of my mother’s sudden, explosive death rage in my skull. By grinding chips from my teeth I induce a different pain to ease my bruised penis and its dignity. Clinging to the simplest picture of lying down to sleep is my only recourse.
Surely I’m home free now.
Nothing else can possibly go wrong.