She complain about it las year an the year before dat, but I don’t give a shit; as far as I’m concerned it’s tradition y’get me, we’ve always done it, so when I hear Sianna tell her bredrins she wanned to go Neighbourhood an sweat her clothes off I thought, right – me too. An I didn’t say jack at the time, cos that’s how yuh hafta drop it wit Sianna, play foolish to catch wise as me Gran Gran used to say, God rest her soul. So dat’s what I did, just sit in the kitchen an listen to her an her mates chat fart an me nah say nuttin, y’unnerstan? I jus wait until the whole ah dem pick up an gone home an I sip my JD an coke. When Sianna come to see what I was doin, all meek an dat, talkin bout:
– Mum, yuh got any green?
I had to smile to myself an say Lawd God; me know me chile well.
I break off a lickle ah the skunk, though to be truthful, I wish I had some Mersh dese days. I tink is the skunk weed mash up de youts in dis country, mek dem stab up security guard an shoot innocent people on road, dem way deh. You can’t get any decent weed in dis city fuh love or money, not like when I was Sianna’s age. Anyway, I give her piece an say;
– So what, yuh goin Neighbourhood an you never did say?
Sianna do her usual ting innit.
– Mum man, why yuh lissenin my business again? You always stressin me!
Stress! Wha she know bout stress? She’s a watless 17 year old, stress don’t lick her yet! Wait until she’s 18 if she thinks life hard – from den it’s downhill all the way, truss. Sianna don’t understand the lengths I’ve gone to keep the outside right where it should be, beyond the four walls of our yard. She don’t know as hard as she tink life is in the bits, as dem yout’s call the neighbourhood, it’s twice as tough if you don’t ave a stable parent. Two if you can afford it, but not everyone can y’get me? An as much as she try to go on like I’m always in her face, I know say Sianna loves me bad. I could see it even right then, because she was smilin an sniffin the weed, tryin not to make me notice, knowin she was lucky because none ah her friends got a mum like me.
– How am I stressin you? I’m only sayin you never tell me nuttin, as usual…
– Mum man, see what I’m sayin about you?
An dat’s how it went, back an forth until she give up an say yes, I could come to her birthday drink up at Neighbourhood, an have a good rave with my daughter on her 18th. After dat she was only thinkin about the spliff she was gonna blaze, so she disappear upstairs in her room. Marcia, who lives two doors down, is always sayin what a good relationship I ave with Sianna, how it’s nice we can smoke, drink an rave together like we do. I like it. It means if I run outta ciggies she might have couple, an if I’m bored on a Saturday night she might know somewhere decent to go. I’ve had some of my best nights out since I was teenager wit her an her bredrins, times when I don’t fall into bed until sunlight beam tru my bedroom window an I have to pull my curtains dem shut tight tight, otherwise I can’t get no sleep.
I must admit, I felt good about myself dat night as I sat at the kitchen table an bun. Glad me an my one pickney so close. After dat I went into the living room an end up fallin asleep in front ah the TV – again. Next day when I got up for work, I felt stiff bad, an slightly hung over. I promise myself I wouldn’t mix the skunk an drink on a weekday night, but still find myself goin home dat evenin an doin the very same thing.
When Sianna’s birthday come dat Saturday I get up early even though I wanna sleep another two hours. I get her present from where I have it hidden an go down the passage to her room. When I knock the door I hear her groan an shuffle I feel a sharp pain in my stomach, like I’m queasy. I start to wonder whether Simon Bassey stay over again. I step back from her door.
My daughter’s voice crackle like an old 45.
– Hey bub, it’s me! Can I come in?
– Yeah mum, come!
I ease the door open, fearful, only to see Sianna an Tarryn, her best bredrin an Marcia’s eldest, loungin in bed watchin Cebeebies. The room dark and smoky. I walked further inside, more confident, resistin my urge to pull the curtains open like the mothers do on dem TV shows. Sianna beam at me, her pink flower duvet pull up to her chin. I beam back at both girls, feeling teary-eyed, though I try not to let dem see. I always feel dat way when the girls are together. They been friends since Nursery school an are always at each other house. They remind me of the friends I had before I’d moved out my manor an down to West London, away from the people I grow wit.
– Happy Birthday bub!
My daughter’s face scrunch up like her hairband as I smother her with kisses. I can’t help feelin bad about dat, although I try. Tarryn start smile as I hand over Sianna’s present, a tiny box covered in pink wrappin paper wit a bright red bow. It’s kinna obvious it’s jewellery, but I can’t help dat.
– Ah, thanks mum, I love you!
– Mornin Kay! – Tarryn says in her too-cute way.
– Hiya babes, how are you?
I give her a kiss as well, just so she don’t feel lef out an stand back while Sianna struggles with my too-tight wrapping paper. Lookin at them both, I’m proud, but I try hold it down. I know what people say about vanity, though you can’t fault the truth. My daughter an her sister friend are the best lookin girls in the manor, I don’t care what no one thinks. They’re always get chirped by local boys. One time I even had to step in, heart racin, when I see some guys from the bookies on the corner try move to dem on their way home from school. I know a few of those lot, so I asked dem man to step in, have a word. Sometimes, when I look at the girls it’s difficult not to think I can’t really blame dem fuh gettin hot an dat.
Their looks are so similar they could be related. Bright brown eyes an flawless red-brick skin, Sianna’s inherited from her father, (he’s a good-lookin bastard I can’t take dat away). Perfect white smiles, both way taller than me an Marcia, with long gleamin legs an curvin figures. Bottoms stuck out like an open drawer, natural dress sense dat makes dem look like actresses, even though Sianna wants to be an accountant, Tarryn a poet… When us three step tru Portobello market on a Saturday, boys are hypnotised by the junk in our trunk an men drool. Sometimes they think we’re all sisters. I tell em I’m still young yuh nuh, not even in my mid-thirties, so I should think so too.
Sianna tear off the las ah the wrapping paper. She open the box an shriek when she see diamonds in her earrings. They cost a bomb from a friend of a friend who had a Hatton Gardens link, so I hope they don’t break or nuttin. Tarryn begs a look. I give Sianna another hug, which she returns with more enthusiasm, den go in the kitchen to make ackee, saltfish an fry dumplin, everyone’s favourite breakfast.
It must be around twelve or suttin when Simon Bassey reach. I open the door to him, tryin to be nice an dat, failin miserably. My spirit jus don’t tek the brer, you know what I’m sayin? He jars me up the wrong way. Not dat any of the gyal care what I think. He’s got the sweet boy look, yuh know dem way? Tall, light-skinned, hazel eyes, fresh barber shop trim wid the beard join up wid im sideburns, like nuff ah the mans round ere. Ah name brand yout, dey always call im Simon Bassey, never jus Simon. Like I said, I never really check fuh im but Tarryn an Sianna always go on bout how’s he’s choong, drives a nice ride, stupidness like dat. I don’t really care if he pushes a Beamer or a Mountain Bike, as long as he treat my daughter good. At least I don’t hafta hear sinister stories about what he done to get the ride, the garms, an pay his hostel rent. Simon Bassey’s a good guy from what dey say on road. Co-owns a Barber Shop on the Bella an studies stylin every hour God send dey tell me.
I let him in, tryin not to watch the smile on im face as he pass by me. He’s smirkin like he float inside my yard on thin air an expec me to be impressed.
– Yes Kay!
– Y’all right Simon Bassey? I say. He’s lookin me in the eye, lettin his gold tooth show. I look away.
– You look criss today, believe…
As pretty as he stay I don’t give ah inch. Sianna would kill me, she’s well jealous bout him already, an she done tell me nuff ah dem little man-bwoys like to talk after me, sayin I’m sexy fuh a mum an all dat, like dey could do me anyting. I don’t say jack. I jus follow him thru to the livin room where the girls are sat boxin warm dumplings an watchin cable TV. All mornin dey been like dat, but dey jump like soldier as soon as Simon Bassey walk tru the door. Tarryn run out the room talkin bout how she don’t look good. I watch Simon to see if he take a look at her big bumper as she go, cos Tarryn’s arse in dem leggins are like two watermelon in a cotton sack, but he musta know I was watchin cos he just hug up my daughter the way he should. I keep my eye on im still. A sweet bwoy like dat wit nuff gyal on his case is gonna fall to temptation someday or another, mark my words. I jus hafta be dere fuh Sianna when he does.
– Hi baby, how are you?
Sianna’s all over Simon Bassey as soon as he walks tru the door. I feel say I taught her better dan dat, but it look like she forget everyting I say bout man an how dem loose respec fuh you if yuh gi dem too much when she hear is car keys jingle like dinna bell. He fling himself on the couch as if he loss the use ah is legs, an sit wit dem spread wide open, which always winds me up. Why do men do dat? Dey tryin to make us tink dey tings dat big? Before he even kiss Sianna, Simon Bassey draw for his Rizla an ciggarette an Tarryn come back wearin tight-fittin jeans an a t-shirt. I can’t watch anymore ah the young people foolishness, and I leave an go to my bedroom to phone Marcia.
We drink an smoke an smoke an drink till the livin room look like the view from my plane window when me an Sianna went JA las year. Dat was her birthday present, but I hafta admit it was kinda my present too. The land ah me Gran Gran an my mudda, God rest their souls. We did rave from sundown to sunup, I tell yuh. It was the best holiday ah my life.
I cook a big dinner, cos we was too full fuh lunch, an a good few friend ah Sianna pass thru an eat. By the time I start get dress to leave out my house, I was well tipsy. Marcia pass by to keep me company wid so many young people about. We nick a bottle of Archer’s an take it upstairs so we can chat by ourselves while I get ready to rave.
Portobello weren’t ready fuh us when we hit road, believe! Dere mussa bin 8 of us at least, pissed an makin bere noise. Simon Bassey had couple bredrin’s wiv him, one cute guy wit a name like a watch I could never remember, an a marga bwoy wid braids. I was tryin not to stare at Cutie by den, cos he was lookin at me hard an the drink was makin me kinda randy. We talk on the way towards Mau Mau, where we startin off our night, an I find im different to mos ah dem loud-mout youts. Confident, but calm. Mature. I like dat.
We reach the place I get the firs round in, two bottle ah Champagne fuh everyone, even though I can barely afford it, but it’s my daughter’s 18th so I ain rampin fuh no one. We toast Sianna’s good health, den drink an laugh an buss joke. When the bottle done Simon call fuh anotha two. Tru it’s a Saturday nite the music was on loud. I went to the barman an tell him it’s my daughter born day, do he ave any Dancehall? He was a stush lookin Black guy in a rip white shirt wid is hair dye blonde in picky locks, but he say yeah, sure, an the next ting yuh know they bussin some Capleton an Elephant Man thru the big speakers. The bubbly mussa get to all ah us girls by dat time, cos soon we all up on a lickle stage dey ave, shakin our booties an gettin down. The posh people in the place smile dem funny smile an try not to look, even though I see some man can’t tek dey eyes from us. Who would? 4 sexy young women dancin like no one else in the place, people muss look! The bartender crank up the music while I catch Simon Bassey’s eye. He’s smirkin again. I jus turn my back on im an wind down low wid my daughter, till we laugh hard an hug.
When we go back to the table, Cutie move from where he was sittin an come sit nex to me.
– I like how yuh move, he tell me.
– How old are you? I ask.
– Twenny eight, he say.
– Why yuh lyin!? I bawl, but the music an chat so loud no one can hear what we sayin.
– Swear down, Cutie says, lookin serious. An cute.
– Suh why yuh neva come join us on the dance floor?
I hafta say right now, dat was the drink. I never woulda gone on so bad if I neva drunk so much, but I was startin to think he did act twenty-eight, an when I look over at Sianna to see if she notice us she was laughin wid Marcia an her bredrins same way. The only one clockin what was goin on was Simon Bassey innit? He was starin over, still smirkin, sippin champagne wid ah arm throw back on the seat behind Sianna’s head. I kiss my teeth inside my head an ignore im.
– Sometimes I jus like to watch, Cutie was sayin, though I was barely concentratin an only jus hear im. But if I could get a dance wid you later, dat would be criss still.
– Depends innit? Play yuh cards right an the answer’s yes, I say, den I lef im an squeeze over to where Marcia was sittin, cos I could see she notice us talkin wit our heads low. She start frown. When I push her thigh an say – Budge up, – with a big smile she neva even smile back. I ignore her, push a little harder for more room, raise my hand an call fuh nex round.
We finish off dat one, beers fuh the man an cocktails fuh the girls, den we leave an cross the road to the Market Bar. It’s a lot more crowded in dere. Me an Marcia go to the bar an get more drinks.
– Wha’s goin on wid you an Simon Bassey’s bredrin? she say, as soon as she finish order.
– How yuh mean?
I’m tryin to buy time an she know it.
– You two seem kinna cosy in the corner all of ah sudden.
– Nah, we was jus talkin innit? He’s a sensible brer, I like the way he drop it.
– An good lookin too.
I turn away, starin out the window at Portobello Road. It’s dark by den, but you can still see the shadow of people walkin up an down. The market lights string up from lamposts, swingin wit the wind.
– He’s all right.
– You know I know your type, right? The bartender comes back wid overflowin pints an bright colour cocktails dat look like some poisonous substance. Marcia pays. I’m grateful cos my money goin fast. – I also know he’s twenny-one.
I’m not supposed to be interested, so I sip from my cloudy Margarita, actin casual.
– Young tings, I say.
– You bear dat in mind, Marcia replies, gatherin up the glasses. I help her an we go back to the group.
Sianna seems to be havin a great time. She’s tipsy, not drunk, an every few minutes she head outside wid Simon Bassey, Cutie an Tarryn, den come back smellin ah weed. I wanna go out wid dem but don’t wanna bait dem up, so I roll one up under the table an go outside by myself. A few minutes later Cutie join me. I pass him my spliff an look at him hard as he’s smokin. He don’t seem twenny-one. He’s got the join up beard an everyting. It suit im. A few cars beep me as dey pass the corner an I wave, blow kisses. Cutie’s starin at me.
– You know everyone don’t you?
He looks a little lean now.
– Dat’s jus Unity, Iyasha an dem… Yuh don’t know dem?
– Dese ain my bits. I’m from Sout innit?
– Ah, I say. All the better fuh keepin tings on the down low. Cutie looks at me an it’s like he can tell what I’m thinkin. We stan up smilin at each other.
Marcia come out ah the pub an wipe the smile from my face. She don’t look pleased wid me, especially when I dash the tail of my spliff on the pavement, squash it wid my foot. She looks hurt at dat, like she come outside fuh nuttin. Serve her right.
So we’re in Neighbourhood an they’re playin R&B wid a bit ah Hip Hop, which I like, an Cutie’s really goin fuh it. He keps comin up to me in front of everyone an tryin to wind wit me, an I keep tellin im to hold it down, but it’s like he can’t. I’m pretty sure someone from our gatherin woulda noticed, but they all seem to have gone seperate ways. The bright lights are spinnin, my feet keep me spinnin, an most of all my head is spinnin. Nothin I can see is really dat clear. The only thing dat makes any sense is Cutie’s face, which is right in front of me, an his hands, which keep reachin fuh my waist. An right about den I’m stuck firm between my wants and my needs. My wants say I should whisper in is ear, tell im to meet me back at mines in 15 minutes, leave widout sayin jack to no one an wait fuh him in my shortest bit ah negligee… But my needs say if I even wink in is direction, Marcia’s gonna see, or worse still, Simon Bassey or Sianna’s gonna see, an dat’ll be it, everyone’ll say I’m a slapper an my daughter will hate me fuh ruinin her day forever an ever, Amen.
The thing is, I only jus realised I’m gaggin for it. Who wouldn’t be, it’s bin a long time right? Since Sianna’s dad I only had one close boyfriend, an we ended 3 years ago. After him, no one. Fuh 3 years. But I was protectin her wasn’t I? Criss little thing like her, you hear all sorts about step-fathers. Abuse an all dat drama. I didn’t want to take the risk of anythin happenin to Sianna, or anyone gettin between me an her, tryin to be No.1 in my life. I decided I’d wait till she grew up, work on the one relationship dat matters. But it’s hard goin sometimes. Bloody well hard.
I’m movin my feet, so caught up wid should I or shouldn’t I, I start feel queasy again, an my head begins to pound. I pull myself outta Cutie’s clutches an say I’m goin to the loo. Which is the truth yuh nuh. All the way dere I stumble tru people, an I swear I see Simon Bassey stan up like some watchdog, eyes all big an menacin, teeth showin, watchin me go. God knows where Marcia was by den. I try to ignore im an keep headin to the Ladies. I hit the door so hard it slam against the wall an all the young girls turn from the mirror to watch me come in.
I bang my way into the cubicle, pull up my skirt, drop my panties an sit. It seems like I’m dere forever waitin fuh my bladder to empty. While I’m listenin to the voices chatter, the shuffle through handbags an the occasional loud sniff, I put a hand on my head an moan beneath my breath. I think about what I’m doin dancin wit Cutie an I feel like shit. I wanna sit dere forever, not come out an face anyone. It was all so stoopid. Wasn’t I supposed to be caterin to my needs, not my wants? Spendin the anniversary of the most special, remarkable time in my life wit the one person I shared it wit?
I wipe, flush, get out an look into the mirror as I wash my hands. Get yuh mind right Kaylene, I tell myself, concentrate on what’s most important. I try not to notice how big an round my eyes are, because it makes me look pretty in ah aging kind ah way. I fix my make-up as best as I can an try to smile at my reflection. All I tell myself is dat I need to find Sianna, tell her I love her. All of a sudden, it seems like the most important ting in the world. Dat I love her an I think the worl ah her. Dat’s it.
I come outta the ladies wit dat on my mind – find Sianna an stick wid her fuh the rest ah the nite, neva mind how embarrass she might get. An part ah me know I was lookin fuh her to stop myself doin someting I would regret come sunup, like wakin up with Cutie in my bed while his bredrin’s in Sianna’s, but I pushed it away wit the thought dat I ain seen her since we reach Neighbourhood. I look everywhere. The VIP section, the bar, the area by the stage, though I try keep away from the spot where I see Cutie dancin wit Marcia an a few ah Tarryn bredrins; when he turn my way I duck down in the crowd an walk all the way to the main entrance ben over. I go upstairs an look for Sianna on the balcony, but she not dere either. Simon Bassey is, lookin out over the crowd wit a plastic bottle ah Stella in is hand. He gives me the smirk as I come closer.
– Yuh see Sianna? I ask.
– She went toilet wid Tarryn. He’s starin at me like a hungry man look at prime steak. I wanna bounce his plastic Stella bottle from his head. – So what, yuh like my bredrin Zeiko?
So dat’s his name I think to myself, I knew it sound like a watch. Black people an names eh? We’re well funny wi dat.
– He’s a young ting, I say. – Like you.
I walk off leavin him smirkin like the Cat from Alice in Wonderland. On the way I’m not thinkin about him though. I’m thinkin about the fact he say Sianna an Tarryn go Ladies together. Cos dey didn’t. I was dere. I would see or hear dem, I know I would.
I go back downstairs to the dancefloor an worm my way tru the crowd until I finally see Tarryn. She find a spot sittin in the VIP section talkin to some tick man in a black T-Shirt an trousers. He ave a walkie talkie on is hip. Dey heads so close dey look like dey might kiss. She laughin. So is he, though not as hard. Dey wrap up in demselves, each other is all dem can see. I step pass. All my tipsy, queasy feelin gone, I’m alert now, together an sure. Dere’s a small door at the side ah the stage, where the DJ playin. I pass Tarryn an her new man, move towards it. The door say STAFF ONLY but I push wit one hand. It open easy. I go in.
When it close I’m on the other side, standin at the bottom of a small stairwell where the music less loud. I smell weed again, strong too. I step forward, wantin to call fuh Sianna until I hear the noises. A man panting wit a deep voice, a girl’s high-pitch moan chantin wit im. I don’t want to carry on but my feet move me furtha until I get to the bottom ah the stairs, which go up on my right han side. I turn an look, slow. Like I already know. I see the man’s black trousers down by his black shoes, his ankles. Black socks. Big, hairy legs. A brown, firm butt movin slow. The black jacket wit the name ah the security firm stitch on the back. Long gleamin brown legs on either side ah his. Twitchin as the security guy start go faster, an she cry out an slam her han on the wall like she wanna tump it down, an it’s den I know say it’s her because I see the ring on her finger, white gold wit a big ruby in the center cos the man who sold me it said ruby is the stone of love, an I close my eyes cos it sound like he’s hurtin her even though he’s not, I know he’s not because Sianna say so, she say it’s so good, an don’t stop please. I turn an run out the door, slam it open, push thru the dancin people, pass Tarryn an her new man, ignorin dem lookin up at me, shocked, ignorin the people as dey cuss me, ignorin the music the lights an the drink spillin on my garms, I jus run as fast as I can even though I can’t escape the lights, the bass, the sound of Sianna’s voice in my head.