Bad Girls

22 Nov

“Take his head off of his fucking shoulders! Kill the bastard!” Leanne shouted, through the huffing and puffing brought on by booting seven shades of shit out of the boy who lay lying on the ground, battered and bleeding. She also smoked too much.

The four girls, all with matching peroxide ends and dark roots, their school ties hanging loosely around their necks, let their black shoes rain down on the poor kid, seemingly completely unconcerned about the damage they might be inflicting. Like wild animals, the sense was that they wouldn’t cease the beating until the victim was dead.

“Grass on me, you little muppet! Get me put in detention! How did you think I would just ignore a liberty like that?” Leanne continued to shout at the bag of bones that lay at her feet. “If you even think for a second about telling anyone who did this to you, I swear I will read your mind and I will kill you! Do you understand me? I will kill you.”

Three of the four girls, including Leanne, were growing more hysterical with rage and emotion as the assault went on. But not so Claire, who although she went along with the rest of the gang, was emotionally unattached, and even made sure that her feet landed every kick to the top of the boy’s arm rather than his head or neck.

“Right, that’s enough. You’re lucky it’s ending there. The only reason we’re not killing you now is that I need a fag. Get up. I said, ‘Get up!'”

The boy moved his arms from where they had been placed for the past few minutes around his head, trying to deflect some of the blows, and slowly looked up to the girls that stood over him. His face and head were covered in lumps. His nose was bleeding. His glasses at least remained intact, on the floor underneath his chest. He picked them up and put them on. Claire couldn’t look at him. She felt shame at what she had just been a part of. The boy stood up.

“Who did this to you?” Leanne asked him coldly.

“I don’t know. I didn’t see any of them,” he said, shaking.

“Correct. Now give me a quid and fuck off home to mummy.”

He felt around in his pocket, deliberately feeling for the pound coin and not revealing the rest of the change he had, and handed it over to her. And then he set off for home, walking, staggering actually, as he’d just given up half of his bus fare.

The girls slowly moved off in the opposite direction. They’d already forgotten what they had just done, at the back end of their school field.

“Did you hear that Sonny poked Danielle under the table in maths yesterday?”

“And she wonders why everyone calls her a slag. Her mum’s a brass; it makes sense, dunnit? I wouldn’t be surprised to find out her nan’s still lifting her skirt for a couple of quid.”

The girls shared one more fag outside the sweet shop and then went their separate ways home.

Claire reached the corner just before her street and could here a commotion taking place around the bend. She knew what she was about to find. Her mum, pissed out of her head, just like every other afternoon, stood at the door to their block, carrier bag in hand, shouting at the group of kids on bikes across the road who taunted and threw sweets at her.

“You wouldn’t be so cocky if I didn’t have a dodgy hip, you little wankers!” she slurred.

The group howled with laughter. The street’s alcoholic was a constant form of amusement for them in their otherwise boring lives.

Claire came round the corner.

“Go on you lot, fuck off! Mum, get inside. Just ignore ’em. The more you react the more you encourage ’em. Come on, come inside.”

“Ah Claire, hello darling. Give your mum a hug. I missed you today.”

As humiliating as it was, this was Claire’s life.

It had been two months since Claire’s dad had decided he couldn’t be with her mum anymore, and had moved himself into a bedsit. It wasn’t that he didn’t love his wife; he just couldn’t play second fiddle to the drink for a day longer. Claire and her mum had then been downsized by the council, moving from their little terraced place in North London, to a block of flats south of the river. It hadn’t come at the worst of times, as Claire had just finished her GCSEs, scraping through all of them with below average grades, before being told by her school that they wouldn’t accept her back to attend sixth form as her behaviour had left a few of the teachers refusing to have her in their classrooms again. She hadn’t helped her cause by throwing a metal pencil case at her food tech teacher after he’d commented in front of the class that she of all people should pay attention, as she’d be cooking dinners for her own children within a couple of years on her council estate, and that if she didn’t learn, her kids would be on the Jeremy Kyle show later on telling the nation that their mum stunted their growth by feeding them nothing but Iceland ready meals and crack cocaine. The teacher had been out of order, it had been a cheap shot intended to get a laugh out of the class at Claire’s expense, and the school’s head teacher saw it as such. So, to keep it out of the local paper the head had decided to take no action against teacher or pupil and to brush it under the carpet, seeing as how it was only a few weeks before final exams and then they’d be shot of her anyway. They certainly hadn’t expected her to want to carry on into sixth form. Which she did. Mostly because it meant her mum could carry on receiving child benefit, and she wouldn’t have to go out into the world of work. But now that she had actually taken the step, Claire allowed herself for the first time to think about going to university later on. Nobody in her family, nor anybody she’d ever known, had gone to university. Her head told it was a pipe dream – she’d never be able to afford it even if she did get the grades – but her heart said, ‘Let’s just see, shall we?’

So the move had come at just the right time, as it meant she could start her A-Levels in a new school, and because she hadn’t been formally disciplined by her last school there was nothing on record that led to her application being rejected. The new area she’d moved into, though, was rough; a lot rougher than the one she’d left behind.

Claire wasn’t a bad kid. She wasn’t a good kid, either. Easily led astray, she’d realised at the start of her teens that she was never going to be one of the pretty girls, nor one of the clever girls, so to provide a safer environment for herself, she had joined the ranks of the tough girls. The wrong’uns. She bunked off school to smoke weed and to take speed and ketamine; she stole from her local shops; she rode around in stolen cars with older guys off the estate, usually letting them do what they wanted with her; and she scowled at and fronted up to authority figures. But she always managed to stay away from actually doing anyone any real harm. At her old school she had never needed to. Her fear factor had been enough to get her through. Safety in numbers. Knowing she had just helped to beat a boy to a pulp – a boy two years younger than them, whose crime had been to tell the teacher that it had been Leanne who had drawn the picture of Hitler on his school bag, and not him – bothered her into the night. Yea, she had always been taught from a young age that grassing was wrong and something that you just didn’t do, but the punishment on this occasion severely outweighed the crime. The kid was one of life’s weeds. It wasn’t big or tough to give him a pasting. It was cowardly. But you didn’t go against Leanne, or you would be the one on the end of the next shoeing.

That evening, Claire sat in front of the telly wishing she had got off to a better start at her new school. She had wanted to start afresh, get her head down and for the first time in her life, be productive. But on the first day, being the new kid while all the others had been through the past four years of secondary school together, she had followed old habits and made friends with the bad girls. She didn’t do well on her own; she needed to be a part of a group right from the off. She needed to fit in. Getting in with Leanne and her followers had been easy. All she’d had to do was turn up in the morning with a full pack of Marlboro Lights. She then stood by the bike shed, picked out the small group, walked up to them, asked them for a light, offered everyone a fag, and their friendship was formed. But now she was wondering what life would be like if she hadn’t got involved with them. If she had just kept herself to herself. Not got herself integrated into Leanne’s group. Or any group. She knew the answer: She’d be the one having to look over her shoulder all the time; the one having her money taken off her; the one getting slapped. They didn’t like outsiders round here, and it wasn’t as if Claire had her old gang to back her up. She was isolated.

Claire’s mum had passed out in the living-room which doubled up as her bedroom. Claire was lying on her bed, smoking a fag. Her mobile rang and she picked it up.

“Alright, Claire? Is she asleep?”

“Yes, Dad. Passed out a while back.”

“Good. Buzz me in then, I’m downstairs.”

Her dad always waited til her mum was asleep before he popped round. He tiptoed in, gave his daughter a kiss, asked her if she was alright, if her mother was alright, and then gave her a £20 note. There was no way he’d give the money to his wife, as he knew where it would end up.

“Make sure you don’t go hungry, alright. Don’t spend it all on fags!”

“Alright, Dad, ta. When can I come and live with you? I miss you.”

“I miss you too, babe, but believe me, you’re better off with your mother. I know it’s hard, but I’m still coming round to see you whenever I can. I’m working too many hours at the moment. Day and night. They’ve moved me over to their main store right in the city. Where do ya think I’m getting this money from to keep giving you, so you don’t have to worry and can get your qualifications? I’m proud of you. Alright, give us a kiss, I gotta go. I’m working tonight.”

Claire’s dad had worked in shop security since leaving school. He also worked a couple of nights a week on the door of a fried chicken shop, keeping the pissheads in line.

Claire didn’t sleep well that night. A wrestling match was going on in her mind. One minute she was telling herself that the following morning at school she was gonna leave the gang. Go it alone. Show some moral fibre. The next, though, she was telling herself that she would just put the beating up of the boy out of her mind, carry on as normal, not rock the boat, and consequently have an easy time of it. She knew one thing for sure: She did not like Leanne. She was scum. And a different type of scum to that which she was accustomed.

Walking through the school gates, making her way to their usual meeting point at the bike sheds, Claire spotted the boy from yesterday. His lumps had gone down, but he sported two shiners, and he obviously only had one school shirt, because he was wearing the same one as yesterday, with blood stains on the collar. As he walked past the girls, head down, they teased him.

“Alright, muppet? What happened to you then? Fell down some stairs, or did ya walk into a door?”

They all laughed.

Claire decided at that moment that she wasn’t going to go and stand with them today. For the first time since she’d introduced herself to the group, she didn’t meet them for a fag at their spot. Instead she walked straight in through the door and made her way to the classroom. She sat at a different table to usual. She was actually doing this. She was making a stand. Leaving the protection of the group. She would have been lying if she’d said she wasn’t shitting herself.

The bell rang, the rest of the class slowly came in, and the girls, taking their seats at the back, at first didn’t notice that Claire was in the room. They’d just assumed that she must’ve been late, or off sick, why else wouldn’t she be in her usual seat? But then they saw her, on the other side of the room. And at the front!

“Oi, Claire, why’d Sir move you over there?” Leanne called across the room, not caring that everyone was listening.

“’Sir’ hasn’t moved anyone anywhere, thank you very much, Leanne. And I would appreciate a bit of quiet in my classroom. Zip it!” came the response from the teacher stood at the front of the class.

Claire ignored the fuss and just stared at her exercise book.

Leanne just said, “Whatever.”

It was on first break that Leanne and her crew went to find out what was going on. They found Claire stood at the back of the field, smoking and eating a Kit-Kat.

“Alright, N6?” – The girls called Claire N6 because it was the postcode area she had moved from – “You got the ‘ump or something? What was all that about in class? Why was you sat over there and why you ignoring me when I talk to you?”

Claire’s stomach was in knots, but she kept her composure and said, “Nah, Leanne, I ain’t got the ‘ump. I just decided I need a bit of space at the minute. I just feel like being on my own, not part of any group. That’s all.”

“You what? What do you think this is, a fucking social club? Think you can just come and go as you please? Anyway, you’re lying. I can see it in your eyes. I know what this is about, it’s yesterday innit? You think I didn’t see it in your face after we was done with that little muppet? I thought you was gonna cry. Listen to me, Claire, you are one of us. Now I understand, you’re new around here, you’re adjusting to a new life, so I’m gonna forget about your little performance today. We all make mistakes. But you are one of us. Cos if you ain’t one of us, then you’re against us. And I don’t think you wanna be against us. You don’t wanna be against us, do ya Claire?”

Leanne blew smoke in Claire’s face. Claire, all credit to her, dragged on her own cigarette before blowing smoke right back in the face of Leanne, and said, “Look Leanne, I don’t wanna be with you and I don’t wanna be against you. So just leave it out, yea. I don’t need all this bollocks. I’m not scared of you. I’m not some stupid little tart. You don’t know me. Now, just leave me be. I’m out.”

She was lying. She was scared of Leanne. But it’s not like she herself had come from a soft upbringing. Back on her own estate, where her friends were, she was a someone. She had never been scared of anyone before. No one had ever fronted up to her before. This was all new.

Leanne’s problem with this scenario was that it made her little gang look weak. If she was seen to just let someone call it quits and walk out, people might think she’d become a soft touch. Especially after everyone had seen Claire snub the group in front of the whole class earlier that morning. This was a dilemma for Leanne, without mentioning the fact that although she hid it well, she was actually just as wary of Claire as Claire was of her. She too had never had anyone face up to her before. Or blow smoke in her face! And Claire was right, Leanne didn’t really know her. The other girls stood behind Leanne, not knowing what to do.

Leanne spoke. “You seem to be forgetting where you are. You ain’t on your nice little Holloway Road now; this is the jungle. Different planet. Without us, who’s gonna watch your back? They’re nasty round here, Claire, proper nasty. And unpredictable. Even I might decide to blade ya one day, just cos I’m bored and you’re there. But you won’t have to worry about that if you’re my friend. I don’t blade my mates.”

The bell rang to signal the end of break. Claire went to walk past the girls, back to the main building of the school. Leanne pushed her against the fence.

“You’ve got until the end of the day to decide just how bad or how easy you want your time here to be. If you’re not in our spot after last period, we’ll know where you stand. And Claire, if you ever ignore me again when I’m talking to you, your life won’t be worth living.”

Claire shouldered past Leanne and went back to class. Leanne and the girls cut through the hole in the fence, they were bunking this period.

The rest of the day went by in a blur for Claire. She couldn’t focus on anything. She even threw up after lunch. The realisation that she was better off with these people that she hated than she was without them actually made her vomit. She had always been in a tough group. Always. It was all she knew. And until yesterday, she had been completely comfortable with it. These were her people. This was where she belonged. This was what she had always felt, instinctively. She had never questioned anything before. But she had never booted a little wimpy kid in the head before. Or been threatened. The casualness of the threat made it all the more horrific, too. ‘I might decide to blade ya one day, just cos I’m bored….’ This girl was fucking psycho! The other thing that worried Claire was that this school was completely different to her old one. In this one, 90 per cent of the kids were nasty. Dangerous. Animals. And she had seen yesterday what happened to the ones that weren’t. Once word got out that she had turned her back on the gang, she would be fair game to anyone who took a disliking to her. And she was pretty sure that that was everyone else in the school. As Leanne had said, they didn’t like outsiders coming in, especially when they came from north of the river. Claire knew what she had to do.

After school she made her way down the corridor, out the doors and towards the bike shed. The girls were already stood there, smoking and chatting to a couple of older blokes. Claire joined them, not saying a word. She stood in her usual spot and lit a fag, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

“Alright, N6?”

“Yea, I’m alright, Leanne.”

“What you doing here?”

“I was being stupid earlier, but you was right, I am one of you lot. I won’t act up like that again,” Claire replied, avoiding eye contact, her tail between her legs.

“Oh, you’re one of us now, are ya? Oh I’m sorry, I thought you was too good for us. Well what a relief to hear that you’re one of us,” Leanne replied, sarcastically. “You know what, though? I’m not sure I believe you. I think I need some proof.”

“Proof of what, Leanne?”

“Proof that you’re one of us. Come on, let’s go. Come on!”

“Where we going, Leanne?”

“Shopping.”

The girls took the bus, over Blackfriars Bridge and into the city. Then they changed buses for one heading to Oxford Street. Claire didn’t say anything the whole way. What was she going to have to do? Steal something? That would be alright. Claire hoped that she was just going to be asked to steal something from a shop.

They stood outside the Debenhams department store. Still no one had really said anything.

“Right, go on then, what do you want me to nick?” Claire finally said.
She didn’t need to be told that that’s what they were there for.

Leanne smiled, before first turning to one of the girls, Kim.

“Which fragrance would madam care for?”

“Madam would care for a Paco Rabanne, thank you very much,” was Kim’s reply.

Leanne then turned to the fourth member of the group, Sonia.

“And for madam?”

“Madam quite fancies a bit of Calvin Klein’s Obsession,” Sonia said with a smile.

“Okay, so that’s a bottle of Paco, a bottle of Obsession, and I think I’ll have Beyonce’s new one. And Claire, be a doll and get one for yourself. And then we can all go home as friends, can’t we?”

“Wait here,” was all Claire said, before entering the shop and making her way towards the perfume department.

She was no rookie when it came to thieving from shops like this. She didn’t even feel nerves. If she did get caught, as she had on numerous occasions in the past, she would cry, tell the security guard that she had been forced into it by some bullies outside, and that she would never do it again. And if she had to, she’d give his leg a little rub. It worked a treat. But she didn’t plan on getting caught. She quickly found the items her ‘friends’ had ordered, and in the wink of an eye they were in her bag. She grabbed a random bottle for herself; she didn’t even look to see which one she’d picked. She didn’t care. Whatever it was, she’d sell it for a tenner at school. She made her way down the escalator and to the exit.

The call came over the radio to the ground floor security guard, from up in the CCTV room: “Blonde girl, just making way to main exit, been seen shoplifting up in perfumes. Pick her up as soon as she’s out the door.”

Scott made his way swiftly to cover the main door. He saw the top of the blonde haired girl’s head over the top of some shelves, coming towards him. This was going to be another simple pinch. A stupid schoolgirl who thought she could get the better of the store and of him. Not on his watch! And then he saw her face. Of all the shops in London, why? Why this one? And why today? What was she doing to him? He turned around so that she wouldn’t see him. He waited until she had exited the shop, and he followedher outside. He stood there in the open air for a minute and then he went back into the store.

“Operations Room, do you read me?” he said on his walkie talkie.

“Yep, go ahead, Scott.”

“Shoplifter got away. I repeat, shoplifter got away. As soon as she was outside she was on her toes, and she managed to disappear into the crowd. I twisted my ankle. My fault.”

“Report to the office please, Scott.”

—–

“Is she asleep?”

“Yes, Dad. I’ll buzz you in.”

Claire’s dad crept through the living-room and into her bedroom.

“Get up to much today?”

“Just school.”

“And after school? Did you do anything? Get up to anything?”

Claire’s heart was beating fast. She knew from his tone that her dad wasn’t just making idle chit-chat. But still, until he said what he knew, she wasn’t going to give anything up.

“I took the tube up to Archway and said hello to a few pals. Then came home,” she lied.

“Claire, don’t mug me off, please darling. Why did you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Claire, I’m losing my patience. Don’t treat me like I was born yesterday. I just wanna know why you did it?”

“Do what, Dad? Honestly I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Well, you won’t know what I’m talking about when I tell you I got sacked from work today then, will ya?”

Now Claire really didn’t know what he was talking about.

“What? Why? You’ve been with them years. I thought they’d just moved you into their main store. I thought things were looking up.”

“Yes, Claire, they were. And then I failed to stop a shoplifter and I got sacked.”

“You got sacked because you didn’t manage to catch one thief? What? Dad, that doesn’t make any sense. What happened?”

“What happened was that the little tea-leaf I failed to pick up outside the store’s main door, was the same person that I had a framed picture of on my desk. Do you know what I’m talking about now?”

Claire’s heart sank. She couldn’t say anything. Her dad sat down on her bed and put his head in his hands.

“How are we gonna survive now, Claire? No other shop will take me on after this. You’ve ruined everything today. I’ve given you all the support I can, and you do this to me. I just don’t understand why. Why, Claire? Do you know how close they were to calling the police and arresting me? Me? They called it conspiracy. Said I was an accomplice to the act. It was only because I’ve been with them so long that they were lenient. Otherwise we’d be both be up to our eyeballs in it now.”

Claire just hugged her dad. And she cried.

The next morning Claire didn’t meet the girls at the bike shed. Nor did she take her seat at the back of the class.

She spent the morning in the Job Centre, applying for every menial, soul-destroying job on offer. Her venture into further education was over.

And so another working-class generation had followed suit. Another cycle had begun.

smoke

One Response to “Bad Girls”

  1. Dennis Cardiff November 23, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

    This is excellent writing and so believable. I have heard many stories like this from my friends on the street. I look forward to your book coming out. ~ Dennis

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