Saturday, 25 May 2013

The Pirates

By Emma Legg.

They were known as The Pirates. And if you'd grown up on the estate you knew about them. Not that you'd ever be stupid enough to say their name out loud, you'd have to have a death wish to even mention them in passing conversation. Jono had learnt this at a very early age, when he'd watched a couple of the members break his best mates jaw over some throwaway comment. He'd stood and he'd watched it unfold and he'd said or done nothing and that wasn't the sort of thing you forgot easily. Once, at school when they'd been studying the Second World War, their teacher had read them a poem written by a Pastor who had stood by as the Nazis slowly wiped out their enemies. The last stanza read something like; 'Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me'. Funny how he always thought of that when he remembered that afternoon. There really was no one left to speak for him now, except his mum and dad, and they were useless at best. Nathan had joined the gang soon after, telling him that it was 'kill or be killed' and if you'd spent a month in hospital having your jaw reconstructed Jono supposed you probably would see it that way.  Once Nathan was in it was only a matter of time before the other boys followed, Phil had held out the longest and Jono appreciated that, always more of a follower than a leader, it must of taken him some restraint to say no for so long. Not that you ever really said no to The Pirates, it was far more complex than that, a drawn out perfomance of desperate, floundering avoidance that would ultimately fail.  Jono had it down to an art form, out of the flat before the sun came up and back in before it went down. School was easy, The Pirates weren't exactly A star students so as long as he went to lessons and spent his breaks in the library he was okay. But still, he could see it, in their eyes; the look of the hunter sussing out the prey. An approach was on the cards and once that happened there was no turning back, he'd be in whether he liked it or not. 

It wasn't so much the idea of being part of the gang that scared him, he could see the attraction in that, how the idea of a solid brotherhood would appeal to all of them coming from the shaky and unreliable family trees that they did. No that wasn't the issue, it was what he would have to do to become one of them that scared him, his Iniation. This was what kept him awake at night. Nathan had stabbed a boy from a rival gang in the leg for his, the kid had almost bled out and it took a major blood transfusion to save him. Jono had asked Nathan about it once, when he bumped into him on the stairs of their block. He'd refused to look Jono in the eye and kept his cap pulled down low. That had made him sad, they'd been friends since pre school, sharing everything, including their most private thoughts and feelings. But what had bothered him most, what had really stuck with him, was the fact the Nathan didn't know the boy's name. He'd nearly ended his life, but couldn't remember his name. As he lay in his bed most evenings, his mind racing, he imagined that there was another boy out there, going about his daily business, probably a lot like Jono himself yet unbeknownst to him one day Jono would hurt him, really hurt him, maybe even kill him. And all because The Pirates told him too. It wasn't right, that you exstinguish a life like that. Take all the hopes, dreams, worries, thoughts and habits that made up a person and just wipe them out, as if they'd never even existed. But try as he might Jono couldn't see a way out of it. 

The approach, when it came, was totally unexpected, and he had to give The Pirates their due for that. It was 7am on a freezing morning and Jono had cut down the alleyway round the back of the park hoping to get into school quickly and without being noticed. Hunkered down against the cold and with his headphones blasting music in his ears it wasn't until he was near the end of the alleyway that he saw them and by then it was too late to turn back. Jack, The Pirates unofficial leader, was slouching against the wall smoking a cigarette and as Jono drew to a halt he stepped out in front of him and ground it under his foot. Leaning forward, close enough that Jono could smell the nicotine on his breath he whispered "Got a suprise for you mate" and another boy who Jono didn't recognise stepped out onto the path. He looked young, probably around fourteen and his fear was obvious. Jono felt his stomach drop. So this was it, here was the poor bastard he was expected to hurt, really hurt, in order to be one of the gang. "Go on" goaded Jack, "You know what to do" and Jono looked at him in suprise, no weapon? He'd expected them to hand him a knife or a crowbar or something but it seemed he was expected to beat this kid up with his bare hands. Jono's palms began to sweat, in truth, he'd never really been in a fight  (and this was definitely something you kept to yourself on the estate) unless you counted the scraps he'd had with his big brother when he was a kid, but he'd buggered off and abandoned him years ago. 

As he stared at Jack in suprise the other boy began to move closer to him, lifting his arms as if he meant to hug him. As the boy pulled him in close to his suprise Jono felt his body jerk, he heard Jack jeering "You're meant to stab him not fucking cuddle him!" and when he looked down there it was, the knife. He'd read stories in the papers before about people being stabbed and how they always said they'd never felt the initial hit, he'd laughed at that thinking how if someone stuck a knife in him he was certain he'd bloody know about it straight away. But it was funny, he couldn't feel it. He put his hand to his stomach and when he held it up it was covered in blood, red, red, blood, darker than any he'd seen before. Out of the corner of his eye he was aware of Nathan turning away, unable to witness what was happening to his one time best friend. Maybe I deserved this thought Jono, maybe this all comes down to that one moment, where I should of helped my friend, where I should have stood up and I didn't. He would of liked to have travelled further down this philosophical road of thought but all of a sudden his legs buckled beneath him and he became very aware of the cold hard gravel under his cheek. He sensed there was something wet and warm on the ground and when he put his arm out he realised it was his blood. There was so much of it, all draining away like it was nothing, like it was old bathwater. He wondered what people would say about him after he was gone and in that moment he wished that he had just joined the gang. There was no reward in being noble or moral, look where it had got him, a gravel strewn death bed in a cold, filthy alleyway.

In the stories he'd read as a kid he'd always rooted for the pirates to triumph, to find the gold where X marked the spot or to steal away with the beautiful maiden or the King's finest galley. Jono could see the irony in that now. As the world around him began to go dim, and the figures  swam before his eyes he was aware of Jack rifling through his pockets telling the other boys "Lets take what we can get and get the fuck out of here before the pigs show up!" Jono thought of buried treasure and he would of laughed if he'd had the strength left. Then the world went dark.

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