Monday, 17 September 2012

Them Green Hills

I've been working on a number of short stories lately about some very different characters and their connection to the South Downs. The first one is about an inner-city youth named Tyrone who finds himself somewhere on the hills by Eastbourne....

Them Green Hills

Tyrone sat, hood up, his legs outstreched and his back propped up against the weathered trunk of a lone windswept tree. His dark steely eyes were fixed on the ocean in the distance, birds flit over head and mighty gusts of wind blew across the landscape causing the long spindly grass to sway wildly. His blazer, battered from being dragged along the ground was dumped beside him and his black nikes were covered in a dusty white powder. As he stared out at the horizon in front of him Ty thought back to the days events that led him there, to them green hills.
  It was September the 4th, the first day back at school and from the moment he was rudely awoken from his sleep by the sound of his mum screaming at him that he would be late, he knew it would be a bad day. As predicted, he missed his train and had to wait ten minutes for the next one. When he finally got in, he strode into his classroom half an hour into the lesson and took a seat at the back, much to the irritation of his teacher, a young brunette woman.
'Tyrone, you're late' she said her voice tinged with annoyance 'See me after class.'
Ty remained silent, he began to feel his vexation resurface. The first lesson back and he was already in trouble. At that moment, a boy a few rows in front of him, known to Ty as the class goon Anton, looked back and gave him a nasty smirk before turning to his mate beside him.
'D'you hear, Ty's sister got knocked up?' he asked loud enough for the whole class to hear. Tyrone narrowed his eyes, a sense of forboding washed over him and his vexation contined to grow, he gritted his teeth and tried to remain calm. He's not worth it, he told himself, don't lose your temper. Not now.
'Serious? Man, what a slag!' the boy exclaimed.
Be cool. Be cool. Be cool. He repeated the silent mantra in his head. Be cool. The last thing Ty wanted was trouble, not this year, not after everything that had happened. He just wanted to keep his head down and get through the year.
'Yeah fam, the dutty girl'
Tyrone shot up from his seat and before he knew what he was doing he was half way across the room and rooted in front of the boy's desk. The fury in Ty was steadily rising, he knew he couldn't back down. He knew how these battles began, he knew would have to defend himself. He had to defend his sister, despite the fact that he hated her. It was a matter of honour- of respect.
'What d'you say?' Tyrone demanded, his voice rough.
'You heard,' the boy answered with a smug confidence, he rose from his chair as if to meet Ty's challenge. Right then something in Tyrone snapped, something that had been building up inside for a long time- from his mum losing her job at Waitrose, his wasteman of a dad letting him down yet again and now the latest on the list, his sister getting pregnant. He'd just had enough. Before he knew it Tyrone threw a punch to the side of the boy's jaw so powerful that he staggered backwards a few steps. The classroom erupted into a chorus of 'oohs!'
'Get out Tyrone, now!' his teacher bellowed with an expression of horror on her face. Tyrone kissed his teeth as he strode towards the door, a feeling of faint satisfaction ran thorugh him as he did.
'Watch you're back. I'm coming for you!' he heard Anton shout from behind him, his voice seething.
Tyrone walked straight out of the classroom, through the corridor and out into the grounds where he was greeted with a cool wind, his pulse was racing in fury and the fear of what was to follow. As he made his way towards the school gate he heard someone calling out to him, it was the voice of Mr O'Riordan, his geography teacher, the only teacher in the whole school that he actually got on with.
'Tyrone, where are you going?' Ty kept walking his head held high, 'Tyrone, if you don't turn around and come back right now you're going to be in trouble.' He didn't slow down.
'This is the first day of your final year', he tried to reason with him 'don't screw it up, don't throw it all away!' Ty ignored him and carried on walking till he was outside the front gate and half way down the road...
A black crow landed on a tree in the distance.  As Ty watched it's movements he wished for a moment that he could morph into a bird and take off into the sky, never to come back. He wished he could be free.
Ty paced up and down the dim, wide corridor at Clapham Junction station wondering what he should do. He couldn't go home, he didn't have his key and even if he did there's no way he wanted to be trapped in that space alone, worse still sister could be there. As he approached the foot of a flight of stairs, he heard an announcement being made: 'The train now standing at platform 13 is the 10:32 to Eastbourne.' On a whim Ty sprinted up the stairs and dashed into the carriage before the train doors could close on him. He felt the adrenaline corsing through his veins as he took a seat by the window in the half empty carriage. He stripped off his school blazer, took out a hoody from his bag and pulled it on over his head before turning his gaze to the window. As the train moved further and further away from his school and his teachers and Anton and the tower blocks and the police sirens, through the green he felt a sense of freedom- a sense of restless freedom. He had no idea where he was going, with only a fiver in change and his discounted oyster, but he didn't care and as time passed he felt his mood lighten ever so slightly.
The air was different up in the hills. It was clean and salty. It felt good to inhale. It was different to the air Ty was used to breathing in at home and at school and on those South London buses and on the streets. The air that he was used to was redolent of cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes and weed and Jamaican patties and fried chicken and all the other smells that made up home. It was an air rich in stories and movement and warmth and colour and laughter and life. It was an urban air. This new air wasn't any better or any worse. It was just different. It smelled like countryside, the trees and the grass and the wind.
Tyrone had only even been to Eastbourne once before, on an end of year school trip in Year 7. He remembered how much simpler life was back then, back before alliances had been formed and lines drawn out. He remembered how much of a laugh they all had that day. He thought back to that moment when they were all mucking about by the sea and he had splashed water in Anton's face, in return Anton had dunked Ty's head under the water, but it wasn't serious then, it was funny. Back then he never could have imagined they would end up here- Ty knocking him out and Anton promising to get his revenge. Now everything had changed. Life had become heavy.
As he got to the seafront, Tyrone bought some chips and a coke from a hut not too far from the pier. He then settled himself on a bench not far from the waters edge. It wasn't long before the seagulls came for him.
'Allow it blad!' he shouted at a big one that had grabbed a chip from his polestyrene tray. 'I'll mess you up!' The seagull didn't seem the slightest bit put off and a few of the people walking by looked at him oddly.
'What!' he jested rudely, jerking his head up as if to challenge them, embarrassed they quickly turned around and continued walking. He wasn't usually particularly confrontational or mouthy but today he didn't care. He just felt thoroughly sick of the world, of everything. After he had finished eating, Ty got up, still agitated and decided to walk by the sea. He had walked aimlessly for a while and soon he came by a hill and decided to just keep going. He walked right up by edge of the white cliffs, amazed by their beauty he kept on walking, he walked off all his troubles, all his worries and fears and the more he walked the freer he felt, until finally all his thoughts dissappeared and the voices in his head were silenced and the only sounds he could hear were that of the birds singing and the waves crashing against the cliffs. After a a while he changed course slightly and walked further in land a bit. He sat down finally in an open space by the windswept tree. As Ty took in the landscape before him, all the thoughts and worries weighing down on him- the trouble he was going to be in when he got back, his mum losing her job, his dad letting him down, his sister getting pregnant, the fears he held; failing at school and the darkness shrouding his future; all of these seemed to dissipated. Being there, under the big blue sky, with the sun beating down, the crystal ocean waves rolling in and out, the breeze blowing through, the chalk cliffs glinting brilliantly and the birds flitting across the land- being there none of that stuff seemed to matter, they didn't seem real. He felt only calm; a strange sense of peace.
Ty didn't spend much of his time in wild open places, places that attracted birds and butterflies and all that other wildlife stuff. When he wasn't at school, he would be at the youth club or as the basketball court or back on the estate. All his life he had been surrounded by people- family, friends, neighbours. That summer however had been different. He had spent most of his time in his box room, avoiding people, avoiding his friends- avoiding the arguments that shook his home. Sometimes he thought about going to the park near his block at night, just to get some fresh air, but he knew the dealers mostly congregated in the green space and he knew by going down there he would probably get himself into trouble. Trouble seemed to follow Ty around like a dark cloud. He thought about how much better it would be if he could stay here forever, away from the crowds and sirens and gangs and drama of the estate, away from his mum who constantly nagged him and his sister who was never there and his dad who never kept his word. He thought about how easy and simple life could be, if he just camped out there and never went back to Stockwell. If he never went back home.
Ty liked the estate, he liked the fact that his was a life shared with other people on his block. He liked the sense of kinship and solidarity that came with living in a community like his. He liked bringing in the shopping for Mrs May upstairs who had broken her ankle, he liked listening to old Mr Williams' crazy stories about how life used to be when he came over in the sixties from Jamaica and more than anything he liked bumping into Janice on the stairs, he liked the smiles she gave him. But Ty hated the place too. He hated how oppressive and suffocating if got sometimes, how the walls seemed to close in on him, how hard it was to be invisible, how people were always in his face. He longed for space, both a physical and mental space. Somewhere he could claim as his own. Here on these green hills, Ty could see nothing beyond the horizon. He felt this sense of possibility and openness and freedom. He wasn't confined by those South London barriers; mental and physical. He wasn't Tyrone, trouble maker Tyrone, no-hoper Tyrone, going nowhere Tyrone. He wasn't confined by others peoples low expectations of him, or his own, on what his life would be. The way he was going he knew he would probably end up on the dole, or on some poxy government sheme for unemployed youths, or hanging about street corners or worse still in prison like his cousin Darnel. But here, in the open, amongst the free- he was a man in an open space, a human being. Here he could be whoever he wanted to be, without those labels. He could just be Ty.
  As Tyrone moved through the woods, he traced the lines on the barks as he went and he felt a curiosity stir within him. He could imagine what his friends would say if they could see him now, they'd call him a batty nature boy or something. But he loved it, being there amongst the trees. He loved the solitude, the simplicity, the quiet. He loved that he wasn't around a crowd of people for once, that he didn't have to act a certain way, he didn't have to make stupid jokes or talk about which girl he thought was the buffest. He felt free from the circus that was his life. During the day, Ty hadn't just half-stumbled across this quiet land, but he'd also discovered this quiet inside of him, a place where he could silence the thoughts that drove him mad. A safe place he never knew existed. As he continued to  weave through the trees in the woodland Ty felt glad for everything that had happened during the day that led him to being there- to a place where he felt free and calm. There was a secrecy to the hills, not the sordid kind he was used to, but the pure kind and he was glad to have discovered such a place.
Ty didn't know how long he had been rooted to the ground with only the lone tree for company. The sun had steadily been sliding across the sky and was now quite low. There was no telling what time it was, his phone had died, something he was actually glad about. Ty could just imagine the number of missed calls he had received, from his teacher, his friends, his mum. He knew how much trouble he would be in when he got back, but for that moment he didn't care. He felt good, he felt as though he was part of the something- something he couldn't explain or understand. As the wind blew into him and the warm rays of September sun passed through his dark skin he felt for a rare moment, that this world was his. That he belonged. He wasn't a trespasser, no, he belonged here. These green hills were meant for him. He felt a sense of loneliness at that moment, the moment he realised that he belonged there, a solitary figure on the hills. It was a still loneliness, a good loneliness, it wasn't the kind of lonely he would get being stuck in his room for days on end, nor the kind when he heard another friend had been arrested. No, this was different. It seemed like for that brief moment, all was right with the world.
Ty suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to mark his territory. To bear witness to that moment when something inside came to life. As he scanned his surroundings he took in the purple of the heather and the blue of the sea and the sound of the beating wings of a bird in flight. He needed to leave something there, a memory, a mark. Ty took out a pencil from the bottom of his bag and wrote on the chalky mud 'Ty woz ere.' He knew is was a neeky thing to do, but he didn't care, it made him happy- to be there, to be present. Once he'd done it, he decided it was time to get back to reality. As he got up from his place on the ground, he dusted himself off and started on the long journey back. He was ready for it, to face whatever was coming. He could already hear his mum's voice in his head, swearing at him, telling him he would end up just like his dad, he could picture her face, creased in disappointment and weariness.  
          As Ty reluctantly walked back towards the town, towards its people and madness and noise, he felt a heaviness return to him and before he finally descended down the last hill towards the beach, he looked back up at the sea and the cliffs behind him and felt an inexplicable longing in him, a sadness that didn't get. He watched a figure pass in the distance and felt a sense of bitterness for the first time in his life. He knew that that person  would never feel the way he did at that moment, knowing that he was destined to lead a small life in the big city, while they were free walk them green hills.