By Alan O'Gorman

 

The summer had barely started and the boredom was already doing my head in. My mam had taken my PlayStation off me, for what I can't remember, so I had to sit around my room all day waiting for the lads to finish work. Sitting around like that drives me insane. I get mad anxiety when I'm doing nothing. I'd always end up digging my nails into my arms or hands or scalp and begging my mam to give me back my games. Then I'd get angry and we'd end up screaming at each other. She'd always tell me go away and get a job for myself and once I'd calmed down I always felt bad for what I'd called her. 

One day I told her that all the lads were going to Santa Ponsa in August and asked if I could go too.

And how are they affording that? she said.

They've all got jobs, I said. 

And where have they got jobs? she said.

On building sites, I said.

And why can't you…?

Cause their dads got them their jobs. Or their uncles.

She knew I hadn't a dad or an uncle so she changed the subject.

Well maybe you can try SuperValu she said. I'll ask Noreen.

I was in my hole going working in SuperValu. I remember being well pissed off on the walk over to Carey's gaff, but I don't think I was planning what happened. It just kind of happened.

He was the only other one not working but I didn't like spending too much time with him because all he did all day was smoke hash and watch kids' cartoons. Also, if his parents were ever there they just got into massive roaring matches with him and with each other. Even if you were sitting there. His mam was the worst, she was a beast of a thing with peroxide hair and we all called her Hulk Hogan behind her back, even Carey. She'd say things like, Who's your friend? Tell him to go home now. Even though she'd met me loads of times.

Anyway, how it all started was I went over to Carey's after arguing with my mam. He had a free gaff and sure enough there he was watching Spongebob Squarepants. I sat down and had a smoke. He was giggling away at the telly. Mad isn't it? he said.

What's mad?

This little fella. Your man Spongebob.

I watched it a while but I couldn't understand a word. The fuck is this shit? I said. They speaking Japanese or something?

It's in Irish ya dope. Haha look at him, Carey was in stitches now. That Patrick is some clown, biy. I'd love to slap the head off him.

You going Santa Ponsa, Carey?

He shrugged his shoulders. Suppose.

D'you've money?

How much is it?

Six hundred quid.

He thought about it a while, his eyes glued to the telly. Probably not so, he said.

He took a long toke and tried to hold it in but something Squidward said got him and he burst out in a hoarse, long laugh, laughing and coughing until his eyes were all bleary. Carey, I said, getting impatient. There has to be some way of getting money. What was that thing you told me before that the tinkers do? Round Confirmation day…? Carey…?

Wha?

I waited until the silence filled the room and he turned his eyes from the telly and onto me. They were bloodshot red. The Confirmation thing, I said.

Oh yeah… the thing my cousin used do? He'd clean up. Go into town the day after a Confirmation and rob a load of young fellas who are out spending their money.

How would ya find out when it's a Confirmation day?

He looked around the room, as if he'd find the answer somewhere. Dunno, he said finally. Online?

We smoked some more and laughed about robbing kids' runners, patting them down, how scared they'd be, hanging them off bridges. Then Carey started falling asleep so I went down the dead-end to wait for the lads.

 

The next day, though, I didn't laugh at all when I woke up and Carey was standing at the edge of my bed with a knife the size of my forearm. I almost shat myself. Your mam told me wake ya, he said.

Where the fuck did you get that?

I got it off my uncle last year for my birthday, he said.

Fuckin hell, I said.

This'll scare the shit right out of those little cunts.

None of it seemed real. Him standing there. But he seemed dead serious. I watched him as he studied the blade. The reflection off it made his ugly little head seem spottier than normal, big manky red lumps all over his face, sticking out from under his fluffy knackertash. Is that a machete? I said.

I dunno…

He kept turning it over and over and then he swooshed it through the air. This would do some damage, biy.

By eleven we were strolling over Patrick's Bridge. I thought maybe we'd just go home after half an hour, that Carey was all talk. He had the machete strapped to the inside of his leg with an elastic hairband he stole off his little sister and it was making him walk with a serious limp. His right hand was pressed to his groin so the knife wouldn't slip and he was swinging his left arm in the air like a fool. You look like some gomey, I said.

We were fairly stoned. The morning was warm enough and the sun started making my eyes sleepy. There weren't many people out and about, some older fellas in suits, women with buggies and that. The only person who paid attention to us was a beggar leaning his back against the wall of the bridge, asking for money. Carey had to stop a couple of times to fix himself. He's smaller than me, and the tip of the knife reached his kneecap, holding his leg hostage. What's the plan so? I said.

Posh boys from Rochestown made their Confirmation yesterday. Should be crawling all over town today. Be like them sitting ducks.

We headed down Pana. Town being dead, it would be easy to spot a load of twelve-year-olds coined up to the gills on a Tuesday morning. Carey said we should only grab big groups and get out of town quick. But we saw our first schoolboys by Brown Thomas. Three of them, walking so close they were touching, whispering to each other. Two of them had braces in their mouths and one a cross hanging on a chain outside his t-shirt. I watched all that metal sparkling in the sun and imagined yanking it from his neck. Carey stopped dead in his tracks and I thought he was fixing himself again but he looked back at them and nodded, clutching his tracksuit pants tight. It looked to anyone else like he was holding his knob.

No, I said, and we walked on. 

By the time we got to Grand Parade we'd not seen any proper groups. Carey was moaning in my ear about the knife down his pants and saying he was heading home. We were going to and all until we had a sconce down Oliver Plunkett Street and saw what we were looking for. Seven boys with fresh faces, smooth from mammy's moisturising cream, laughing and having a wonderful time altogether. Some of them had McFlurrys in their hands and others were drinking fizzy drinks through straws. One of them actually had a wad of notes out and was counting how much money he had, no wallet or nothing! They were coming towards us. I got very angry when I saw them, I don't know why. We stopped on the footpath outside The Bróg and waited. An old man walked around us and looked over his shoulder. I squinted at him until he looked away. I rolled my neck and cracked my knuckles. Carey stood next to me with his hands in his pockets.

The street hardly ever has cars on it and is very narrow. It's mostly shops and pubs. The young fellas saw us and walked off the footpath into the road, trying to look like they weren't scared, trying to just mosey on past us. I moved out onto the road and Carey limped after me. I made myself an obstruction and ploughed through the centre of the group. They burst around me and started walking fast. C'mere a sec, I said. I want to ask ya something.

Carey flicked his head and whistled three times through his teeth, ordering them over. One of them stopped and looked back. What? he said.

Come on Simon, his friend said.

C'mere Simon, I said and went to grab his arm.

He dodged my grip and hurried after his friends. The one with the money was looking back, coaxing his friend forward. I moved quick and pushed Simon aside and as the whole group scattered I grabbed the one with the cash by the hand, squeezing the shit out of it until I heard his little bones make a noise and he dropped the money on the ground and in my rush to gather the notes before the wind took them I screamed at Carey to get the knife out but they were well gone, while he was still fumbling with the laces on his tracksuit pants.

 

Thirty euros, Carey said. Thirty fuckin euros. I thought these fellas were loaded?

We were down a long alleyway. People were passing by on either side now and then. 

Well, I said, if you'd a bit a cop on we woulda got more.

They were gone.

Exactly.

That Simon made a fool of ya.

Just gimme the knife.

Fuck sake, he said. He pulled down his tracksuit pants while I kept sketch. The whole place stank of piss and there was some dodgy looking shit smattered low against the wall. He pulled off his pants over his shoes. I held them and waited. He dragged the hairband down to his ankle and handed over the machete, standing there with his scrawny chicken legs shaking. He had a small rash where the point of the blade had been poking at the inside of his knee. He gave me the hairband finally and I pressed it to my nose and inhaled. Mmm, smells like your sister.

Smells like my balls ya mean.

He shook out his leg and put on his pants again. I got my pants off and strapped the knife to the outside of my leg. Why didn't ya do this? I said.

What? he said.

Strap it to the outside.

Oh.

We came back out onto Oliver Plunkett Street. The hairband was pure awkward, cutting off the circulation in my leg a bit, but I was walking a lot easier than Carey'd been. Without the knife to concentrate on, he loosened up, scanning the street like a hawk. We saw some packs of two and three but decided against it. If we catch someone again, Carey said, I'm gonna hang them upside down by their ankles.

I was focused on measuring my steps, keeping the knife in place, when Carey put out his hand and gently stopped me. There la, he said.

There were five of them, turning the corner onto Parnell Place. They all had shopping bags in their hands. We sped up and turned the corner to see them crossing the road towards the back of the bus station. Catch em before they head home, I said.

Carey ran across and got up ahead of them, waiting on the footpath. I had to stall for a couple of cars to pass. I saw him talking to the lads. They were stopped shoulder to shoulder in front of him. I limped over when it was clear and came up behind them.

So, gis your money or my friend is gonna cut ya, Carey was saying.

Their heads shot back at me and they were all pale as ghosts. One of them had tears in his eyes. They fished in their pockets and came out with little Pokemon and South Park wallets, or with bundles of crumpled notes and coins, handing it all over to Carey. That's it, he was saying. No one gets hurt. You, don't be shy.

I don't have any left, one of them said.

His voice was quivering and high-pitched, his balls yet to drop. Don't be fuckin stupid, Carey said.

He doesn't, honestly, his friend said. He spent it all.

Oh yeah?

Yeah. I'm paying for his bus.

I swear, the kid said, crying now.

You swear?

Carey pressed his forehead against the kid's. He wasn't that much taller than him. Don't you fuckin lie to me, he said.

The kid stepped back and then looked up at me with tears in his eyes. I stepped forward and bent my neck down. Are you lying to us? I said.

No. I swear.

Right, then tell us where the resta your friends are and you can fuck off home.

Merchant's Quay shopping centre.

The others were nodding. I looked down at the Virgin bag in his hand. Shouldn't spend all your money on shite, I said.

As we passed Londis, an old fella outside was running a coin over a scratchcard but he was looking at us and shaking his head. I couldn't tell if he'd seen what we'd done or if he just hadn't won any money.

Coming around the corner, we could see a whole pile of them outside the entrance to the shopping centre, a sea of paper bags and expensive jeans and jumpers. There was a hum of whiny posh accents filling the street. They were taking their new stuff out and showing it to each other and being hyper and annoying. 

There were a lot of other people around, flowing in and out the main doors or waiting for buses. Two old ones smoking fags in their Marks & Spencer's uniforms looked at the boys with their noses turned up. A fat security guard came out, his hands behind his back, and told the boys to clear off, letting go of his wrist to wave them away. A little stump of a tongue came out and licked the corner of his black moustache. They did as he said and moved towards the traffic lights. Two of them split from the group here and went straight on. The rest, about ten, went back over Patrick's Bridge. We followed them. The security fella's eyes passed over us slowly and then rolled back inside the shopping centre, followed by his feet.

My leg had long gone numb. The blade wasn't cold anymore, it was clammy and sticking to me. I was dying to whip it out. Carey bit his fingernails and stared at their backs. The same beggar asked them for money and they ignored him. He asked us too. We already told ya we'd nothing, Carey said.

When they reached the end of the bridge, they turned left on the quay. We closed in and circled around the front of them, stopping on the narrow footpath. They were wedged between parked cars on their right and the railing on their left. I watched a Punto roll past in the street and didn't speak till it was gone. The boys were looking at each other, around, at Carey, not up at me. Listen here. Look at me, I said. I want ye to reach into yere pockets and yere bags and take out everything ye have and give it to us.

Carey crossed his arms. Do what he says, he said.

The boys started to go into their pockets. They looked confused. One of them handed me a twenty, another forty euros. That's all I have.

I don't have anything, one said, patting his jeans.

Neither do I, said another.

He was digging into his pockets and turning them inside out. I just stood, looking back and forth amongst the ten of them, squashed into a little triangle in front of me. I sighed and reached into my pants and gripping the handle, slowly brought out the knife, every inch of it thicker than the last. You could tell from their eyes they thought it would keep coming forever. As the point came clear of my waistband, one of them took off running, back towards the bridge. He had a rucksack bouncing on his back, weighing him down. He ran like a heavy, injured bird. Carey was after him in a shot and caught hold of the bag firmly. I turned back to the nine remaining and pointed the knife in the air before their faces. Two of them were crying. I wondered if any of them would piss their pantses. I don't give a shit what kind of excuses ye wanna come out with. See this knife? I swear to God biys I'll ram this into ye so hard it'll come out the other side. Give me every fuckin cent ye have on ye. Now!

Their hands came flying out with notes and coins, every one of them. They were digging deep in those pockets. They'd have given me their underwear if I wanted it. Phones too, I said. Gimme that bag.

Only twelve years old and they all had mobile phones. Motorolas, Nokia 3310s, 3510s and all with the coloured screens. I was shoving them into the paper bag when I heard a wailing ahead of me. I'd forgotten about Carey and the runner and when I'd a sconce over, it took me a second to understand what I was seeing. They looked joined together. But then I saw. Carey had stuck the kid headfirst over the railing and he was facing down on the river, screaming. He had the boy's legs over his shoulders in a kind of piledriver and was holding him loosely behind the knees, shaking him left and right. The backpack was leaping with him noisily. As I ran over, the young fella's friends took off.

Gis your fuckin money, Carey was saying. He sounded exhausted.

Have you gone mad, biy? I said. Put him down.

He stopped shaking the boy and looked at me, confused, but he didn't argue. He almost seemed relieved. He went to pull the kid back over the railing when the young fella kicked out suddenly. He thrashed his legs and caught Carey right on the chin. Carey let go of him, pushing his legs away. Ya bastard, he said, holding his mouth. 

The boy's legs balanced in the air and for a second it looked unbelievable. Like he was doing gymnastics. I thought then he must be some sort of mad strong child you see on the Internet or something, one of them freaks like Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was a kid, doing a handstand there above the water. But then he flipped forward in a somersault. He slapped his back off the wall beneath the bars and fell like a dummy, feetfirst, into the river with a crash.

He surfaced and his bag popped up behind him, bobbing there like a second head. We watched as his little arms came out, clutching at the air. The bag must have been keeping him afloat. There were dark circles on the water around him. Carey was still holding his chin, watching quietly.

The boy was coughing hoarsely and trying to paddle towards the steps on the opposite wall but he hit a current moving down the centre of the river and it took him easily and swept him away. He started screaming like a girl but I think he was swallowing mouthfuls of water too because a strange yodelling sound came out. The sound rebounded off the walls and headed down the river with him. They seemed like separate things travelling together towards the bridge, growing more distant, him and that sound.

The beggar had stood up and was peering over the low wall at the boy coming towards him. He looked across at me. I slowly put the knife back in my pants. The boy kept on floating. He vanished under the bridge where we couldn't see him for the shadows. The beggar looked down at the footpath as if he could see through it and then turned and watched the river on the other side. All three of us kept our eyes on the water, waiting for him to reappear.

 

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Alan O'Gorman is a writer from Cork. He is currently based in Manchester, where he works in a high school. His fiction has appeared in Vantage and Notes from the Underground. He holds an MSc in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh and a BA in History from UCC.