Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Near Llandaff

I’ll see you there

I’m near Llandaff bro, I’ll see you there. I was actually in Fairwater so it wouldn’t take too long to get there, but it’s better to lock those boys in. They said they’d be driving.

Black Audi A1 just down by the cathedral man. We’ll see you there.

It was a minging day to be walking I tell you. Proper overcast, threatening to rain any minute. I pull my hoodie up around my head. I’m wearing all black, full Nike tracksuit, and I’m striding at speed as the cars go by. I look like any youth, but I’m illicit. Fingering the little bag of weed in the front pocket of my hoodie. Yea it’s good shit man, is what I usually say, even if I’m selling Sainsbury’s thyme to kids in school. But this stuff is banging, proper gets you block up man.

I got it from this Somali boy from London the other week, he pulled up in a BMW out in Penarth. Quiet there like. No one going to see anything, but I was nervous to be fair. Somalis bro. They freak me out, always talking in that language ‒ Arabic or something. But there were four of them, and even when I handed over the cash I was nervous like. I can handle myself, but they have those faces where you never know where you stand. Yea boss you got tha monee, all smiling, but there’s definitely something going on there like.

Still Dre and the bass is detonating through me. What can I say? Cal-i-for-ni-A. Nah Big Ego’s, that’s the one, and my face is like a gargoyle set in stone. You know not to fuck with me as I stride past. I set my shoulder rigid, hang it out there as a guy walks past and catch him with a spiteful edge. With a stumble he turns back to look at me and sees a look like thunder. Where niggas die everyday over some shit they say. Prick I say over my breath so he hears.

I’m a bit high like, smoked some of that draw before I left. Always smoking that shit my missus shouted as I swung the door behind me: sitting on the sofa with the sprog, Hobnob crumbs on creaking leather, Kardashians on the telly. Fuckin’ chill out luv. Gotta test out the product don’t I.

Eminem now. I see this kid’s bike, like a beached fish on a front lawn, and without breaking stride and with a look over my shoulder, I grab it and cycle off. I can hear family noise wafting out through the open front door so I cycle quickly. There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti. I’m whooping in my head as the wind blows across my face, and my eyes water. Haha yes bro, literally just nicked this bike on my way, I’ll say when I see those boys.

We actually all went to the same school together. A cathedral school, not far from the cathedral where I’m meant to be meeting them. It was pretty posh I must admit.

And I was proper naughty.

I got suspended once for fighting, but it was this kid that everyone in the year used to bully. The kid was the biggest nerd, always with his hand in the air before Miss even finished her sentence. I battered him to be fair, but he had been needling me and deserved it bro. He called me thick, bottom set maths. But it was the way he looked at me too, like he really meant it.

So I absolutely laid him out. And the deputy head was the one who disciplined me. I felt bad then, said that he appreciated things weren’t well at home, but I had given him no choice. My shirt was untucked with a fat stubby tie, and it was the summer term. I remember the damp smell of mud and grass because I’d been told to go straight from the playground to the deputy’s office.

You have to go right past the school playing fields to get to the cathedral. It looks the same as I free-wheel past. Even though it’s cold as fuck, and my hands are like Tesco fish fingers on these handlebars, there are some lads out playing cricket. I haven’t played in years bro. Literally I was so sick. I’ve got one hand fingering the baggie still as I cycle past. In assembly you’d get given a cricket ball if you scored a half ton and I got given so many of them, smiling mischievously as I got up to collect the new cricket ball off the deputy-head ‒ I’d much rather see you like this than under the usual circumstances. I got a cricket bat too for scoring a century once. Kookaburra. Mum left dad around then so I only had this shite V100. I remember that summer smashing new balls against that bat, and they left a red smudge on the wood. You’d just hear the echo of the ball on the bat, bouncing around the field like someone had dropped something.

The weed’s wearing off now. So annoying man. Everything seems less somehow, and I’m nearly at the cathedral. Yes boys, how’s it going, and there’s two lads in a black Audi A1 parked up.There’s music tumbling out the open windows even though it’s cold. Let’s have a fag bruv, and one of them obliges because I’m the dealer, and there’s always this funny dynamic like.

Haven’t see you in years bruv. In uni is it? I say this while breathing out the fag smoke, and give him back the lighter. I’m not really listening to the answer. Smoke a lot up there is it? Yea man, blazing everyday bruv. Ah wicked, bet the parties are bare good. I’m going Bristol to see this DJ next month, gonna be sick, selling bare draw to students man.

What about you bruv, and I half recognise the other one as one of these kids from school. He’s smoking a straight, and ashing it every two seconds with his arm hanging out the window. I swear we was in the same class. History he says. Fucking hell yea, and he was. He was one of the other nerd kids like, but I liked him from memory. Not like that kid I laid out that time. With Mr Thomas wasn’t it? Yea he said. Fuckin’ ell I used to drive him mad, me and Lloyd just makin’ fartin’ noises at the back like. The guy laughed again. He had a smart jumper on, and when he asked if the weed was good, his voice didn’t sound anywhere near as Cardiff as I thought it would.

You in London are you, bruv? I picked up off these Somali lads from London, fucking hell man, Somalis I swear. Always out to rob you innit. They both laughed at this, and the one who gave me a cigarette to make conversation and with a grin said ‒ That can’t be your real bike bro.

This was my moment! Haha yes bro, literally just nicked this bike on my way I say drawing on the cigarette, and to be fair the bike is clearly not mine. It’s pink and tiny, laying on the ground next to the wheel of the Audi. Both lads laugh incredulously now. You’re so funny man, the one I half remember from school says, but I wonder if he’s taking the piss because he glances at the one who gave me a fag. Sorry little girl, need to sell some drugs like! And we’re all laughing again.

I roll a joint and spark it. No offence to these lads but they stayed at posh school so I think I’m qualified to roll a better zoot than they are. I have all the paraphernalia I need: lush metal grinder from the Dam, roach card and some big silvers. I roll an absolute cone, and we’re chilling there smoking it, down past the cathedral. We left the car parked up, and we’re chilling behind some trees by the path. A dog walker sees us, but who gives a fuck. It’s good weed, and the smoke sits flat on the air around us. My eyes feel full, and I’m bang up for talking.

Bro do you remember how sick you were at cricket man, says the one who gave me the fag. Ha yes bro I used to absolutely smash it round the park. Genuinely my average was infinity one season no joke and we’re all laughing loads now, and their faces look all tinged with grey like the weed smoke is in their skin. Do you play much now, or? Nah man. I went college didn’t I and their facilities were shit bro I swear. Didn’t bother with county either during sixth form man, so much training and then I got into the sticky-icky! They laugh again and I change the topic.

What about you man, I say to the one I half remember, cos I know the other guy a bit better. Oh wow, law school is it? Might need your help one day man, if I keep going with the game bro. I’m joking when I say this, but my mate got sent down last year. He was selling coke though, and you know how it is if you get into that shit man. He got pulled over on the M4 by an undercover car, proper shit, because he was picking up a load from these Albanian guys. Serious stuff man. The lad laughs, but then he starts explaining about how criminal law doesn’t pay and about how he wants to do company law or some shit. I’m not fully following to be honest. Different world bruv.

Good green, innit? I say changing topic again. Yea man, not too harsh at all, and then we go silent for a bit, and you can hear the wind rustle the leaves, and maybe a lonely bird in the distance.

The spliff’s done and I flick it away into some bushes. Well lads, next time you’re down from uni give me a buzz like, or if you want a load before you go back let me know. I can put a call in to my guy if it’s a few ounces. We walk back to the black Audi, and it’s getting darker and more cold. They get in, the beams shoot mesmerising light, and the wheels make this satisfying gravelly noise as the car pulls away. Nice one man, says the one I know better out the window, but the other one has his head in his phone. I don’t feel like riding this stupid pink bike now, so I wheel it alongside me, and I don’t feel like going past the cathedral school either, so I carry on along the path into the woods behind the cathedral.

I think I can get home that way.

I’m not striding this time as I walk. I don’t feel like listening to my music either, so the ear buds dangle out the top my hoodie, swinging with each step. I’ve pulled my sleeves over my hands, and every now and again I cup them and breathe warm breath on them. It’s freezing.

The path splits into two ahead of me, and I take the one which has less wear. I think it heads to the river because I can hear the low rumble of rushing water, but I can’t be sure. I wonder for a second where the other one leads, but the river is loud now, the Taff I think. It’s fully dark so all I see are the choppy shadows of waves roaring past. Behind me the cathedral stands in the distance like a silent sentinel. Fuck this stupid pink bike bro I think, and pivoting like a hammer thrower, I hurl the stupid pink bike into the river.

It takes silent flight against the dark grey sky, before the rushing torrent takes it. There’s not even a splashing noise because the river roars so loudly. That was like one of my cricket hook shots it was. Where you generate all this power from your body’s rotation. I’m blowing after that and my breath forms little clouds in the air around me like cigarette smoke.

I keep walking along the path ‒ apart from the river all I can hear is the crunch of my trainers on the gravel. It’s just me now so I follow the path along the river, wherever it takes me.

‘Near Llandaff’ was featured in the Bridport Prize 2018 anthology which you can purchase at the link below!