Council Estate Jesus
By Mark Burrow
The stones are lined out to throw. Baz has the broken bricks. We crouch behind the second-floor balcony of the flats. He peeks to see if he can spot the hearse.
“It’s coming,” he whispers, shifting back into cover. He looks at me and says, “There’s a lot of numpties out there.”
That’s what he calls the people on the estate, numpties.
“Loads of them.”
I peer over the ledge. He’s not wrong. Numpties everywhere. They stand in a row at the side of the road. Wait on the balconies in the other flats. Tattooed arms lean out of windows. All paying their last respects to the estate’s Caretaker, Ol’ Paddy Gannon.
Baz is having second thoughts. I can see it in his peepers. “Don’t bottle it.”
“I’m not bottling nothing.”
Ol’ Paddy Gannon – the former Caretaker, I should say – was the heartbeat of the estate. He fixed lights, phoned for lift engineers to come out, dealt with fly-tipping, and listened to numpty tales of lumbago, arthritis, high-blood pressure, divorces and depression. He even made time for Mad Tom, who was out of Brixton nick after serving 20-odd years.
Me and Baz didn’t rate Ol’ Paddy Gannon. He was a jumped-up handyman with delusions of being the law. Telling us off for climbing lamp posts. Going onto roofs. Cycling in the road. You name it. We’d be minding our own business, smoking a spliff in the stairwell of a block of flats, and he’d come up in his baggy grey uniform, with the cheap cap, and tell us to move on.
“It’s not your job, mate.”
“Don’t tell me my job.”
“You’re not a copper.”
“No, but I can easily get one if that’s what you want.”
It figured that the numpties loved him. The annoying thing was that so did the hard nuts on the estate. The ones who hated authority, such as Mad Tom. You couldn’t say a bad word against Ol’ Paddy Gannon. It was as if he was Council Estate Jesus or something.
I look at the hearse. It comes slow round the bend by the playground and the pub, followed by three black cars. The punters are spilling out of the boozer. They put their pint glasses on the ground. Kids stop playing footie. Heads are dipped.
Baz starts looking too. “We’re going to be spotted,” he says.
“No-one’s seen us. They’re too busy gawping at the stupid coffin.”
I’ve never seen anything like this before. Usually the numpties stay hidden, only appearing in numbers when there’s a fire or the coppers arrive for a stabbing or a woman getting done in.
Baz has a point. I pull off my dirty white t-shirt and wrap it round my head, knotting it at the back and making a slit so I can see what I’m doing. He gulps and does the same with his fake football shirt that his stepdad pinched. He pretends it’s a Liverpool top. I reckon it’s more like Swindon Town.
I check left, then right. Looking for nosy old biddies who might grass us up. We’re at the far end of the flats for sheltered accommodation, tucked into the nook of the balcony’s ‘L’. The biddy who lives behind us stays indoors mostly. I’ve seen her once, answering the door for meals-on-wheels.
Baz says she has long white hairs on her chinny chin-chin.
“Oi, bottle job, you ready?”
Can’t say I want to do this either. Still, I won’t bottle it. No way. I can see Baz is scared out of his mind. He has the same expression after his stepdad pays a visit to his bedroom in the dead of night.
There are yellow flowers resting against the coffin. Bright as the sun in the pale blue sky. The flowers spell out a word: “DADDY.”
I stand up, bare-chested. The sweat is dripping off me in the heat. I look at the hearse and the long window for us to view the coffin. I wait until the car comes level with me and then I start throwing the stones, one after the other. Baz is bigger than me and stronger and his first brick smashes the window.
(I’m a better fighter than Baz).
My last stone smashes the glass on the driver’s door.
The whole world is fixing us with its peepers. Baz runs. I follow him down the stairs. Baz veers left. That’s a mistake. I dart right and into the piss-smelling alley and then along the back garages. The sound of screams behind me. Women crying. Swearing. Numpties shouting at me from the rear balconies. I cut down an alley to escape their line of sight.
Heart pounding. Lungs burning. Keep legging it. Going as fast as I can. I jump onto a high wall and pull myself up. Shards of bottle glass are cemented along the top. I slice open the palm of my left hand and then a kneecap. I tumble down onto the other side, landing in a tangle of weeds. I’m in a boarded off alley that runs parallel to the gardens of the posh houses.
I smell the nettles and bindweed. I reach for my t-shirt to use it as a bandage and realise it’s fallen off my head. The left leg of my ripped blue jeans is dark red. The skin is wet and warm. I look at the cut and can see gristle and a segment of kneecap.
I think about staying here. I would too, if I was alone.
Council Estate Jesus stands in front of me, wearing his grey caretaker’s outfit with its peak cap. I’m not listening to what he’s saying. I’m in no mood for a smug numpty lecture. Heard it enough from teachers. Coppers. Psychologists.
Their voices sound like police sirens.
I lay down, feeling the sun-warmed nettles on my back and arms. The ants and earwigs and beetles crawl underneath.
“You had this coming.”
There’s a sound of laughter.
Hard to tell if it’s me or him.