The first time I sat on the the back of a 1970’s Ducati I had no idea it might give me piles for the rest of my life.
‘This thing is so bloody uncomfortable,’ shouted Nick as we headed down the little hill towards Crowhurst. Beneath us I could see the tarmac racing past and I looked up just in time to see the Holbrook house. I’d spent a good few afternoons there playing video games and pissing about in the garden with an air rifle. Annameka also lived there. She was my friend’s sister and she had slightly goofy teeth but she looked great in her brown uniform. I tried to catch a glimpse as we sailed past but it was no use, there was nobody home.
Nick geared down as we came to the bottom of the hill and then opened up the throttle as we accelerated out towards the next bend. I felt secure on this bike and in some ways this surprised me. It roared in a way that a BMW couldn’t or wouldn’t. Perhaps I felt secure being on the back with Nick because he represented a kind of stability. In all honesty, I didn’t know.
I’d dealt quite well with relocation. We’d gone from living out in the country in a rural retreat to another small village some 15 miles away. But it wasn’t as pretty. The house was different and although it was arranged over three floors it had a distinctly different feel. There was no homely kitchen and being next to a row of shops and a railway station didn’t help. At night I heard the trains come and go and I wondered where they were headed next and who was on them. I’d once driven through Redhill and watched people get off at the station. These people had jobs and wore suits and some of them looked irritated and bored.
I started hanging out with the local kids. I’d spent the best part of three years virtually on my own making a friend of nature and taking the dog for endless walks across the fields. You could find all kinds of things to do if you set your mind to it. About a mile from where we had lived I found a ruined house with great stone pillars that had crashed to the ground. Evidently the place had fallen into disrepair or burned down or something. I’d go out there on my own with some sandwiches and the dog and make up stories in my head about what had happened. Once when I was digging around I found something that looked like a painting and I started to imagine what kind of people might have lived there. They were royal types who didn’t need society. They lived in some glorious vaccuum and had evidently reached some kind of bizarre and untimely end. Late at night when the weather was bad I’d look across the fields from my bedroom window and try to see my spot. Once I saw a bright white light coming from beyond the woods and I imagined it must be coming from the ruined house. The light kept coming and going because it was windy and raining and eventually I quit and fell into a deep sleep dreaming of the couple that must have lived there. Opulence, disaster.
The kids who lived nearby to our new house were a rag tag bunch and I never got to see where it was they actually lived. I ran into them at the railway station one evening when I was bored, wandering aimlessly with little to do. Mum had taken a job on a local paper and Nick was rarely to be seen. Sometimes I’d see him early in the morning but he’d come and go and leave me to do as I pleased. Without the country I found myself at a loose end and I was looking for stimulation, looking for action.
The station maybe saw two trains and an hour and consequently it was a desolate place. Most of the kids would hang out on the platform, smoking cigarettes and generally swearing a lot. I wasn’t used to having young people around and I was drawn to their sense of lawlessness, fun and danger. There was one girl. She was blonde, as blonde as the sun and I first saw her when she was buying chocolate in the village store. Then I saw her with her friend amongst the others on the platform and I knew I had to investigate.
‘I saw you the other day’, I said.
‘Did you?’ she giggled. Her friend turned to her and she laughed.
‘Oy Bowlhead!’ shouted one of the boys. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Gabriel? What kind of fucking name is that?’.
‘I dunno.’ I said.’ Just a name.’
‘Come over here,’ he said. ‘I’m Nathan. Come over here will ya?’
I walked over to the others. There were two other guys and the girls and they were smoking a cigarette.
‘Here you go,’ he said. ‘Smoke this.’
I took it and then took a drag. A big drag like a fool and I coughed and spluttered, gagging.
‘Aha ha Gaylord. That’s no good is it?’ he said. ‘You wanna sort that out.’
I gave it back and looked at him.
‘We’re only kidding,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry Gabrielle.’
I liked him. I guess he was the group leader but I thought he was Ok if a little nasty.
‘Right Gabrielle we’re down here to have some fun,’ he said. ‘were gonna have some fun with next train aren’t we guys?’ he said.
The others nodded and I looked on.
‘Ah you gonna help?’ said the blonde girl.
‘I dunno.’ I said.
‘You dunno,’ said Nathan, that’s no good is it?’
I wasn’t quite sure what to do but I felt like I wanted to be in on what was going on. I felt mildly excited, intoxicated even.
‘We’re gonna put something on the track,’ said the blonde girl. ‘I’m Amanda by the way.’
I looked over and then I noticed Nathan get up and disappear behind the shelter and heard him struggling with something. There was a moment of calm then he shouted ‘Jimmy come here will ya?’.
The other boy got up and went round to help him and after a minute they both appeared dragging a piece of breeze block.
‘See this,’ he said. ‘This is going on that track,’ he said and he pointed in our direction. We looked down at the block. It was combursome and filthy, covered with mud. There were rusty coils of steel poking out from the side and it looked dangerous. I stood and watched them grab it and start pushing it towards the edge of the platform.
‘Come on Gabrielle help us,’ said Nathan. ‘Take one side of it so we can get it down there. That fucking train’ll be here in no time.’
I looked around at the others. Then I looked down the road towards the shop but I couldn’t see any one. I looked at the clock on the platform. It said 4.50pm.
‘Why don’t you just leave it there?’ I said. ‘Just leave it.’
‘Come on Gaylord, don’t be like that, get over here and help,’ said Nathan.
I walked over to where they were standing and looked at him. He had fair skin and a thin, wiry kind of underfed look. He looked tough though. He’d have me I thought. I was pretty big for my age but I knew he could have me.
I leant forward and began pushing the block with my foot.
‘Come on do it properly for fucks sakes,’ he said.
‘Go on Gabrielle,’ said Amanda. ‘ Help him.’
I leant down and grabbed the thing with both hands. It seemed heavy but we managed to lever it over to the the edge of the platform and with a heafty shove it disappeared off the side and onto the track. I looked over and saw it lying grotesque and inert. Nathan jumped down next to it and began hauling it closer to the steel rail. I glanced down the track and saw the dim lights of a train in the distance. It would be loaded with commuters and the kind of people that I had seen at the the station and I wondered what would happen when the train hit the block, what it would do.
‘Come on for fucks sakes,’ said Nathan. Jimmy leapt down next to him and they managed to haul the thing even nearer to the rail. I felt Amanda next to me and could smell her warm scent. It was the first time I’d felt this near a girl. First I’d seen her and now I could actually feel her.
‘Go on Gabrielle, go down there and help’ she said.
I looked into her eyes and saw that they were blue. She had a thin chain around her neck and I saw the word ‘Amanda’ hanging there.
‘Come on Gaylord it’s coming!’ shouted Nathan as he struggled with the block. ‘ Get down here so we can lay it across.’
I turned, lowered myself over the edge and then down onto the track. Straight away I wondered how I was going to get up again but then I saw the lights of the train in the distance and realised I didn’t have much time. Where were the adults?, I thought and I looked up towards the girls. Still there was no one on the platform so I took one end of the block and helped them lift it onto the rail.
‘Go on Gabrielle,’ shouted Amanda from the platform. ‘Go for it.’
‘I am,’ I heard myself say and looked at Nathan. There was sweat on his brow and he was grinning with excitement. We could hear the train on the rails now. It was a high pitched humm, almost electrical.
‘That’s it’ said Nathan. ‘That’s enough. Get back up. Quickly for fuck’s sakes!’
Standing by the platform edge I tried to swing my legs up on to it but I realised I couldn’t because it was too high. Nathan was taller than me. He looked over and then he motioned to Jimmy who was standing beside us. I looked past him to the train and I realised I could see the driver in the window. I started to panic.
‘Come on Gabrielle,’ screamed Amanda.’ Fucking hurry up.’
‘I am,’ I said and I grabbed the platform edge with both hands. The train was moments away and the driver must have seen us. He sounded the horn. It rang out like thunder across the airwaves and I felt a chill shoot through me. The others were up by now and they both leant over and grabbed me by the scruff off the neck. I felt my body move up towards the others and saw Amanda’s legs and her trainers. She had stripey socks, red and black I thought, like the guy from the Beano comics. The horn sounded again this time very close and my hands scrabbled across the surface of the platform looking for purchase. Suddenly I felt my legs go clear and they hauled me up and over and onto the hard surface. I turned back just in time to see the train sail past, a flourish of metal and warm lighting and human faces dull and then shocked when they saw us.
‘Fuck’ I said to myself quietly.
‘Fuck me,’ said Nathan breathlessly. ‘We did it.’