Authors: Helen Black
Praise for Helen Black:
‘A dark and gripping read that will have you on the edge of your seat.’
‘A fantastic first novel.’ Jane Elliott on
A Place of Safety
‘Terrific! A great read from start to finish.’ Jessie Keane (author of
‘Unexpected and moving …
A Place of Safety
is written with sympathy and humour.’
To Joseph and Phoebe
Also by Helen Black, in the Lilly Valentine series
About the Author
My thanks must go to Krystyna Green and everyone at C&R. Lilly has found a new home and I’m sure she’ll be happy.
Next comes a shout out to the Buckman posse, always
I must also thank Lynne McA, who kindly agreed to give the very rough first draft of
a read through. The
was as impressive as her comments were helpful.
Last, but by no means least, are my fantastic family. If I say so myself, we rock.
We’ve run the length of the estate and my breath comes out in weird little grunts. I glance at Malaya but she’s staring straight ahead. Either she hasn’t heard me or she knows better than to comment.
We slow to a jog, Malaya’s bangles jangling up and down her doughy wrist. Three of them. All gold. When I next get some peas, I’m buying me some of those.
We stop outside a chip shop, panting. A woman comes out with a hot parcel under her arm. The delicious smell of steam and vinegar fills the air and my stomach growls. When we’ve done this thing I’m heading straight to KFC, man.
Malaya looks up at the pair of box-fresh Nikes, tied together by their laces, and dangling from the telephone wire. We’ve crossed into South Side territory.
‘What will they do if they catch us?’ Malaya asks.
‘What would we do if we caught someone slipping into our ends?’ I shrug.
She knows the answer to that one.
We set off again, past the Spar, already closed for the night, metal shutters down, and into the estate.
I can tell Malaya’s bricking it. Her eyes are wide in her fat face. She wants to be part of the crew, course she does, but she wishes the entry ticket wasn’t so expensive.
I remember my jump in. Fuck, man. I had to cut some girl’s face. I was so pumped I nearly took her nose off.
We round the car park and arrive at a disused ground floor flat. The windows are boarded up providing a blank canvas on which the words South Side Massive are spray-painted in letters
Underneath are the tags of all the South Side members. Carmel, Chelsea and that crazy motherfucker Yo Yo, who would cut you open as soon as look at you. Then there’s Michaela, Kadene and that slag Tanisha McKenzie. Plus a load of others I don’t even recognise. Youngers.
For the first time I feel apprehensive and toss a spray can to Malaya. The South Siders are bad people and we don’t want to get caught.
‘Let’s do it.’
Malaya begins to write next to the mural and I draw a massive arrow flanked by two footballs. When we’ve finished we step back to admire our handiwork:
South Side Massive suck
… and a huge pink cock covering the whole front door.
I can’t resist a laugh.
‘Fucking sick, man,’ says Malaya.
I nod and pull out my phone, take a picture of her grinning in front of it, her hand resting on top of an ugly bollock. Now we’re both laughing.
I spin to the sound of the voice. Shit. It’s that mental case, Yo Yo, barrelling towards us.
Malaya looks at me, her mouth opening and closing but no sound coming out.
I throw down my can. ‘Run.’
We dart sideways, out of Yo Yo’s path. I’m running hard now down the road and I can hear Malaya behind me, but I know Yo Yo won’t be far behind her. Up ahead I see the entrance to a swing park on the right. I crash through the gate, snagging my Adidas hoodie on a stray nail. Then I feel the sting and realize it’s sliced through more than my top. I put my hand to the gash in the material and feel the wet of blood on my fingers.
A group of white boys are huddled under the slide but I can tell by their scabby mouths and the stink of them that they’re glue-sniffers and won’t give us any trouble.
I risk a look behind me and see Malaya following, but she’s slowing down. Built for loving, not running. And Yo Yo is
up, her teeth bared like the animal she is. Another girl follows. Then another. Shit, the whole crew are on our case.
I pound across the rec when I hear a thump and a groan. Either Malaya’s fallen or they’ve caught her. Either way, I ain’t stopping. No way. I’m right at the other end of the rec, at the fence, and I throw myself over into an overgrown garden. I hit the deck, smelling dog shit and the plastic tang of used condoms.
I keep my head down and listen good. No footsteps are chasing me. All I can hear is crying.
I hold open a couple of spiky branches and peep through a tiny gap in a bush.
Malaya is in the middle of the rec, lying on the ground, curled up like a baby in one of those ultrasound pictures. She’s making a noise in her throat, somewhere between a sob and a choke.
Yo Yo stands over her. ‘So what you got to say, girl?’
She jabs Malaya with her foot. Not real hard. Just enough to make Malaya groan.
‘Cos I’m wondering what reason you got, coming into my area, disrespecting my people.’
Malaya doesn’t answer, just covers her face with her hands.
Yo Yo’s mouth twitches like she’s done a pipe or something. But trust me, that girl don’t need a stone to get riled.
‘You ain’t going to answer me, bitch?’ she screams down at Malaya. ‘Cos if you don’t give me some explanation, I’m going to show you what I’m all about.’
Some of the other girls step forward to form a semi-circle around Malaya’s head and I have to swallow my panic. I could call my own crew, get them over here. But they’re on the other side of Clayhill, waiting on us. How long would that take? Enough time for the South Side to find me.
All I can do is lay low and hope Malaya can take it.
Then I see that slag, McKenzie, put her hand on Yo Yo’s arm. ‘Don’t be vexing yourself, sister.’
Sister. I cringe at that. Back in the day, Tanisha and me used to roll together. Used to be like we was family. Not any more.
Yo Yo shrugs her off. ‘You saying we should just leave it?’
Tanisha shrugs, picks her thumb nail.
Yo Yo nods. ‘Maybe you’re right and we should just send this piece of shit back to where she came from.’
Then she starts to walk away. I can’t believe it. Malaya’s one lucky bitch. When Yo Yo’s taken two, maybe three steps, I allow myself to exhale.
Suddenly, she spins sharply and runs at Malaya. Lands a flying kick in her back. The thud of trainer against flesh makes me heave. Acid stings my throat.
I close my eyes, hoping a few lashes from Yo Yo will be
enough. Each kick is accompanied by a scream from Malaya. One, two, three, four.
I open my eyes, praying it’s over. That someone has interrupted them and sent the South Side scattering back to the estate like the fucking rats they are.
But no. The park is quiet. Even the glue-sniffers have sloped away. The only sound is Malaya quietly crying and Yo Yo panting like a dog.
She steps back, wipes her hand across her mouth. The others look to her expectantly. I hold my breath. Please let this be it. Let Yo Yo get bored.
Then I see it. The flash in her eye. Like an electric current. She ain’t bored. She ain’t even got herself started. She throws back her head and yells at the night sky. Then she jumps on Malaya and stamps on her head. The others join her. Punching, slapping,
. Shouting, screaming, laughing. Hysterical.
Nothing will stop them. They got da bloodrush.
‘You look terrible.’
Lilly fixed her son with a glare. It had been a long night. Long and draining.
Sam reached into the kitchen cupboard for a glass, leaving the door wide open. ‘Do you want me to lie?’
She considered pointing out that telling lies and not telling the whole bald and ugly truth at all times were not one and the same thing. That there was no moral obligation to state the bloody obvious.
‘What?’ Sam helped himself to a carton of juice and nudged the fridge shut with his hip. He slurped his drink and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
‘Nothing,’ said Lilly, and mentally filed this battle with the countless others marked ‘simply not worth it’.
Instead, she turned to Alice, who was smacking the tray of her high chair with a pudgy fist, and proffered a spoon of yoghurt.
‘At least you haven’t learned to talk yet,’ she said.
Alice rolled her head from side to side, her baby curls jiggling like a halo of red snails.
‘Come on, sweetie.’ Lilly brushed the spoon against her daughter’s lips. ‘Eat your breakfast.’
Alice clamped her mouth closed. More cat’s bum than
Sam leaned over, his fringe flopping into his eyes. He peered into the pot and wrinkled his nose at the white gloop.
‘Maybe she doesn’t like it, Mum.’
Lilly waved him away. ‘Of course she does.’
She waggled the spoon and its contents enticingly. Alice watched the trajectory of her breakfast with caution, her eyes
it from left to right. When it came within a whisper of her face, Alice gave a gummy grin.
‘She loves this stuff,’ Lilly sang out.
Her eyes twinkling, Alice opened wide and raised her hand as if she were about to give Lilly a high five.
‘See.’ Lilly was triumphant. ‘All babies love this stuff.’
The yoghurt wobbled as the spoon touched Alice’s lips,
her to laugh out loud. Then, without warning, she batted the spoon away, splattering Lilly in the eye.
Sam let out a hoot. ‘Let’s face it, Mum, Alice is just not like other babies.’
The doorbell rang and Lilly made her way through the hall, Alice under her arm. She carefully picked her way through an assault course of papers and wine bottles awaiting recycling and answered.
It was Jack. ‘Mary, Mother of God, you look awful.’
‘So would you if you’d been up all night.’
Alice held out her arms to Jack and Lilly passed her over.