WATERMELON

 

The cops came into school to show us this film once. It was a thing they were doing to try and stop kids carrying guns and knives, and they showed us what it looks like in slow motion when a bullet’s fired into different things; a glass of milk, an egg, a watermelon - stuff like that. According to them, the one that’s most like a human is the watermelon. The bullet slices straight through it. Its skin splits open as the whole thing explodes, then the mashed up flesh and juice splatter out into a big, red, gushing mess. If you go to Google videos and search for ‘bullet’ and ‘watermelon’, you’ll find it.

Well I didn’t actually see the bullet go into him that day. By the time I’d forced my eyes open, his body was already slumped in Frankie’s doorway. But then I had to look at him up close, and that’s when I knew they were right; it was red, and it was gushing, and it was a mess. 

Difference is though, watermelons don’t look back.

 

ONE

Dead cool I was when I walked into that social worker’s office. I mean I’d done it all before, hadn’t I? Seen the faces, heard the words, sat through the meetings. It wasn’t just a case of having the T-shirt; I’d got the jeans, the trainers, and even the free laptop – well, I did have, ’til I sold it. 

So I slouched down in the chair and stared at Molly. ‘Go on then, who are they?’ 

‘Who?’ 

‘Who d’you think?’

She took a sip of coffee and smiled at me. ‘I assume you’re referring to your new carers?’

Oh the sarcastic comments. They pinged round my brain so fast I couldn’t decide which one to go for, but in the end I didn’t need any of ’em; my expression said it all.

Molly smiled again, then she picked a pen up off her desk and rolled it between her fingers and thumb. ‘Well, actually Mikey, you’re not going to be living with new foster carers this time.’

The smart comments vanished and I frowned. ‘What d’you mean?’

‘Well, as you know, there’s always a shortage of carers, and at the moment there’s no one who we feel can successfully meet your needs.’ 

What the hell was she on about? I mean there’d got to be somebody, somewhere; they weren’t gonna leave me to sleep on her office floor, were they?

‘So what then?’ I asked.

‘Holly House,’ she said cheerfully. ‘It’s a care home in Chapel Cross. The staff there are lovely. You’ll be well looked after and you’ll be with other young people your own age; you can make lots of new friends.’

I laughed. ‘Are you daft?’

Molly stopped smiling. ‘There really is nowhere else,’ she said.

I sat up straight then. ‘What? You’re tellin’ me that in the whole of Sheffield there’s no carers that have any space? Not even for a few days, ’til you can sort somethin’ else out?’

She chewed the end of the pen before she answered. ‘It’s not exactly that we have no carers available at all, Mikey, it’s just that with your … difficulties … it has to be a very knowledgeable and experienced placement. They have to be people who are prepared to work with you. And at present there just isn’t anyone who can do that.’ 

‘Difficulties?’ I shouted, as I jumped to my feet. ‘I wouldn’t have any fuckin’ difficulties if you lot did your jobs properly and found me somewhere decent to live.’

Molly wheeled her spinny-round chair backwards a bit. ‘I understand exactly how you must be feeling,’ she said calmly. ‘But I can assure you we did everything possible to find you a new carer; there was just nowhere that was appropriate. Why don’t you try and keep an open mind? Give Holly House a chance? You might really like it.’

I shook my head. Would she really like it? Getting dumped somewhere you’ve never been to before? Having to share a bog and a shower and a fridge with a load of strangers? Everybody knowing you’re only there because absolutely nobody else wants you? At least in foster care you can try and pretend things are a bit like normal; pretend you’re a bit like all the other kids who’ve got a home and a family. 

I shoved hard against the desk with both hands. It was lighter than I expected, and it jerked back quicker and further than I thought it would. The mug went flying; coffee spilled all over the place, and the papers, folders and pens and stuff all got soaked. Some of it must’ve gone on Molly as well, cos she sprung up like Zebedee as I turned away. 

‘Mikey! You need to calm down. We can’t discuss your placement properly while you’re behaving like this.’ 

‘It dun’t sound like there’s much left to discuss, does it? It sounds like all the decisions have already been made. As usual!’ I punched the wall next to the doorframe and thought my knuckles were gonna explode with the pain. But they didn’t, and it didn’t stop me doing it again either. 

I had to put my other hand on the wall then to keep me steady, and I leaned forward until my forehead pressed against the cold glass in the door. Closing my eyes, I concentrated on the blackness. 

‘I know it might not always seem like it to you, but we do try our best to place young people in the most suitable accommodation.’ Molly’s voice was quiet and controlled again. She carried on talking, saying loads of other words, but I didn’t listen. I made myself think about the dark. Don’t let any other thoughts in your head, nothing else, just the darkness in front of your eyes. 

Gradually, my breathing got slower, and by the time I looked back round the coffee had been wiped up and Molly was re-arranging the stuff on her desk. There was a photo of a dog I hadn’t noticed before. It was one of those little grey things with hair like a sheep. The basket it was curled up in was all soft and fleecy, and a gold disk dangled down from its bright red collar.

‘What if I don’t go?’ I said.

‘There’s nowhere else, love, honestly. It’s where you should be now, and if you’re not there we have to report you missing to the police. They’ll just pick you up and take you straight back.’

Slowly, I went over and slumped in the chair again, but I kept my head down so Molly couldn’t see my face. 

She knew she’d won then. She knew this was her chance to get rid of me as well, and she jumped at it. ‘I wanted to drive you over there myself,’ she said, picking the phone up quickly. ‘But something urgent came up so I ordered you a taxi. It should be here by now; I’ll just phone down to reception and check.’

***

The taxi had come, and after half an hour of me pissing the driver off by fastening and unfastening the seatbelt, it pulled up at the bottom of some steps outside a tall, dark, terraced house in Chapel Cross. There was no sign or anything saying what it was, just a green front door that had a wooden board up where the glass bit should’ve been. 

The taxi driver was supposed to wait ’til somebody came to meet me, but he didn’t. ‘There you go then,’ he said, and he started writing something down in his book.

My trainers crunched on a load of shattered glass as I stepped out of the car and looked around. Most of the houses had those metal shutter things up to their windows and doors, and they were all covered in tags: S16 … Steely … CCT Crew. The edge of the road was lined with old chip papers and scratch cards and stuff, and somebody’d used the plastic seat under the bus shelter to wipe the dog shit off their shoes. Even the houses that were lived in looked scruffy. The gardens were overgrown, some of the windows were cracked, and although it was the middle of the afternoon, they all had their curtains shut tight. 

Jesus, what’re they playing at? Why would anybody put a kids’ care home here? In one of the roughest parts of the city?

I suppose it’s because all the people who live in nice houses, and who don’t keep old mattresses and tellies in their front gardens, don’t want a load of lager drinking, weed smoking ‘youfs’ hanging around on their street corner. And maybe you can’t blame ’em. But whether they like it or not, they shouldn’t have a choice. I mean I didn’t have a choice, did I? 

Reaching into my pocket, I pulled my last fag out and lit it quickly, then I watched as a little kid came wobbling down one of the paths opposite. All she had on was a baggy grey T-shirt that probably used to be white. She didn’t even have any shoes on or anything, and she was just about to toddle through the glass on the pavement when a guy appeared. ‘Atlanta, get back in this fuckin’ house, now,’ he yelled. The little girl stopped and looked at him, but she didn’t move, even when he shouted, ‘Now!’ about another four times. Eventually, he stormed over to where she was standing, lifted her up by her wrist and carted her back into the house. She didn’t make a sound the whole time.

The taxi drove off then, and I almost ran after it. I knew there was nowhere else for me to go, and I knew he wouldn’t have let me get back in anyway, but I just didn’t want him to leave me. Not here, not in this dump full of shit and scrubbers. 

I took a long last drag on the cigarette and ground the butt into the pavement. I’d have gone absolutely anywhere with anybody at that minute, I know I would. If Hannibal Lecter’d turned up on his way home from the off-licence and invited me back for tea, I’d have been off. 

But the sound of the door swinging open at the top of the steps, made me stop, and turn round.

 

Buy Now - £6.99 - FREE postage

 

Opens internal link in current windowBack to Young Adult Books

Opens internal link in current windowBack to Competition