Giddy girls forget their seat belts. It’s a known thing. At least it was to them, since they forgot to put on their seatbelts. Zangi cranked up the radio as some song that none of them knew blasted into the van. None of them knew it, but it had the right kind of energy to suit what they had at the moment. Their chatter was mostly just excited yelling punctuated by giddy laughter.
“Where the hell are we even going?!” Ravi howled.
“Scotland!” Tiana yelled.
Tahati cheered loudly. Simi was at the back of the van, trying to fit everyone else into the frame of her snapchat.
“We’ve hijacked the van and we’re driving to Scotland alone!” she cried.
The others cheered into the phone excitedly. Simi sent the snapchat to her story, and to Sapphire .
“How we gonna get there?” Zangi asked.
“Err, the M11?” Tiana grinned, but wasn’t sure.
“I’ll google it,” Simi called.
The excitement stayed firm as she googled the way they needed to be going.
“Try to keep on A-roads wherever possible,” Tiana called over everyone, “I can’t do motorways!”
“Fam, you’re gonna have to go on the M25 to get out of London. No two ways about it,” Ravi said.
“And then they’ll be signs for getting onto an A-road when you get out of there,” Zangi said.
Simi didn’t argue, so that became the plan. Although the idea of heading down the M25 scared the crap out of them. Especially with someone inexperienced and terrified behind the wheel. On the way there, they used quiet roads to practice changing gears, and figure out how the van operated. Tahati and Zangi helped, since they had watched Tristan drive, and were able to remember what did what. Mostly. And then they joined the M25 at Dartford.
“Oh no...” Simi gasped.
“What now?” Tahati groaned.
“What?! What’s wrong?!” Tiana asked anxiously.
“Dartford Tunnel tax. We didn’t factor in tolls,” Simi Explained.
“Well factor it in now, but don’t worry about this one. Since the change in payment techniques, they’ll take a photo of the licence plate, and the company will have until midnight to pay for it,” Tiana explained.
Her chest eased now. The car swerved into the running traffic. Chugging down the motor way was easier than Tiana had anticipated, but with her over excited friends screaming and shouting and singing around her, it was
distracting. She wanted to get off as soon as possible.
As they tore down the motorway, Zangi had gotten bored in the front seat. She climbed into the back, and Tahati climbed into the front as soon as she could. Simi had gotten into Tiana’s camera bag, and started taking photos. Ravi had to take off her seatbelt to lean over and help her figure out how to take off flash. Tiana ended up with thirty blurry, badly framed shots of her friends (or just chunks of her friends) in their pyjamas, without make up, and flat hair, and no filter. They weren’t happy with them, but no matter how many times they begged her to delete them, she would never tell them how to.
The excitement bubbled to calamity after the car slipped through the Dartford Tunnel. They continued to inch towards the motorway for another twenty minutes.
“That sign says A-Road. Go that way!” Tahati pointed to the first one she saw.
Tiana had to slow the car as she checked where the sign said it lead to, which was not approved of by Zangi.
“Come on, drive it like you stole it!” She shouted, with growing impatience.
“Chill fam,” Simi tutted.
“I don’t get that phrase,” Ravi said thoughtfully.
Zangi frowned in a way that made her caterpillar eyebrows wriggle.
“What’s not to get? Drive it at a hundred miles an hour and get away from police as fast as you can.”
“Yeah but that’ll arise suspicion. If you just stole it, you need to drive like a normal person so they don’t notice anything suspicious,” Ravi said.
Despite the argument raging behind her, Tahati was repeating, “go that way Man, go that way!”
The conversation distracted Tiana so she didn’t read the sign properly. However, just to shut Tahati up, she did. Knowing full well they were going to get lost.
In all honestly, she had no idea where she was going. Or how to get there. Or how long it would take. But it would be an adventure finding out!
They chugged onwards down the a-road, listening – and complaining about – the music that Tahati was choosing to play. Ravi groaned loudly as yet another traditional Iraq folk song came through the speakers. Tiana glanced in the mirror, instinctively as Ravi did.
Her gaze fell to Zangi. She’d climbed over the separations between sets of seats, to be in the middle on her own. She was now sitting in her done up coat, fur hood encircling her face, pretending it wasn’t twenty degrees within the car. Tiana burst into laughter.
“What do you look like?” Tiana laughed.
Immediately the others all turned to look. The girls in the far back craned their necks in an attempt to see better. Zangi lifted her chin in a failed attempt to see past the fluff. That’s when she realised everyone was looking at her.
“I’m an Eskimo,” she declared, proudly.
“Nah, Eskimos are white,” Ravi grinned.
Zangi squinted uncertainly. “No, Eskimos are aborigines.”
“Nah, they’re white. They gotta be white. They live on the ice!” Ravi argued.
Everyone was just staring at her now (except Tiana who was keeping her eyes on the road ahead) like she was stupid. Her smile wintered by didn’t go completely. She was trying to think what was going wrong.
“What? They’re white!” she insisted.
“What, they gotta blend in?” Simi asked sarcastically.
“Yeah?” Ravi said quietly.
Her smile still didn’t fade.
“Camouflage against the ice!” Tahati grinned.
“Are you thinking of polar bears?!” Tiana asked.
“Bismillah, you are thinking about polar bears!” Zangi gasped.
“Nah, Eskimos! Wait- what’s an Eskimo?” Ravi asked uncertainly.
“OH MY GOD!” Zangi exploded with laughter.
“You don’t know what an Eskimo is?!” Simi asked.
“Zangi is an Eskimo,” Tiana grinned helpfully.
“Yeah whatever you chav munchkin at least I don’t blend in with marshmallow fluff!” Ravi laughed.
“Yeah cause you ain’t sweet enough!” Tiana grinned.
“Sweeter than you!” Ravi smirked.
“You wish!” Tiana laughed.
This sparked another conversation comparing the dumbest things that all of them had said, to work out who was dumbest. It was a roast they were all so very fond of, and had at least once every fortnight.
Conversation continued for a long while, until Ravi tapped Tiana on the shoulder. Tiana was taken by surprise. She hadn’t seen Ravi climb over the seats with Simi. Now Zangi was on her own in the far back, instead of the middle.
“It’s like musical chairs back there! Haven’t you ever heard of seatbelts?!” Tahati tutted.
Tiana glanced down at the seat belt hanging from Tahati’s door, not on in the slightest. She said nothing.
“Houghton water mill is off of the second exit on the roundabout,” Ravi said.
Tiana raised an eyebrow in confusion. “Good to know?”
Ravi leaned forward so her head was by Tiana’s shoulder. “Can we go?”
“Go where?” Simi interrupted.
“Hell,” Ravi spat.
“Alright man chill it aint that deep,” Simi tutted.
Simi leaned forward so her head was by Tahati’s shoulder. Tahati leaned as far away as possible in disgust.
“Go where?” Simi asked Tahati.
“To The water mill,” Tahati said.
Ravi held her phone out to Simi so she could see the national trust website on her screen. Tahati craned her neck to see too.
“Houghton Water Mill? Why?” Simi wrinkled her nose at the idea.
“I’ve heard of a water mill, but I never got what it was. I wanna see for myself,” Ravi said, “can we go? Please?”
Tahati took Ravi’s phone and flicked through the google information about it. “The reviews are pretty good. They’ve got a shop. And toilets. I’m starving. And I need to pee.”
“Houghton water mill it is then,” Tiana shrugged.
She flicked on the indicator to show the guy in the car behind her that she was turning around the corner. The others settled back in their seats, satisfied with the answer they had been given. There was a satisfied silence for a while. Then Zangi’s voice came from the back of the van.
“D’you think we should get dressed then?”
All of them looked down. They were still in their pyjamas. All of them. Only Ravi had had the guts to put on eyeliner while the van was moving, and it had ended with shakey jagged lines underlining her eye. Ravi regretted it, but at least it wasn’t liquid liner. Even she wasn’t that brave. Or that stupid.
The sudden satisfied peace was shattered. Fabric flew all over the car as Zangi dragged bags out, and threw them to its owners. They dug through, trying to find something to change into, and some way to change without anyone else (in or outside of the van) to see them do it. Changing their trousers and underwear was hardest.
Tiana, on the other hand, waited until they got to the mill, to change in their bathroom. Meanwhile the others did their make-up and hair in the bathroom mirror.
“We’re lucky that Tristan had a National Trust ticket,” Simi said pouting in the mirror as she adjusted her hijab, “there’s no way we could afford to get in here with the little money we have.”
“They weren’t Tristan ’s. They’re mine,” Tiana said, from the cubical.
There was a sudden silence.
“You have National Trust tickets?” Ravi held back a giggle.
“Well my mum and dad do, but they’re family tickets so I can get in up to five people with them,” Tiana explained, “as well as free parking.”
“Not why free parking dumbass! Why do you have the tickets?! Bismillah!" Simi tutted.
“Oh.” Tiana came walking out of the cubical, and wriggled through the crowd to reach the sinks. “In case we had time to do something on our own and we were near a national trust place.”
“What are you, a middle aged white mum?” Ravi snickered.
Tiana squinted at her, in the kind of confused state the British are excellent at conveying. The kind of look that says how utterly stupid actually are you?
“My mum is,” Tiana said, trying very hard not to sound patronizing, “I was raised visiting these places. I guess I like being able to come and see history for free. And run in these gorgeous places. And castles. Seriously I don’t get why you’re not in the National Trust.”
The others tried not to giggle as they patted her arm sympathetically. Tiana tried not to grin as they did. She looked down at her hands as she washe4d them, and shook her head.
“Patronising bastards,” she chuckled, despite herself.
Now that they were on their own and could stretch their legs, the girls were feeling keen to explore. It wasn’t forced, so they were rather interested to see what was so great about this mill.
The mill was sat on the banks of a gorgeous river. It looked like a child’s drawing of a house, but with a chimney pointing sideways out of the roof. And a large water wheel attached to the lower half.
It was half red and orange brickwork, and half black painted wooden panels. A baker’s dozen little windows dotted the building. Some of them were traditionally square, but one or two were rectangular. All of them had the little square panes that children draw to differentiate between the doors and windows. The door however, was missing. There was a hole where the door would have been, and then a concrete stand that overlooked the river.
Tahati was more interested in the huge elegant swans gliding across the water, with all the confidence and grace that she didn’t have.
“Arrogant bird brains,” Simi muttered.
“Why wood and brick? Were they thinking at least the big bad wolf would only blow away half?” Zangi asked, sarcastically.
“It’s probably a more modern extension or something,” Tiana shrugged, “just get together and smile!”
She raised the camera to her face to look through the view finder. Tahati looked like someone was threatening her wife and children at gun point. Simi looked bored, but smiled. Ravi was pretending to be a model, and trying to look as sexy as possible. Beside her, in complete contrast, Zangi’s eyes were rolled back into her head, her tongue touched her double chin, and she threw up two peace signs for the final touch. She hated photos.
Tiana rolled her eyes, but took the picture anyway. Then – leaving them frozen in place – she zoomed in on the mill behind them, to get some shots of that instead. When she looked up about two minutes later, the girls were looking impatient, but still in pose.
“Err, I took the picture ages ago. You could have broken character,” she smirked.
This was met by loud complaint from the other girls, and caused her to giggle more. Ravi leaned on the rails to gaze across the river at the mill.
“D’you think we can go inside?”
“Think we can afford it?”
“Yep. Thanks to these bad boys,” Tiana fluttered the national trust tickets across her face, in mock sultry.
The others didn’t look impressed. Tahati tutted behind her, and said, “You’re so lame.”
Tiana stared at her in mock offence, and the others erupted in laughter.
“AND FROM TAHATI!”
“Hey!” Tahati wrinkled her nose at Simi in disgust, “you’re so haram.”
Simi kissed her teeth. “No fam.”
“You lost it,” Zangi said.
Ravi just shook her head. Tiana gave her a pitiful look. Tahati threw her hands in the air in frustration.
“Screw you guys I’m leaving!” she fumed.
The others made no attempt to stop Tahati as she stormed off. Well, no attempt other than to remind her she was going the wrong way. She responded by saying she knew that and didn’t need any help.
“Watch her fall in now,” Simi said.
“Nah c’mon fam, we gotta stick together. Stay close and don’t let one another get lost, remember?” Tiana said.
The others groaned in disappointment at the idea of none of them falling into the river.
“It’s like tradition now though,” Zangi complained.
“And Ravi hasn’t been in one yet!” Simi complained.
“Try it bitch, I dare you!” Ravi spat, grinning.
Tiana pulled or pushed each of them, insistently, and tried to force them to keep walking. It was pointless. She’d tried before. They were like cows who didn’t want to leave a patch pf grass. Eventually you had to give in. Tiana abandoned them at the side of the river, and followed Tahati.
They were waiting for the others to join them in the entrance, but they were taking their time to get there.
“Can we go in without them?” Tahati asked hopefully.
“Sure. It’s not like they can leave, I’ve got the van keys,” Tiana shrugged.
“What if they hot wire it?”
“Tahati only you’re stupid enough to try that without knowing what you’re doing,”
“Thanks I guess.”
“It’s not a compliment.”
“What’s not a compliment?” Ravi asked as she led the other girls into the reception area.
“Your face,” Tahati and Tiana chorused.
While the never ending bickering started up again, Tiana strolled over to the counter and held out one of the national trust tickets to the woman behind the counter. The counter came to her chest height, so she had to hop onto her toes to get attention. The wrinkled old woman peered down at the cards. She pursed her withered lips, and glanced up at Tiana, through her turtle shell glasses on a chain. Tiana flash the sweetest smile that she could.
“These are your cards, yes?” the woman asked, suspiciously.
“Yep.” Tiana nodded, still smiling sweetly.
“You’re Mr McKenzie?”
Tiana blinked in surprise, and then giggled sheepishly. She grabbed the other ticket from her pocket, and held it out to the woman with a smile. There was no hint of humour on her prune face as she took the ticket and examined it.
“This is a family ticket,” she said, with a sigh.
Tiana nodded. “Yes. I’m Mrs McKenzie, this is my husband,” she gestured to Ravi who looked back in shock, then she gestured to the others, “and these are our children.”
The others glanced between each other, and attempted not to giggle.
“That explains why Tahati’s so white for an Asian,” Simi muttered.
There was muffled snorting as the others tried as hard as possible not to laugh. The old woman glanced between each girl, before raising an eyebrow at Tiana.
“They’re adopted.” Tiana shrugged.
Ravi had to turn her back and cover her mouth to stop herself from laughing.
“Are you really trying to convince me that these girls are you... husband, and children? Husband?” The woman sighed.
“What’s wrong with that?” Tahati asked.
She was lagging behind the joke because her penny hadn’t dropped yet.
“A girl can’t be a husband,” the woman said.
Immediately the girls (expect an oblivious Tahati) flew into a mock rage.
“Oh can’t we?!” Ravi fumed.
“Look at the gender expert working in National Trust!” Tiana mocked.
“This generation, with their disrespect of different genders!” Simi tutted.
“Honestly, the elderly these days!” Zangi said loudly.
"THIS WHITE GIRL AND THIS AFGHAN GIRL ARE MY PARENTS AND YOU SHOULD RESPECT THAT!" Ravi yelled. Laughter crept into her voice as she did.
The other guests in line, and in the gift shop, were beginning to glance up, intrigued. To avoid this going any further the woman threw up a white flag.
“Alright! Alright. If you’re going to kick up such a fuss, just go in,” she said.
Tiana swiped her tickets back, with a decisive nod. The others girls pushed Tiana on as fast as they could, to stop themselves giggling. Zangi gave the woman skank eye as she followed the group. Her jaw hurt from clenching the giggles back.
“Nailed it!” Ravi laughed as they entered the mill.
Immediately they were hit by the smell of sawdust. The air was slightly colder in here. The shade had chilled the inside of the mill. A breeze ran through the windowless gap, bringing sunshine with it. That was the only source of light in the room. The brightness reflected off of the light coloured wood that made up every inch of the room. Huge wooden steps lead up to the next wooden floorboards, and wooden clogs creaked as they turned wooden wheels. Ropes dangled across the room, linking parts of the machinery together. These ropes were one of two things not wood in this room. The other was a great, grey stone, which crushed the wheat down into flour. The sound of grinding was only matched by the splashing of the water wheel outside.
Tahati and Simi immediately headed towards the sound of the water wheel. Ravi and Zangi immediately decided to climb up the stairs and see how high this mill actually went. Tiana raised the camera to her eye, and snapped a photo of the workings of the mill. She took a few pictures as she wandered around the mill, searching for the others.
“I dare you to drop something in,” Simi said.
“I dunno, will it break it?” Tahati asked, uncertainly.
Both of them were leaning on a metal fence, peering down into a shallowly filled pool of water. A huge black wheel was turning beside them. It scooped up some water into each pail, and then deposited it into the mill.
“Nah, it’ll just ping off or something,” Simi shrugged, “try it!”
Tahati glanced around for something to throw. She saw a pebble on the floor, picked it up, and threw it over the fence. Simi watched the pebble hit the protective wooden coating, and bounce off. It fell into the river with a plop. Simi’s shoulders sagged in disappointment.
“That sucked,” she said.
“Yeah,” Tahati agreed.
“Want to go play with those sacks of flour?” Simi asked.
“Yeah,” Tahati agreed.
When Tahati and Simi got back inside the wooden rooms, they found Ravi and Zangi, almost instantly. They were playing with a rotary quern. This was two very heavy stone circles, with a hole in the centre and a wooden handle to turn. Even though the sign said to put a little amount of grain in, and turn it slowly, Ravi and Zangi were pushing it together to see how fast they could go.
“What are you doing?” Tahati asked, curiously.
“Try it,” Ravi laughed, “its fun!”
Ravi and Zangi let go, wheezing through their laughter, and rubbing their aching arms. Tahati gripped the handle, and turned it curiously. The stones were heavier than she was expecting. No wonder Ravi and Zangi’s arms hurt so. Simi was more interested in the scaled down water mill that was also on offer to play with. By the time Tiana found them, they had moved on to play with colourful plastic cogs and see how they made things move. While they were immersed in playing, Tiana took a photo.
“Hey!” Ravi whined, “You didn’t get my good side!”
“You don’t have a good side, all your sides are ugly!” Zangi said.
Ravi kissed her teeth. “Prettier than you.”
“Bitch please,” Zangi scoffed.
“Before you start bickering, does anyone have any money?” Tiana asked.
The others looked at each other sheepishly, half expecting someone else to drawer out a purse and reveal a wad of cash.
“I err… I might have found this on the floor of the van…” Zangi muttered.
She pulled Tristan ’s wallet out of her back pocket. There was a slight gasping as the others tried to decide whether to gasp or laugh.
“Good cause there’s a café in the gift shop and I really fancy a scone,” Tiana said.
“I’ve never had a scone,” Tahati said, more to herself than anyone else.
She was met by a look of horror from Tiana.
“You’ve never had a scone, you’ve never had Nando’s, you’ve never gone subway, have you ever done anything?!” she demanded.
Tahati shrugged, sheepishly. “My mum doesn’t let me out much.”
“Clearly,” Tiana huffed.
“With a face that ugly, I understand why!” Zangi winked.
Tahati shot her a dark glare. Zangi just grinned back playfully. The two of them became locked in a staring contest – glare to smirk – and the others walked away. The whites of Tahati’s eyes were tinged red and budged behind her glasses when she glared. A staring competition with her was not something anyone else wanted to witness.
“We’ll meet you in the café!”
Tiana yelled up from the bottom floor of the mill, before leaving them to it.