Zangi awoke to a faint smell of sausages that made her stomach rumble. It was mixed with the dry smells of hay, but she was fairly certain that the hay smell was part of her now. That’s not what troubled her. When she sat up, slightly bewildered as to where she was, she seemed to be alone.
One side of the barn doors were wide open, leaving a gaping hole for the sunlight to shine through. At least it would in a few hours. Right now, it was that kind of cold grey light that you get before the sun appears. It was clearly extremely early.
Semis suitcase full of clothes had been opened, emptied, and left on the floor. A messy pile of clothes was on the table, while three piles of neatly folded clothes were tucked back into a new, bulkier bag, as tightly as possible. These had clearly been organised by their owners, so they could find what belonged to them easier.
Zangi’s grip was weak from sleep, but she held onto the ladder as tightly as she could while climbing down it. Two blankets were lying flat across the floor boards, facing mecca. So Tahati and Simi were awake. The only other person here was Ravi. She was standing by the chargers, checking her phone.
Zangi cleared her throat. No response. Zangi took a step closer. Ravi was wearing headphones. Zangi reached out to tap her shoulder. Ravi jumped out of her skin. She spun around urgently, clutching her chest like her heart was about to explode out if she didn’t.
“Don’t do that!” She hissed.
“Where is everyone?” Zangi muttered.
She suddenly caught a taste of her breath, and it tasted like the poisoned water of a pool containing a week-old corpse.
“Breakfast I think. Tiana left a twenty minutes ago, after she sorted out her clothes. It’s only ours left,” Ravi explained.
“We share clothes all the time, we don’t need to waste time sorting them, just put ’em in the bag,” Zangi shrugged.
“That’s what I thought,” Ravi grinned. “Simi woke me up an hour ago, because Cheddar had got in. He was so cute. He was this big, and shaking on his feet, and trying to headbutt everything even though he doesn’t have any horns yet.”
“Sounds like Tahati,” Zangi said.
Ravi nodded. She picked up Tiana’s camera and looped the sash around her head so it hung on her chest.
“Get dressed and come get breakfast. Darrell’s taking us up to the top of the hill to watch the sunrise,” Ravi explained.
Zangi groaned. She was too tired to go outside, but she didn’t really want to miss that. It felt like something they’d wanna talk about for the next couple days.
It wasn’t, but you never can tell.
Breakfast was laid across the table like a buffet. A plate piled high with sausages was in the centre. Plastic containers full of different cereal were placed at each side of it, two for each end. Still sizzling bacon was laid on a (greasy) plate beside a collection of freshly baked bread rolls that Kelly had warmed in the oven. A slab of butter in a little pink dish was laying between the bacon and sausages, which made it visibly soft, but not enough to melt. Yet. Toast was about to pop up from the toaster for Kelly to put on a plate, with the rest of the pile. There was some fruit - bananas, oranges or apples - available, but it was slightly browned and bruised, and in a bowl on the side beside a glass jug of fresh milk.
“There’s a lot of food here,” Ravi said.
She was sort of uncomfortable with how much was here. It felt like a waste when it was so obvious it wouldn’t all be eaten.
“Don’t worry duck, anythin’ not eaten will go tah the pigs,” Kelly explained.
“Even the sausages and bacon?” Ravi asked dubiously.
“Pigs aren’t funny my dear. They’ll eat you if they’re hungry and you pass out in their sty,” Kelly said cheerily.
Ravi’s eyes widened. Pigs made their way up her list of animals to fear. They were still above sheep though.
Rodger strolled into the room, wearing plastic overalls and dark green wellies. He squelched into the doorway, scrubbed his boots on the doormat, and left less muddy footprints on the lino. Kelly tutted, but she couldn’t get angry. Not today. Not when he was leaving them.
He grabbed a spare set of overalls from a cupboard, and headed back out without another word. Ravi shrugged, and set the camera on the side, before taking her seat. As she began to dig into a sausage (and agreed, readily, to Kelly’s offer of a pancake) Rodger appeared again. This time he grabbed a thick looking leather belt, before disappearing again.
“What’s that for?” Ravi asked.
Immediately she regretted asking, as she remembered she was eating meat on a farm full of animals.
“Oh that’s nothin’,” Kelly shrugged, “Yeh friend is ’elping with the cows. Guess she can’t fill the overalls.”
Ravi was grateful that the answer wasn’t to do with food. She found herself wondering if cows would be able to recognise the leather as one of their old friends. How would that bode for Tahati?
Tahati was having the time of her life. Firstly, Darrel had shown her how to milk a cow with her hands, to show her how much time and effort it would take to do the whole herd. Then he’d let her help gather the cows into the milking shed. The shed was full of dirt, not all of it mud, so Rodger had fetched her a set of overalls. Only they swamped her, so he’d gone to get a belt. He wrapped the extra plastic up, folding it flat against her middle, and pinned it down with the belt. She had chosen to leave her hijab in the barn, but she’d tied her hair up in her trademark plait to fit it under the hood. Now she looked like a plastic spaceman.
Especially since the milking shed was so full of high tech, shiny materials. Metal traps lined the huge room, each big enough for a cow to fit in. They could fit their head through the bars at the front, to eat from the troughs full of hay. In front of them. A large vat sat nearby, wired in by blue translucent tubes. At the end of the tubes, silver suction cups stuck onto the cows’ teats to start pumping.
Rodger went back to Tiana and Simi who were out with the goats, leaving Darrel to show Tahati how to attach the milking ducts to the cow’s teats. The cows mooed as the milk flowed out through pipes and into the shiny silver vats.
“This is so weird,” she giggled.
“This is how yeh get yeh milk for tea and breakfast. Very important to us brits, is our milk,” Darrel said.
Tahati nodded. She ducked back down to lock on the next suction cup. As it went on, the cow mooed in complaint, then went back to chewing.
“Still weird,” Tahati muttered.
One of the cows waddled though the path, past Tahati. The path wasn’t big enough for both of them, so the cow just shoved Tahati out of the way. Against the weight of that cow, Tahati didn’t stand a chance. She was shoved up against the railings until the cow was finished walking past. When she could finally breath again, she groaned. Darrel chuckled and patted the cow on her hide.
“At least she ain’t pregnant,” was all he had to say.
Tahati was not made to work on a farm. She couldn’t figure out if that was a shame, or if she was grateful for that.
Meanwhile, Simi was thinking the same thing.
Tiana and Simi were surrounded by nanny goats, each with their own little beards, hard heads, and orange eyes with black slits that were strangely demonic. They were in a kind of sheltered area, surrounded by metal railings to keep the goats in and sheep out. It wasn’t quite a barn, because there was only one wall. It was more like a bus stop.
But with more goats.
At first, Simi had been reluctant to touch the goats back, let alone their teats. Eventually though - after getting photos of Tiana doing it - Simi built up enough courage to try. As she squeezed with her finger and thumb, gently from the top down, it became a kind of rhythmic pattern. Relaxing really.
Tiana took Simi’s phone to make sure that Simi had some photos of herself milking sheep.
“Make sure you use snapchat,” Simi said.
“I am,” Tiana said.
“And film it,” Simi said.
“I am!” Tiana repeated.
Tiana held down the circle so it turned red and started filming. Simi puckered at the sheep.
“Can you say moo?” she asked in baby talk.
From off screen Tiana’s voice said, with a hint of concern, “They’re sheep Sim. You do know the difference between sheep and cows, right?”
Simi gave her an unimpressed look that was half eye-roll, half glare.
“Shut up,” she said.
The film ended on Tiana laughing and the camera shaking. Simi took her phone back, and lifted it high above her head. Cheddar - a black and white kid, about the size of a fully-grown Yorkshire puppy, with a white beard, two black dots for horns, and a white slit separating his eyes- jumped up on the metal separator that was keeping him from his mother. As Simi started filming, Cheddar took this chance to leap over the fence.
Just as Simi was saying “No Filter!” Cheddar jumped up, with his hooves against her back, bleated in her ear, and made her scream. She dropped her phone so it landed in the (fortunately dry) dirt. Simi glared at the goat.
“If that’s broken, I’m suing you,” she warned.
Cheddar jumped down, and sniffed at the phone. He bleated again, and tried to take a bite out of it.
“HEY!” Simi cried.
She snatched her phone from Cheddar, which made him bleat louder. Simi stared at him in confused horror.
“No. It’s my phone,” she said.
Cheddar bleated in retaliation.
Simi repeated, “No!”
Cheddar head butted her. Simi repeated no, so Cheddar repeated headbutting her, until she was screaming and standing on her milking stall, trying to keep her phone out of his reach. Cheddar tried jumping on her legs to knock her down.
“Hey! Stop it! Go away! Shoo! Dumb goat! Go away!” Simi yelled.
Cheddar bleated at her, with an annoyed tone, and chewed at her jeans. She yelled again.
Meanwhile, Tiana’s chest was hurting from laughing so much. she was fumbling into her pocket for her phone to snapchat this. All you could hear in these (five) videos, were Simi yelling, the goat bleating, and Tiana laughing her head off.
Rodger returned to see Simi stood on the stall with her phone above her head, and all the goat bleating anxiously. He leaned against the metal fence to watch them.
“I knew I shouldn’t have left you alone,” he called, over the bleating.
“It was cheddar!” Simi cried, indignantly.
“I was talking to Cheddar,” Rodger grinned.
“Help me!” Simi cried.
Rodger tried not to laugh as he climbed over the fence and waded through the goat herd. Rodger scooped up Cheddar with one hand, and held him close to his chest. Cheddar bleated angrily, and tried to nip at him.
“Oh shut up! What cha gonna do big man? Head butt me again?” Rodger teased.
Cheddar bleated again. Quieter this time. He knew when he was beat. Rodger took him to the fence, and dropped him back in with the kids and the eldest goats. They didn’t have any milk anymore and were more like nanny’s really.
Rodger’s presence calmed things for a while. Until a ginger tabby went shooting past like an orange blur, followed - almost instantly – by the collie, barking his head off.
The barking set off the goats, making them bleat in panic.
“Ollie!” Rodger shouted, helplessly.
The collie cornered the tabby between the wall and the metal fences. The tabby growled and hissed. The collie growled.
“Ollie! Here! Now!” Tiana clicked her fingers sharply, and spoke with a sharp, firm tone.
Ollie whined. The cat hissed and made a swipe at the collie.
“Ollie,” Tiana said, warningly.
Begrudgingly, the collie slunk away from the cat, and trotted up to the fence. He sat down and wagged his tail apologetically, with his ears pinned back against his head. Tiana reached over the fence to scratch under his chin.
“You’re a sap really, aren’t you?” she smiled.
“That dog hasn’t listened to me in six years, how comes he listens to you?” Rodger asked, annoyed and impressed.
Tiana shrugged. “I’ve got three dogs and two cats and a six-year-old at home. You learn tricks or you get mayhem.”
Rodger just shook his head. He did not like those dogs. He grabbed his milking stall from by the wall, and joined the girls as they went back to milking the goats. After a while, Zangi tuned up.
“Hey, we gotta go to the trailer. Darrel says he’s ready to take us to the hill now,” She explained.
The others dropped what they were doing and began to hurry towards the door, leaving Rodger to finish milking the last couple goats.
Riding along in the back of an open trailer was different to a hay filled one. For one thing, it was colder. It was also bumpier. Less comfortable. But you could see more of the scenery, including the long climb up the steep hill. Or how far you would go if you fell out of the trailer. As they climbed further up, a huge old oak tree towered over them. It was at the absolute peak of the hill.
“Mind yeh ’eads girls!” Darrel called as they got close.
“Why?” Tahati asked.
Then she got slapped by a low twig from the lowest branches of the oak. The others laughed mockingly. And then ducked so they wouldn’t be ridiculed.
Darrel parked the tractor and trailer in front of the tree, so they could see out to the sweeping hills. From this angle, they looked like blocks of green with little off white dots scattered along them. Sheep got everywhere.
There was a thin shimmering fog over the tops of the hills. A gentle reminder of how tall and powerful they were. The weather bent to fit them. As the sun returned to the world (or to this part at least) it first brought a yellow hue. Those rays were engulfed by the fog, making the lingering water drops sparkle. It looked as though the stars were cascading into the hilltops.
An early morning breeze breathed fresh air into the valley. New life, for a new day.
Ravi reached across to Tiana, and placed her camera into her hand. Tiana looked at her in surprise. She hadn’t realised Ravi had her camera. She smiled, gratefully. This was a moment, and a feeling, she wanted to keep forever. Tiana used the edge of the trailer as a tripod and held it steady.
It felt like there would finally be some peace to last through their day. At least to everyone accept Zangi. Zangi remembered their last few days. Even if yesterday had started peacefully, it didn’t last long. The rest hadn’t even started with peace. She was certain that this wouldn’t last. And she was right.
Because that’s when a gunshot shattered the morning.
The girls screamed in terror and dropped to the floor of the trailer. They gathered together, and felt horribly like fish in a barrel. Darrel, however, only ducked in alarm, before sitting upright and looking furious.
“OI!” he yelled, “Ain’t yeh got eyes?! Yeh coulda taken me ’ead off!”
An indistinct voice yelled back, but the girls were too busy shaking with fear to try and listen. Darrel tutted.
“I’ve every right to be ’ere. This’s my land too,” he yelled.
The reply came from closer, but the girls still couldn’t hear. They were staying close together, and as low down to avoid bullets as possible.
“Yeh can sod yeh huntin’ right. I’ve got kids in the back, and yeh almost killed ’em!”
The reply, closer now, was quieter. As if they’d suddenly realised that they’d made a mistake. Then they rose their voice for a moment.
“He says he’s sorry girls. Don’t believe ’im though. He don’t know what truth means,” Darrel grumbled.
The girls didn’t know what to believe. Darrel left the tractor, and stomped over to the shooter, leaving the girls alone.
Ravi was whispering about how much she loved them all, and didn’t want to die, and was sorry about everything she’d done. Simi was praying. Zangi was shaking like a leaf. Tahati was silent. Deathly still. Staring straight up at the streaks of cotton candy clouds that whisped through the tangled branches and leaves above them. For a moment, Tiana’s heart stopped beating as she thought Tahati had been hit. She reached for Tahati’s hand. As she squeezed it, Tahati squeezed back. Tiana almost screamed in relief. Instead, she held on to Tahati’s hand.
“This must be what it’s like to be American,” Simi whispered.
A shudder ran down their spines. They were still so terrified, even though they’d been told they were safe. It was damned near impossible to imagine why someone would want one of those things in their house. In their shops. In their churches. In their schools. They were a danger to anyone near them.
Zangi was close to another panic attack.
Ravi reached out to touch her, remembered she didn’t like that, and pulled her hand back.
“In, hold, out Zangi. In… hold… out,” Ravi whispered.
The other girls breathed the same as Zangi. They were just as terrified.
“Awfully sorry about that girls,” An unfamiliar, posh, voice called apologetically, “There was a pheasant and I… well I misjudged the situation. I apologise. Sorry.”
None of the girls replied. None of them felt any safer until Darrel climbed back into the driver’s seat, and pulled away from under the tree, muttering and cursing about pheasants and posh people.
As they sloped back downhill, Tahati sat up again. She wanted to see the world again. All of it. In all the detail she could. And write it all down so she never forgot what it was like. First, she had to see it. By then dawn had gone down to day, and nothing gold had stayed. The fog was rising back to cloud too. Sunshine broke through to the hills, shining down on the sheep.
Suddenly they didn’t seem so scary.
“Look!” Zangi cried in delight, “A bunny!”
The remaining girls sat up curiously. Zangi pointed over the side. At first they thought it was another one of her pranks, because they couldn’t see anything. Then, from behind a little rock, two furry brown ears shot up. These were followed quickly by two dark eyes, whiskers, and a wriggly nose.
There was a bunny.
It was adorable.
And they were talking about it for the entire rest of the ride back to the farm.
Rabbits ground people when they need it.
Showered, teeth and hair brushed, dressed, packed and ready to go came quickly. Rodger was ready soon after the girls.
This was the last time Simi would have Wi-Fi for a while, so she decided to make one last instagram post. A picture of the tarts. Ravi glanced over her shoulder, and felt a stab of guilt. She wanted to warn her not to tag a location, but she couldn’t without giving Simi the idea that maybe someone posted with a location. That maybe that’s how Tristan found them last time. That it was Ravi’s fault.
So Ravi said nothing. She climbed into the back of Rodger’s car instead.
It was a farm vehicle so there weren’t many areas that were caked in a thin layer of dried mud, or dog fur. An old sheet was laid across the back seats to allow the girls to sit there. The boot was completely full and heavy, which they could feel. The extra weight on the suspensions made them uneasy, and yet a little excited.
None of them had a clue what would happen if they drove like this.
“Thanks for everything. Especially my new bag, I couldn’t have done the rest of the trip with that suitcase,” Simi said to Kelly.
“Yeh welcome my dear,” she said.
Simi got into the back seat beside Tahati. There were only three seats in the back so they all had to squidge in close together. Tiana was made to sit in the front with Rodger.
Darrel brought out some boxes from the kitchen, as Kelly had requested.
“’Ere we are chickadees,” Kelly said.
She leaned down through the door and handed them a deep, wide, Tupperware box each. All of them were full so high that the lid could barely fit on.
“Case yeh get ’ungry,” she winked.
Zangi and Tahati shared a look of urgency. They couldn’t carry all this food with them, as well as their bags, and there was way too much food to eat. They couldn’t turn it down either. Kelly would have been crushed. So they held their food on their laps, thanked her again, and smiled. She smiled back. Then she handed two boxes to Tiana. One for her, one for Rodger. She thanked her again too.
“You can put those on the floor if you want. A box that big can last you about three days,” he explained quietly.
“And we’ve got five,” Tiana said.
Rodger gave her a solemn look to wish her good luck. That didn’t boost her confidence in any way.
Rodger waved goodbye to his parents and his farm as he drove out of the main doors. The girls continued waving through the back window until they had gone into the main road, and could no longer see the farm.
“The radios buggered so your choice is Planet Rock or an old Mudford and Sons CD that’s trapped in the player,” Rodger explained.
“Mumford and Sons are ok,” Tiana shrugged.
“Not on repeat they ain’t,” Zangi said, darkly.
“Planet Rock?” Rodger asked.
“I don’t like rock,” Simi whined.
“You’ve got headphones!” Tiana pointed out.
Simi rolled her eyes, and huffed, “Fine.”
“Planet Rock it is then,” Rodger declared.
He switched on the radio. There was a couple of seconds of crackling, before Green Day’s Good Riddance burst into the speakers at full volume. Instantly Tiana matched the level of the radio, enthusiastically singing along, even as Rodger turned it down.
“Shut up dude, you’re terrible!” Simi said.
“So’s your face,” Tiana retorted.
“How far away is Lancashire?” Zangi asked.
“About an hour and a half,” Rodger said.
Simi groaned. An hour and a half of this. Joy.
“Uni doesn’t start until September though, why are you going so early?”
Rodger glanced at her in the rear-view mirror hesitantly before answering.
“I’ve gotta live in my flat for at least two months before I can get my money sent there, to prove I have moved out and we’re not just scamming the government,”
“Scam the government, they can afford it,”
Simi nudged her. “Shut up Tahati.”
If there had been room Tahati would have raised her middle finger, but there wasn’t, so she blew a raspberry instead. Simi rolled her eyes.
“What are you gonna do while you’re there then?”
“Explore my new town. Check the university again. There’s a couple of taster days to see if I’m good enough for the course. My grades were low and they want to make sure I’m going to be ok there,”
Zangi and Ravi shared a dubious look.
“I’ve never heard of that before,”
“Are you sure you’re not just going for parties?”
“Or maybe guys, don’t assume,”
Rodger flushed a little. He cleared his throat and murmured “I’m straight.”
“Shame. Oh well.”
Zangi leaned forward, “is there an aux chord?”
“No. Just a CD or the radio,” Rodger explained.
“Is this the only radio channel?” Tahati asked.
“Only one I can pick up from anywhere. Except Kerrang!”
The girls in the back groaned. There was quiet a long, bored silence, only broken by the radio DJ saying the next song would be “The one and only Bon Jovi with, Lost Highway.” Tiana found herself missing Sapphire. At least she would have sung along.
“Let’s play never have I ever!” Tahati blurted suddenly.
The mood changed dramatically. Rodger felt a little uneasy with that idea. Regret set in later when Simi said, “never have I ever shagged a sheep” and they all yelled at Tahati for lying.
When he came up with them, they gave their answers and asked their questions easily enough. But if anyone ever /had done something, they wanted details.
The car ride to Lancaster was not one Rodger would soon forget.
Mr Edwards phoned Tristan. Since they were both in the same boat, they were rather sympathetic to each other. Whenever Mr Edwards name flashed up on Tristan’s phone, he would answer as soon as possible.
When Nigel’s appeared, he would wait so long that Nigel began to leave angry voice messages. Tristan changed Nigel’s contact name to “you have to answer sooner or later” as encouragement. Even that didn’t work.
“I’ve texted you Simi’s latest post. No location, just a picture. Have you got any idea where they might get something like that?” Mr Edwards asked.
“Hold on,” Tristan said.
He tapped through the link to the instagram. It took a few moments to load. Then an image of a target coloured jam tart appeared on his screen. The caption said “Dope Tarts!” and all the comments were asking if they contained weed, or if it was just because they looked like they were high.
Tristian frowned as he saw the tart. He recognised them.
“Not off the top of my head, but I’m sure it’ll come back to me,” he lied.
“Alright. Call me whenever you get details,” Mr Edwards said.
“Will do,” Tristan replied.
Really, they could have texted each other everything, or stayed on the phone all day, because they were constantly phoning each other, back and forth all day and all night for updates. Updates that rarely came, and were even more rarely useful.
Dorothy however, was having a different problem. Neither Tristian or Mr Edwards would talk to her by phone, text, or email. Her assistant/lover had stopped patching their boss through to her phone too. Instead she told him that Dorothy wasn’t picking up. That got her put into the bad books.
But now things were beginning to look up.
She had figured out that the girls were in the Peak District, and that there were five that could be posting. Five different Instagram accounts. She’d also scoured through the depths of Facebook to find their profiles. Most of them were private protected, but some of their old posts weren’t.
Old posts, like Ravi’s snapchat username when she was begging for more followers.
The girl loved the attention social media gave her. She was a real social media slut. Links from her Facebook to her instagram and twitter and snapchat were all through the different channels.
Despite the fact that no one was talking to her, she had her lead.
She just had to chase it down.
Lancashire is a smallish city. Big enough to get lost in, but small enough to find your way back pretty easily. When Rodger and the girls parted ways at the university, they were a little disappointed. A strange bond had formed between them. A kind of friendship they could not understand at all. But they liked it anyway.
Once again, they were on their own.
But surprisingly not for long.
After about ten minutes of sitting outside the university, trying to eat enough cakes and tarts and sausage rolls to fit into less boxes, a bunch of students came over to them. There were four, three girls (each fairly pretty in their own way) and a guy (who looked like a hipster) each smiling and being cheerful.
“Hi!” One of the girls beamed.
The five girls looked up in unison in surprise. They were sitting (or kneeling) on a picnic bench, stuffing pastries in their mouths messily. They hadn’t been expecting to be bothered.
“Hello?” Simi said, through a mouthful of beef pasty.
“We’re part of the student union. My name is Summer. Are you here for the balloon festival?”
The girls looked between themselves. They were imagining some people releasing a fleet of multicoloured balloons from a net, into the sun. Maybe the colours would cover them all, like in Up. Maybe it was an art project based on Up.
But it would make good photos. It would be something to remember.
“Yeah,” Tahati said suddenly.
The others had no choice but to agree. This made Summer and her friends smile.
“Great! Are you making your own way there, or are you coming with us?” Summer asked cheerfully.
“Err,” Ravi glanced at Tahati for help.
“Only we need numbers. There still one coach ready to go and its half empty,” Summer continued.
“Yeah, we’d appreciate the lift... if it’s free,” Zangi said, dubiously.
Summers eyes sparkled as she said, “Paid for by the union.”
Each of the girls lit up as they realised they had their ticket for getting away from here.
“Then were in!” Tahati beamed.
“Great! Follow Seth, and he’ll show you to your seats,” Summer beamed.
Seth gave a slight wave. Ravi’s attention was snatched by the huge hoops in his ears though. She forced a smile, despite only being able to think about putting her finger /through his ear lobe. Seth guided them to a large, hot, grey coach with tinted windows. Some students were already sat in the very front and very back. The girls went straight for the middle. Two seats on each side of the aisle. Ravi and Tahati took one, Simi and Tahati took the other. Tiana sat behind Ravi and filled the empty seat with her bag and her food box.
Almost no one else got onto the coach in the twenty minutes before they pulled away from the university. Once they were driving down the main road though, some guy from the back wandered down the aisle and sat in the empty seat behind Tahati. He leaned around to try and hit on her, no matter how much she tried to shunt him.
Simi and Tahati buckled down into an awkward, forced conversation about nothing to show they were ignoring him. Ravi and Zangi leaned across the aisle to further the conversation to help show Tahati wasn’t interested. Tiana moved from the window to the aisle seat to help. That only encouraged him, so when he got ignored, he got annoyed.
“Oi, I’m talking to you!” He huffed, “tell your mates to stop cock blocking!”
And with that, Tiana snapped.
“Listen, mate, if a girl’s friends are cock blocking, it’s because she wants us to. Because it’s safer for us to guard her from your creepy predatory traits, than to let her say no straight up. The girl doesn’t want to talk to you! Shuffle off back to your seat and leave her alone!”
“You ain’t the boss of me, screw you!” He huffed at Tiana.
Then he turned back to Tahati and reached for her hijab. The moment he touched her headscarf, she leapt to her feet, and punched him. As soon as the others realised what she’d done, they leapt to their feet and crowded around her supportively.
Summer hurried from her seat at the front to the crowd.
“What’s going on here?!” She demanded.
“He tried to grab my hijab so I punched him,” Tahati said.
“Self-defence,” someone nearby muttered.
“He had it coming,” someone else agreed.
“We do not allow violence in this university,” Summer snipped.
“So you’re going to allow him to harass girls and try to take their hijabs?” Ravi demanded.
“That isn’t violent,” Summer stated.
“It is illegal though,” Simi said.
“Assault is more so,” Summer stated.
“Harassment leads to assault!” Zangi insisted.
“But it didn’t here, so you had no reason-” Summer was cut off by Zangi.
“Watch your language,” Summer scolded.
“Damn right you should watch your language and stop talking shit,” Zangi spat.
“I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” Summer said.
“How comes they get punished when he attacked them first?!” Someone else asked.
Summer ignored them, and focused on the girls.
“You are not welcome back on this coach. Find your own way back to the university.”
The others didn’t have any idea what to say, so Tahati shoved past them to Summer.
“Yeah? Jokes on you, we ain’t even old enough to go to uni!” Tahati yelled.
Summer reeled back in surprise. “You’re not students?!”
“No. And for a student union, you’re not very united!” Tahati spot.
Summer clenched her jaw. “You’re going to have to leave the coach.”
“I hope everyone here knows that their union rep doesn’t support victims of harassment,” Zangi shouted.
“I bet you voted Trump,” Ravi spat.
“Well I’m English so I couldn’t,” Summer said.
“Screw you Jeremy Hunt!” Tiana spat.
Summer’s eyes widened and her mouth dropped. She’d never been so offended in her life.
“Get off the coach please,” she spat.
Summer made the driver pull over at the side of the road and open the door so she could kick them out. Begrudgingly, they gathered their things, and lined up to leave. Tiana let the others go first. She was the only person separating Tahati from this guy. Tiana glared at him.
“You should be ashamed of yourself. She’s underage. Pervert.”
Then she stormed after the others. She slowed as she passed Summer, holding her gaze judgementally, before stepping down after the other girls.
The guy sunk back down in his seat, awkwardly. He was hotly aware of everyone else staring at him, accusingly. There were several girls on this coach. All of them had just seen that happen. He groaned.
The coach left a hot smell of pollution as it drove down the road, leaving them on the path. Tahati was utterly furious. The others were just annoyed. Deeply annoyed. None of them could think about what to say.
Tahati glanced over at Tiana.
“I’m not underage,” she said.
Tiana looked down in confusion. “What?”
“You told him I was underage. I turned seventeen three months ago,” Tahati said.
“Yeah, but now every girl on that coach thinks he was harassing a minor. D’you think any of them will want to date him now?” Tiana grinned.
There was a lingering silence as the girls realised what Tiana had just said. Ravi stared at her in idolising horror.
“You’re an evil genius,” She said.
Tiana smirked. “It’s been said.”
Simi glanced around. The street seemed to be empty. There were only a couple of cars that passed them by.
“So… where are we?” Simi asked.
“Well the coach headed that way. We might as well follow,” Zangi shrugged.
None of them could be bothered to walk. Most of them were still tired and aching from yesterday’s walking. But there was no choice. This time, at least, they were all too busy being furious at Summer to fight each other.
It only took about fifteen minutes of walking along the road before they could see the balloon festival. It was not, as they had thought, a bunch of store brought latex pockets of helium waiting to be realised. Hovering above the tree tops were at least a dozen boldly coloured hot air balloons, heading for a nearby field to land in. This revitalized the girls’ spirit. They sped up, ready to race the balloons to the field.