Since this was the first time the farm that they would have a stable bathroom that wasn’t cramped or dirty or at the side of the road, they decided to make the most of it. Long, indulgent showers, for example.
Ravi used the bathroom mirror above the sink for her make up. Simi used the one between the bathroom and bedroom. Zangi used the one on the wardrobe door. All of them were sharing the thick purse filled with their makeup that they had shoved into the same bag.
Breakfast brought them down to one box of baked goods, since they hadn’t eaten dinner the night before. They left the other boxes empty under the bed, and Zangi stole a blanket.
“Leave something behind, take something away. It’s not theft, its trade!” She argued when accused.
“Get her out of the building before someone sees her,” Simi said.
Zangi blew a raspberry at her, pointedly. Ravi hurried Zangi out of the building while the others gave in the keys to the room. They ended up walking down the street with their bags again, weighed down by their possessions.
Now they were free to wander off through the city, but now they were stuck with their bags too.
“Can we go see the castle today?” Tahati asked.
“Sure, but I thought you wanted to climb Scott’s Monument,” Tiana said.
“Man, it’s too early for exercise,” Ravi said.
“It’s always too early for exercise,” Zangi stated.
“Can’t we do both?” Tahati asked.
“Ain’t like we can’t afford it,” Simi smirked.
Having thousands of pounds at their disposal was a weird feeling to them. Since all of them were used to being broke, they were used to not being able to do one thing. Being able to do two came as a pleasant surprise, and made them suspicious about whether it was worth spending their money or not.
“The monument is closer, we’ll go to that first,” Tiana said.
They weren’t allowed to take their bags up because the narrowest staircases were only big enough for their shoulders to fit through, and their bags would cork the stairway. Instead, the woman behind the counter at the bottom kept them in her kiosk until they came back.
I could write a detailed description of the amount of effort and exhaustion it took to climb all 287 steps, but that would be boring. All you need to know is that the spiral staircases had thick steps that took effort to climb, and got narrower and narrower with each level. Each viewing platform got smaller and less filled too. Most people stayed on the first floor with the museum. Not that there was many people this early in the morning. These last couple of facts were useful, because it meant that they didn’t have to pass many people on the way up and down the narrow steps. Doing this low down was tricky because it meant having to push yourself against the wall as a stranger unavoidably rubbed past you. Higher up, it was simply impossible and you had to call to let people know if you were coming up or going down so you could move.
Eventually, and with a great deal of complaining from Zangi, they made it to the top floor. They spilled out onto the final viewing deck, relieved to be out of the narrow staircase, but breathless.
“Lets never do that again,” Zangi panted.
“My god fam, this cant be worth it!” Ravi groaned.
Simi immediately hurried away from the two of them as they slumped on the edge of the rails. Tiana leaned on the rails beside Tahati, looking down to the bottom of the monument. It was so far down that it was difficult to see the bottom. Everyone down they looked like miniature versions of themselves. As if it were a lego city and they were plastic people.
“Imagine if I threw my phone off here dude,” Tiana said to Tahati.
“Dont man,” Tahati said.
“I aint actually gonna throw my phone dude, I aint stupid. Mum’s gonna phone me in three-year hours and if I don’t have a phone I cant answer it,” Tiana tutted.
Tahati said nothing in reply. There wasnt much that could be said anymore. Being trapped for days in a van was enough to make her run out of stories. Add onto that last night when they said all the rest and they were even out of small talk. Tiana wandered around taking photos of the view.
The hills behind the city were clearly visible from here. The old buildings were built up into a staircase, getting darker the higher they went. Above everything sat the castle, looking down on the city like a guardian angel. Roads ran into vanishing, lined by buildings. Their eye-catching architecture made them wonder what was inside. Way, way off on the horizon, the blue sea bobbed. You had to look far off to see it. Even then it looked like it was in another world. All the grey and brown stones around them seemed as far from the sea as possible. Of course they weren’t.
“Its nice up here,” Ravi said.
“Its nothing compared to hot air balloons,” Tahati said, apatheticly.
Ravi punched her and told her no one cared. Tahati blew a raspberry back. Intelligent conversation had been abandoned, and arguing had been replaced with childish bickering.
Bored of trying to pretend to be mature, Tiana ignored them both. She carried on taking pictures, in long exposure to blur the cars that travelled down the road just because she could.
From way up here there was little to break the wind. It was bitter and cold, but there was a lot to see. It was beautiful, and worth the cheap price.
“Bored now,” Ravi sighed.
The trouble was, all of them were dreading trying to get back down, so they stayed in the cold at the top for half an hour longer.
That extra half an hour gave Dorothy time to jog off her breakfast by running up the Royal Mile. She got a lot of dirty looks for this, but she ignored them completely.
Dorothy had been forced to seek refuge in a travel lodge the night before, as the storm had hit before she could find the girls. Everything had been a bad experience for her, as she wasnt used to budget accommodation. Now she was desperate for a win to prove it was worth it.
Dorothy got her breath back on a bench by the entrance to the castle. She’d been waiting for ten minutes before she checked Ravi’s snapchat again. It was full of selfies of her with filters, and her with Zangi trying to look sexy. Or with Simi looking awkward. Or with Tahati giving her a dirty look. Or with Tiana pulling a face. Absolutely all of them contained the skyline in the background.
Dorothy glanced over the edge of the hill. Her eye fell to the black monument standing proud in Prince’s Street Garden. That’s where they had to be.
She was faced with a choice now. Go down to the monument and hope they were still there, or wait and see if they turn up here. The only way she could decide was to flip a coin. If it had been tails, and she had gone to find them, then maybe she would have ended up running into Tristian again. But since it was heads, she waited to see if they would come here.
She could see Zangi’s bronzer sparkle from twenty feet away. The fact it was boxed in by two girls in hijabs (one blue, one white with orange borders) helped.
“Tahati Ghanem!” Dorothy called urgently.
Tahati reeled back as a stranger yelled her full name across the street in a foreign city where no one knew her. Seconds passed and each of the others had felt a similar alarm as Dorothy yelled at them. Although Tiana was terrified that it was a distant relative of hers that lived in the city, and would go mad when she realised Tiana had stayed there without visiting, and Simi thought that one of her aunties had followed her up the country and had just found her.
The fear was real.
The girls were still bickering in hushed tones about whether or not to run when Dorothy didn’t give them a choice. She came right over and held her hands out for each of them to shake.
“Dorothy Richards, reporter for the local guardian. Your local guardian,”
“Bitch if we had guardian’s local to us, we’d never have left,” Ravi scoffed.
“The newspaper dumbass,” Simi spat.
“Duh, I know that, I was making a joke!” Ravi said in a mocking voice.
Simi made a face at her, so Ravi kissed her teeth. Tiana and Tahati shared a glance. Something about this city was making the others strangely more aggressive than usual. Unless it was being trapped together without a break for over a week. Who could know?
“Do you mind if I conduct an interview with you?” Dorothy asked.
Tiana stepped forwards before they could shove her there.
“What’s in it for us?” She challenged.
“What’d you want?” Dorothy asked.
“Money. I want my money,” Ravi said.
“Food,” Zangi said.
“Cleaner clothes,” Simi said.
“A car,” Tahati said firmly.
She tried to shoot down what the others had been saying, but none of them heard her. She didn’t have enough confidence to risk Dorothy hearing her.
“A car. We want a car. We have money, and food, and we’ll find somewhere to wash clothes, but right now, we need a car,” Tiana repeated, firmly, to Dorothy.
Dorothy frowned. If she brought them a car, it would be from her own money, in her own name, and on her own licence. If that crashed or went missing, she’d be the one on the hook for it. But she desperately needed that story.
“Yep. I can do that,” she promised.
She was going to lose so much money. Tiana glanced back at the others in turn, then back at Dorothy.
“We agree,” she lied.
It was only her and Tahati that were desperate to carry on going. The others were just along for the ride.
“Shall we enter the castle then?” Dorothy smiled.
She led them inside, like lambs being led to the slaughter, to the café. Tahati’s attention was pulled away by a cannon. A bunch of people were standing around, watching, waiting, with their cameras at the ready. To fit in, she pulled her phone from her pocket. Zangi came hurrying over to see what she had stopped for. Both of them joined the crowd to watch as a woman in a military-esque uniform prepared the cannon for firing.
“What’d you think-” Zangi began to ask.
She was cut off rather abruptly. An ear-splitting boom rang out, and a burst of white smoke funnelled out of the cannon. Both Tahati and Zangi yelled in surprise.
Safe in the café the others could only hear the boom. Ravi straightened up in alarm. Tiana and Simi shared a more casual look. Simi had been told about the cannon the previous day when she heard it from the scotch experience. While they hadn’t been expecting it, they could guess what it was.
“When will the one o’clock gun fire?” Dorothy asked the girls, jokingly.
“Four in the afternoon,” Tiana answered in a bored tone.
“What time d’you think?” Simi scoffed. Then, under her breath, muttered, “Damn man, you’re so dumb.”
“Where’d the others go?” Ravi asked quietly.
“Tahati couldn’t walk past explosions. Zangi probably went back to get her,” Simi shrugged.
A couple of moments later, Zangi and Tahati came through the door. Zangi first. She tried to slam the door in Tahati’s face as she came in, so Tahati tried to trip her up as she headed for the table.
“Children,” Simi warned.
“She started it!” Tahati whined.
“I don’t care!” Simi said.
Dorothy had been scribbling notes on their appearances for a while, but now she was ready to start interviewing, she pulled her tablet from her bag. The girls glanced between each other and Dorothy as she set up her tablet like a laptop on the table.
“What’re you doing?” Tiana asked.
“Preparing.” Dorothy stated.
Simi mocked her, silently. The others giggled.
“Preparing what?” Tiana asked.
Dorothy hit a button on her travel keyboard that started recording the audio of the interview. She gave them each a patronising smile and folded her arms on the table.
“Good afternoon ladies,” she smiled.
Ravi pulled a face at Zangi, who misread the situation and pulled a funnier one back, which was almost spotted by Dorothy. This prompted Ravi to kick Zangi’s shin under the table. Zangi yelped in pain. It was more surprise than pain really, but still.
“Stop it you two or no cake!” Tiana stated sharply.
Both of them gave her a dirty look that asked her what the hell she was on, but she ignored it. They shared a momentary look between themselves. They hadn’t thought about cake until it was going to be taken away. Now they wanted cake more than anything else in the world.
“You have questions?” Tiana asked Dorothy.
Dorothy had been watching the girls chatting and sniping at each other for the last five minutes and suddenly saw them for what they were. Not a story to be chased down and exposed for the entire country to be on the lookout for; a bunch of school girls who just wanted to stick together. It threw her slightly.
“Um, yes,” she mumbled.
“Hurry up then, we got places to be!” Simi complained.
Dorothy cleared her throat and stretched her hands to crack her knuckles. She lowered her hands right onto the keyboard, ready to type.
“What are your names, ages, and where are you from?” she asked.
Each girl answered, despite eye rolling or scoffing that they did as well. “What is your side of the story?” Dorothy asked.
Simi frowned. “What D’you mean?”
“Well yesterday I met Tristian, and he told me that you abandoned him in a field and drove off because you hated being there. What’s your take on that?” Dorothy asked.
Tiana shrugged. “Trissy wanted us to go to boring places.”
“Hella boring places,” Ravi agreed.
“He wouldn’t even let us go paintballing!” Tahati tutted.
“He took us to a pond and expected us to be happy. We passed a battlefield on the way there,” Zangi said.
“It took us a day to get twenty-five miles away from home,” Simi said.
“So we realised that we were gonna have to choose. Boring ass places with a miserable dude, or steal a van and go on our own,” Tiana explained.
Dorothy raised an eyebrow that made her look mildly impressed. That couldn’t cover the condescension in her voice. “That’s a pretty big choice for children to make.”
“What children fam? I’m sixteen, I do what I like,” Ravi kissed her teeth.
Simi frowned at her in the way that all friends do when they know their friend is talking shit.
“Kay... You’re fifteen though.” She said.
Ravi shot her a look of offence. “Shut up fam.”
Dorothy noticed Tahati’s eye twitch. There were a lot of things that the others knew about Tahati’s eyes. Not just that they were brown, or that she needed glasses; things like the whites of them were actually faintly pink because her laser surgery was a little bit out of line, and when she took her glasses off, her eyes were huge and buggy. She could even do this thing where she could make her irises vibrate. What they hadn’t noticed though, was when she was stressed, she developed an eye twitch.
They didn’t notice, usually because whenever she was stressed, Zangi was stressed. When Zangi was stressed she would do anything to distract herself, and her temper was short. So shed pinch you or poke you, or bounce her foot on your toes to try and get a reaction, and then snap at you like a crocodile when you reacted. Since Ravi’s fuse was often shorter and sharper, this usually meant that either they were fighting, strangling each other, or dancing together.
Tahati’s eye twitch slipped under the radar because of that.
“Miss Ghanem? Are you alright?” Dorothy asked.
Tahati rubbed her eye until it was red and cleared her throat. “Yeah, fine, whatever man.”
“And anyway,” Ravi continued talking without pausing to wonder if her friend was ok, “he never told us anything. Not where we were going, how long it would take, where we would get food, literally nothing. Like we were just ducklings following him and he was in charge of all of us!”
“Like a dictator. Like Putin, or Gaddafi, or trump!” Tahati agreed.
“If Tristian didn’t want us to steal the van and go off on our own adventure, he should have told us where we were going.” Simi stated.
“This sounds a lot like blame the victim-” Dorothy was abruptly cut off by scoffing and jeers.
“Victim? He’s no victim!”
“He gets paid to drive around the country and not deal with people, but he’s a victim.”
“Victim! He was miserable and useless and treated us like infants, he’s no victim.”
“We’re the victims for having to know him!”
“I only ate hotel biscuits when he was in charge because he wouldn’t find anything halal for us.”
“He only wanted Tiana to be there. He treated the rest of us as if we were, like, dispensable!”
“He tried to drown me!”
“He tried to drown you?” Dorothy repeated, in surprise.
Simi kicked Zangi. Each girl had been calling home with stories of things they’d done that day. Safe things. If Zangi told Dorothy Tristan tried to drown her and she published it, there’d be uproar. Their parents would find out they’d been lying too.
“That’s an exaggeration,” Tiana explained.
Zangi didn’t contest this. She realised what was at risk here.
“Erm, yeah. Like, a total exaggeration,” Ravi agreed.
“So, he didn’t try to drown you?” Dorothy asked slowly.
“Course he didn’t,” Simi stated sharply.
“Then what did happen?” Dorothy asked.
Her piercing eyes bore through Zangi, making her shift in discomfort.
“Um... Ti?” Zangi asked for support.
Tiana glanced at Tahati. Tahati was an excellent writer when she could go back and edit and change what she had until it was perfect. Thinking fast and acting genuine? That’s what drama GCSEs were for, and Tiana had a B.
“We went to this rapids place for the Olympians, and Tristian... fell in. While Zangi was trying to help him out he pulled her down and in too,” she explained.
She picked her words carefully to avoid implications.
“And she didn’t have a life jacket,” Ravi added.
Dorothy’s eyes lit up. “Really?”
“None of us did. Like, we weren’t there to have fun we were there to, like, take pictures of other people having fun,” Zangi explained.
“So he allowed you to go neglect safety products like life jackets, and as a result both you and he fell into the water, into rapids, and almost drowned?” Dorothy asked.
She failed to hide a tinge of hope in her voice as she realised that she had more reports of neglect to expose the company with. Her boss would love this.
“And he took us to a pond and laughed when I fell into it,” Tahati said.
“That was funny though, we all laughed at that,” Simi said.
“Until you climbed back into the van smelling like a swamp monster,” Tiana said.
“Leave Shrek alone he ain’t done jack to you!” Zangi huffed.
Tiana gave her a bemused smile and wondered how she had ever ended up with this girl as one of her closest friends.
“And that’s why you decided to take the van?” Dorothy asked.
“Nah fam. We took it because we were dragged out of our beds at three in the morning, and had to wait two hours for breakfast, and he didn’t even look for something halal for us,” Simi explained.
“Nah, we took the van because he wasn’t communicating with us about what he wanted from us, just what he didn’t want, so we asked ourselves what we did and didn’t want, and we agreed. We wanted the van,” Ravi explained.
“But we didn’t want him,” Zangi grinned.
“Plus, we were gonna have to stay in England, and England sucks,” Tiana stated.
Tahati beamed, slightly manically, “I love Edinburgh!”
The more they talked about what they had done, and why, the more slang crept into their words. Dorothy noted each and every one of them down, to google later, in case any adults needed a translation. She brought each of them a slice of cake, and noted down their little arguments and spats over what did or didn’t happen. Eventually, after about an hour and a half, they came to a conclusion.
“So, like, yeah. That’s it I guess,” Tahati shrugged.
Dorothy nodded. Silently she noted a couple of things down.
“We’ll need some pictures. I assume you’ll be up to that?” Dorothy gestured to Tiana with her fork.
Tiana had neglected the cutlery on offer when her cake arrived. Now she had crumbs around her mouth, and a spot of icing on her nose.
“Um, yeah sure, but, like, I already got loads. D’you wanna be just, like, way more specific?” she asked.
Dorothy gave a small chuckle. “One of all of you. Together. Preferably in front of the van, but anywhere is ok really. Just to give readers an image to work with.”
Tiana nodded along, but she stopped listening after “one of all of you”. That would require a tripod. She was beginning to regret letting Tahati destroy the one Tristian had offered. Ah well, too late now.
“So about this car?” Tahati asked, pointedly.
Again, Dorothy smiled and nodded. She led them down through the city to the closest car rental place they could find. They ended up in Enterprise car rental after a long, long trek downhill.
With a little flirting Dorothy ended up with a dark red people carrier that could sit eight people.
“This way there’s space to sleep here if you want to,” Dorothy explained.
“Do you... need a lift?” Simi asked.
This was met with a disapproving look of urgency from all the others girls, which Simi promptly ignored.
“Its just that its your ID behind the counter, so you should drive us out of here to avoid suspicion,” Simi explained.
All of the others said nothing, but silently agreed that she was probably right. Even if Ravi and Zangi were really not enthusiastic about this.
Dorothy climbed into the drivers seat. Ravi gestured to the passenger seat door for Simi to climb into. Simi wrinkled her nose and climbed into the back seat with the others. It was the only time all of them got to sit in the back together. Dorothy took them out of the rental place, and they went driving away.
“Wave bye-bye to the castle,” Tiana said to the others.
“Bye,” Ravi and Zangi chorused and waved to the strategically placed pile of bricks on the top of the hill.
“I liked it there,” Tahati declared.
“We know!” The others complained as one.
Tahati shrugged, self consciously. “What? I did!”
Dorothy laughed from the front seat, and continued driving away from the city. Towards the Glenfinnan Viaduct