They sat on the top of a picnic bench in the empty playground. They had open text books and revision guides on the table around them, but they weren’t studying. They were only sitting here because the plastic roof of the shelter was the only shield they had against the colony of huge seagulls that lined the school rooftop. Even then they weren’t entirely safe. The seagulls had sent an advanced guard to hop around the playground, and nip at anything that could be food. They were rapidly advancing from the ground.
Much to Ravi’s annoyance, Simi and Tahati were tossing cold chips onto the floor, towards the seagulls. The seagulls were snapping them up, and more were being drawn down to fight for them too.
“We have to go. It’s far too easy to set this asbestos shack on fire, we could die next time,” Tiana said.
“A month though? Well miss so much!” Ravi whined.
“But we’ll do so much too! Think about it, we’ll see all of this beautiful country, and be paid to do so. No Responsibilities, free travel, food and shelter. It’s worth it!” Tiana insisted.
“I’ve got backstage for a gig at the end of the month. They cost a fortune. I’m not going,” Sapphire stated.
“Come on, us white bitches gotta stick together!” Tiana insisted.
Sapphire shrugged. “I’m Italian.”
Tiana shrugged. “Closer than Asia!”
“Yeah, our parents will not let us do this,” Simi said.
“Not a hope in hell,” Ravi and Zangi agreed.
“I’ll go,” Tahati declared suddenly.
All eyes were on her.
“You will?” Tiana asked in surprise.
“Like hell you will. Ain’t no way you’ll get your mum to agree!” Simi scoffed.
“Nah Mann, but my dad will. As long as he knows where I am, I can go anywhere,” Tahati argued.
“Yeah well my dad aint gonna let me go anywhere,” Ravi shrugged as she began to climb the stairs.
“Mine neither,” Simi said.
“Same,” Zangi said.
“You’re lucky you’re white fam, your parents let you get away with,” Simi said.
“It’s no fun doing everything you want when your friends can’t come too,” Tiana sighed.
High above them, a window was heaved open. This sent out a squeal of pain, since the windows were never opened, and had therefore rusted. To Ravi’s pleasure, the noise terrified the seagulls, who darted back to the safety of the school roof.
Dozens of those winged demons lined the rooftop, threateningly surveying the school area. They reminded Sapphire of that Alfred Hitchcock film, The Birds.
Sapphire ’s friend Neha leaned out of the window and waved to get their attention.
Neha cupped her mouth with her hands and yelled, “SAPPHIRE ! MAJOR NEW MUSIC NEWS!”
“Which band?” Sapphire asked urgently.
“Queen on the Run!” Neha called.
“That’s my backstage gig!” Sapphire gasped urgently.
She abandoned the others and raced after Neha. The others continued talking, regardless of their loss. Tahati picked up Sapphire ’s abandoned box of cold chips, and ate them with no regard to the sauce, temperature, or taste.
"Disloyal dishcloth," Zangi huffed.
"Good name for a band," Ravi smirked.
“It’s all already paid for, so it’s not going to cost anything, and we’ll be looked after by adults everywhere we go. Please guys. This could be so much fun!” Tiana begged.
“I’ll ask my mum,” Zangi said.
The others mirrored her sentiment. Tiana closed her eyes and sighed. As much as she loved her friends, they constantly changed their minds. They often hid behind their parents to claim they couldn’t go somewhere. Usually last minute too. Even though they were all she wanted, they bailed on her so often she came to resent it. To resent them.
Tiana wouldn’t go alone. She would refuse to. One of them would have to come too. And then they would domino, and all of them would go. They had to.
Tahati had been the only one to agree to steal the banner when Tiana suggested it. Once she agreed, Ravi agreed to be the look out. Once Ravi was on board, Zangi was too. Simi didn’t want to be left out so she joined in too. Tiana needed Tahati.
In that moment, Tahati became the most important person Tiana knew.
“Here,” Tiana held her box of chips out to Tahati.
Tahati raised a bushy eyebrow suspiciously. Tiana would never give up chips without a good reason. Like poison.
“They’re cold,” Tiana said, “I don’t do cold chips. They taste clammy.”
Tahati shrugged. “You’re loss!”
She took the box greedily, and tipped the chips into her own box, which was now so sodden with grease that the bottom was sagging.
“You can’t get chips this good anywhere else in the country!” Simi said sarcastically.
“It’s your fault the chips are crap and you know it!” Zangi argued.
The chips had been brought in a small shop down the road that specialised in chicken and barely passed health inspections. They were skinny and greasy and went cold in minutes. Yet there was a kebab shop across the road that were experts in chips. They were crisp and moist and stayed hot until you finished the bag. Also they gave more per portion, and were bigger anyway. The two reasons why they went to the chicken shop was because they cost fifty pence, as opposed to two pounds, and Simi was banned from the kebab shop. Unsettled bills.
“I mean its just 50p. You could have borrowed it from one of us, but no-o-o. You just kept refusing to pay. Now we have to go to the cheap shop with crap chips!” Zangi continued.
“Shut up Man, at least we still have chips!” Simi kissed her teeth.
“Yeah but once we get banned from there we’ll have to go to the other chip shop, and that’s all fish grease!” Ravi argued.
“Bismillah - we will not! We’ll go to that chicken shop next to the butcher,” Simi said.
“That got shut down,” Ravi said.
“What why?!” Zangi gasped.
“Probably because the guy who cooked the chips used to wipe his nose on his hand before serving them,” Simi said.
“Nah, its cause they lied about being halal,” Tahati said.
“Ah man’s never going there!” Simi said.
“I can’t believe that you’re giving up the chance to get out of this dead end town, and you’re giving it up. You do realise that outside of this ugly damn town, we’re not banned from any chip shops, and the chip aren’t soggy scraps, and no one is claiming mouse is a substitute for chicken in nuggets!” Tiana snapped.
Zangi’s eyes became saucers and Ravi wrinkled her nose in disgust.
“Did they actually?!” Zangi squeaked.
“Yeah Ginger Molly found a tail in one,” Tiana said.
There was loud groaning, as you would expect.
“But Out on this trip, we could eat anything we want, and someone else has to pay for it!” Tiana insisted, “How can you not want that?”
“Free food you say?” Tahati said, curiously.
“Free everything fam. It’s a trip where I do all the work and you stand there looking - well pretty might be too difficult for you lot,” Tiana smirked.
Ravi punched her arm. Hard. Tiana grinned as she rubbed her arm.
“Worth it,” she said.
The conversion lulled for a while as they drifted between topics. All the while Tahati was quietly eating the clammy cold chips.
Then she suddenly declared, “I’ve never gone anywhere else in this country.”
“Huh?” Ravi asked.
She and Zangi had gotten into a slapping fight where they could only move their hands from the wrist down, and they weren’t listening.
“Every time we go on holiday, we go across Europe or into Asia. I’ve been to Manchester, but nowhere else outside London,” Tahati explained.
“That’s sad man,” Tiana said.
“Yeah but you ain’t done jack outside England so,” Simi said to Tiana.
“What the hell? I’ve been outside England! I’ve been all over Europe just not recently,” Tiana argued.
“Ever been outside Europe?” Ravi asked.
“No. Ever been to Scotland?” Tiana asked.
“I went Wales once,” Simi shrugged.
“Wales is dirt compared to Scotland,” Tiana stated.
“I liked Wales! The mountains were beautiful and I chased sheep. Tahati would like it,” Simi grinned.
The others grinned at her too. But she was growing ever more annoyed and shouted, “I DIDNT SHAG A SHEEP!”
She yelled it so loudly that Mr Conduit stopped and looked over in surprise. The others looked back, filled with schadenfreude. They were pinning back their giggles, but it was getting harder to do so.
“Good to know,” he said.
With that he walked away. The girls couldn’t hold it back, and exploded into giggles. While the others howled with laughter, Tahati turned traffic light red, and buried her face in her lap.
“You have to come with me now. Otherwise you have to stay and face him for an extra month before you come back to sixth form!” Tiana laughed.
Tahati groaned loudly. Again. she didn’t even want to come back to the academy for sixth form, but her mother was forcing her to, and now she had made it all a million times worse. Simi was staying too, and she would never – never - allow Tahati to forget this moment.
Unless she could be distracted.
While driving across the country.
Tahati had to get her father to agree now. It was a matter of life or death