Even Jimmy’s mum had given up on him. She had long ago packed up and gone to live with her sister down South and the letters had all but dried up. Not that this bothered Jimmy at all; he was part of The Crew. He was looked after, he was protected. Nothing could touch him. They were his family now and as long as he stayed loyal, true, he was sorted for life.
One winter night, the estate was still. Everyone was secured behind their reinforced doors, their blind eyes steadfastly turned away from the darkness outside. Jimmy wandered the streets aimlessly, kicking out randomly at the feral cats that foraged for food amongst the discarded litter. He wasn’t afraid; he was The Crew. He knew no one would come near him. In his hands he carried his baseball bat, his fingers reading the notches along its neck. These were his Badges of Honour, one for each person he had ‘taken out’ for his gang. These had earned him his protection and his belonging. He was proud of each of them.
As Jimmy rounded a corner, he spotted a woman leaning against a lamp post. Her skirt barely skimmed her thighs and her slender legs ended in knife point heels. In the weak light, Jimmy could see her lazily sucking on her cigarette, smoke drifting from pursed lips. As he drew nearer, her eyes slid round to meet his and she offered him a plastic smile.
“Hello Darlin’,” she said, her voice gravelly, smoke stained. For a minute she held his gaze and then her eyes turned once more to stare into the black night.
Jimmy looked into her face; it was harsh and lined. She was younger than he first thought but each etched grove spoke of hard times and a tired life. Jimmy allowed his eyes to travel the length of her body until they caught a glimpse of a glitter at her throat.
“What’s that you got?” he asked her, pointing at neck.
The woman’s hand strayed to her throat giving Jimmy a clearer view of the necklace she was wearing. Even in the failing light, he could see by its shimmer it was quality. His hand tightened around the neck of his baseball.
“Give it here!” he commanded, holding out his hand.
The woman smiled to herself and did not reply. Jimmy felt his anger rising.
“Give it here!” he demanded once more. Still he received no reply. Jimmy lifted the baseball bat high over his head and brought it down with sickening force onto the woman’s head. One more notch.
Or so he thought. The bat vibrated with such force that he couldn’t hold it any more. The woman had not a mark on her. Turning to face Jimmy, she took hold of his wrist in her hand with a force that made him cry out.
“Jimmy, God wants you back!” she said.
Jimmy wrenched his arm free and ran. As he neared the corner of the street, he turned and looked behind him. The woman was still there only she was surrounded by a brilliant light that flowed away from her like ripples on a pond. She was pointing at him.
“Jimmy,” she cried after him, “God wants you back.”
Jimmy ran once more and this time he did not stop.
Later that night, Jimmy packed up his stuff and left the estate. He was different now but there was no way his Crew were going to understand. Leaving them was not an option; membership was a lifetime thing. They would kill him. By morning there would be a price on his head, someone else’s notch. Best he disappeared all together.
Jimmy made a go of things. He got himself through school, found himself a job and married a nice girl. Money was a bit tight but they managed and even though things weren’t always easy – old habits take a while to die – he never forgot his experience on the estate and he learned to live his life differently.
Eventually, Jimmy became a father. As he held his tiny daughter, he bent his head and breathed in her delicious, milky smell. There in that moment he felt the weight of his responsibilities and the joy of his future. He felt the possibilities one fateful night had brought him and he felt peace. He was home. He pressed his lips to the soft downy forehead of his little girl.
“Angela,” he whispered. “My Angela.”
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