Algebra

Tramway

Issue 4

The Birthday Party

by Tat Usher

That little girl is there again, under the big tree round the back of the dustbins.  I kneel on my bed and rub at the dirt on the window to see better.  She’s sitting on the cracked up concrete in her manky red anorak, staring up at the tree, most likely chatting away to herself.  There’s some cups or something.  Hard to see from way up here.  She’s most likely having a teddy bears’ picnic, except I can’t see any teddy bears.  The leaves of the tree are still like a photo – nothing moving out there except a black dog running between the blocks and the girl waving her arms about.  She’s not right in the head.  She lives three floors down, on the 11th.  Hanif says her mum’s an alkie.

The Eastenders tune comes blaring through the wall. 

“Krishnan!” my mum yells.  “Get in the kitchen and do the washing up!”

I sneak to the front door, close it silently and run down the stairs to the 13th to call the lift.





Today is Winden Lady’s 399th birthday.  When she’s 400 she’s going to have a huge party, but this time it’s just her and me and Krishna Boy.  I’ve brought three cups of Ribena and three triangles of Laughing Cow cheese and three digestive biscuits unfortunately without chocolate on.  Winden Lady told me she doesn’t like chocolate anyway.  I’ve made her a birthday card with 399 plane tree leaves on it. I spilled some of the Ribena in the lift, because it jolted when it got to the ground floor.

I’m waiting for Winden Lady to come down from the plane tree.  You wouldn’t think anyone could be that old and live up a tree like she does.  You’d think someone that old would be a pile of dust by now.  I asked my mum what dust is made out of and she said it’s tiny bits of dead people.  At school they told us that dead people go to Heaven, but my mum says they made all that Heaven and God stuff up to make themselves feel better.  It’s just the souls that go to Heaven.  The bodies stay on Earth and turn into dust.  The thing is, what if a little bit of someone’s soul got left in their body by accident, and then got turned into dust, and then went swirling round the world for ever?  An alive person might breathe it in.  I hold my breath if I ever see dust in the air because I don’t want to breathe in all those dead people and maybe their souls too.  





When the lift door opens, Summerton is standing in there with a big grin on his ugly face.  I run for the stairs and he’s after me.  I only make it halfway down the first flight when Summerton grabs me and slams me against the wall.  

“Where you off to in such a fuckin hurry ya little Paki bastard?”

It’s echoey on the stairs so his voice is extra loud.  I don’t say anything.  He shakes me and my head knocks hard against the concrete.  There’s a smell of piss.  

I say, “Nowhere.  Outside.”

“Your brother owes me a fiver.” 

My legs are shaking.  Hanif says you must never cry, whatever happens.  Crying is for losers.  If I look at Summerton’s face I’ll most likely cry so I shut my eyes.  Summerton’s hands are in the pockets of my tracksuit and he’s found Megatron.  I open my eyes and see him snap Megatron’s leg off and chuck it down the stairs.  He spits in my face.  The spit is cold and starts dripping off my chin. I try to wipe it off with my arm but Summerton pins my shoulders back against the wall.  I’m almost crying but it doesn’t count if the tears stay in your eyes, so I concentrate on sucking them back in and thinking, not a loser not a loser.

“You really fuckin stink, you Pakis.  Fuck off home and have a bath in bleach.”  He laughs and lets go of me, walks back up the stairs still laughing.  





Here comes Krishna Boy.  He’s walked all the way from India to be here.  He’s called Krishna Boy because he believes in Hinduism.  We learned about Hinduism at school.  There are lots of different gods that all do different things.  The best one is Krishna, who has blue skin.  I’d like to have blue skin.  I think I’ll change my skin to blue when I don’t have to go to school anymore, which I’m hoping will be soon.  Krishna Boy doesn’t need to go to school because he’s already learned everything he needs to know.  He has brown skin.  I might try being half brown and half blue, or maybe blue in summer and brown in winter. 

“Hello Krishna Boy.”

Hello Rae. It’s good to see you!

I give Krishna Boy a hug.  Now here comes Winden Lady, climbing down the tree in her long black dress.

Hello Rae. Hello Krishna Boy.

“Happy birthday, Winden Lady!  Yesterday I was looking out the window and I saw you running between the tower blocks catching air in a bin bag.  I wondered if you were hoping to fly, and I felt sad because I knew the air was too heavy.  I wanted to go out and tell you that you should wait until a different day when the air was lighter, but you were running so fast I couldn’t of caught up with you.”

Today might be better for flying.  We can try later.  I love Ribena!  And how kind of you to make me a birthday card!

“There are 399 leaves.”

Exactly the right number.  How did you manage to fit them all on?





I walk down all the stairs.  Some tears fall out but it doesn’t count because Summerton didn’t see.  Not a loser. Not a loser.  I pick up Megatron and his broken off leg and put them back in my pocket.  It takes a long time to get to the ground floor.  Outside the sun’s still shining.  It’s warm and you can smell the rubbish.  Over by the big tree the little girl is mumbling away to herself, waving her hands in the air like a spaz.  Then she sees me and shuts up and sits hunched like a gnome in her red anorak, not looking at me.  There’s some biscuits on the ground so I pick one up and put the whole thing in my mouth.  There’s also some cheese triangles.  I step on one of them and a worm of cheese comes squishing out from under my trainer.

The girl stares at the worm and then jumps up. “You shouldn’t of done that!” she shouts. “It was for someone else!”

“Who?” I ask with my mouth full of biscuit.

“My friend.”

“You haven’t got any friends.”

“I have!”  She looks like she might cry.  She tugs at the strings on the hood of her anorak and bites her lip.  

I look up at the block and count the floors back up to my bedroom window.  I don’t want the girl to be a loser.  

“What’s your name?” the girl asks.

“Chris.”

She stares at me.  “Krishna?”

I shrug my shoulders and suck my teeth like Hanif and kick the tree trunk.  

She frowns.  “Where did you come from?”

“The 14th.” 

She says nothing for a while, then sits back down. “Do you want some Ribena?”

I shrug.  I sit down and pick up one of the cups. “Is this a teddy bears’ picnic or what?”

“Of course not!” the girl glares at me. “It’s a birthday party.”

“Oh. Happy birthday,” I say.

The girl smiles.  “Happy birthday!” she says.





I close the door of the flat silently.  Eastenders is still on.

“Krishnan!” my mum shouts.  “Get in that kitchen and do the washing up, now!”

In the kitchen the sunset light is making the cracks in the windowpane glow like threads of fire.  I want to look away, but I don’t, I keep on looking.  

Author

Tat Usher graduated with distinction with an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia in 2007, and in 2008 received a New Writers Award from the Scottish Book Trust. Since then she’s been exploring a career in worm farming while in the final throes of her novel, Goatman. She lives in a wooden hut in Argyll.