It’s 2022 and Robbie, aged fifteen, is living with his mother, Paula, in a semi-derelict 1960s council house on a vast estate of public housing to the north of the city. Paula describes living there as ‘like being in the Wild West’ where security guards have to protect bus drivers. One bus shelter carries a homemade poster of a policewoman with a noose round her neck.
It’s early morning. Robbie and Paula sit on white plastic garden chairs in the freezing kitchen, their hands warmed by steaming mugs of black tea.
You’ll get warm when you get to school, Paula says.
Come on, Robbie. You’ll never escape dumps like this if you miss your education.
What education, Mum? The teachers are scared of the kids. Nothing gets taught. It’s just fighting and shouting. Anyone who tries to learn gets beaten up.
Has that happened to you?
Robbie laughs. I’m too big, Mum; no one would dare.
The single light bulb that hangs from the ceiling flickers and dies. Paula groans, That was our last light bulb. I’m tired of having to choose between heating, lighting or eating, because we can’t have all three. I’ll go down the food bank and see if they have candles and something for tea. Want to come?
Sorry, I got to see someone.
When Paula returns from the food bank, she finds a light bulb burning in the hall. In the kitchen a replacement light bulb shines. Robbie is sitting on a garden chair at the table next to a small pile of boxed light bulbs. Did you steal those? she demands.
I got a job. They were payment in kind, and I got cash.
What sort of job?
Clearing little shits out of Mr Mehdi’s shop.
Little shits usually have bigger shits to protect them, Paula warns.
I can handle them, Mum.
Who’s that? Paula asks, hearing pounding on the front door.
A man’s voice shouts, Police, coming in! Two police constables in protective body armour barge into the kitchen.
What you want? Paula asks.
One of the officers points at Robbie. We saw him coming out of that Iranian’s shop stuffing stolen light bulbs in his pockets.
Robbie laughs. I got a job at Mr Mehdi’s shop stopping thieving. He asked you for help, but you’re useless.
Think you’re a comic book hero, do you?
No, just gotta bit of bottle. You lot should be dressed in yellow.
From outside, there’s the sound of cheering and broken glass.
Robbie and Paula follow the police to the front door. A flaming Molotov cocktail has been thrown through the shattered police car windscreen. Robbie pushes Paula back inside the house as the car explodes.
In the kitchen, Paula holds up a newspaper. I picked this up at the food bank. It says there are 4.2 million children in the UK living in poverty.
Am I a child, Mum? I don’t feel like a kid.
I’m sorry, love. Poverty stole your childhood long ago.
© Phil Cosker 2022
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.