Lan Lieu: Happy Birthday

Here’s my story ‘Happy Birthday’ that I brought to a meeting some months ago, I don’t think everyone could make it so any more comments welcome. LL

Happy Birthday

“Where’ve you been? You’re an hour late!”

“Piss off, squirt.” I push past Ben into the hallway, ignoring his gleeful “You’re in soooo much trouble…!” behind me.

I’m just tugging my coat off when Kelly comes in. She closes the door to the kitchen behind her and looks me up and down with a frown.

“What took you so long – birthday bumps?” She asks in her I-don’t-give-a-fuck voice. “You’d better go wash first – you look like you’ve just run all the way from school.”

“Yeah, thanks for the birthday wishes, sis,” I reply, hoping the sarcasm will disguise the fact that I feel like I’m about to have a heart attack and throw up at the same time. The truth is I have just ran half the way home – but not from school. I can feel the sweat streaming off my face and trickling down my neck. I wipe my hands on my jeans.

“Go on – I’ll tell mum there was a problem with the buses.” Kelly turns the handle on the door slowly, nodding at Ben to follow. “Five minutes,” she mouths.

The smell of roast dinner escapes briefly as they disappear into the kitchen. I take a deep breath and run my fingers through my hair. Then I pick up the rucksack at my feet and make my way up the stairs two at a time.

In my room I lock the door quickly before I pull my sweatshirt off. I take off my trainers, and then my jeans too, inspecting them all over for a shred of evidence even as I welcome the cool air against my hot back. I can’t see anything – I wasn’t standing all that close I suppose but you never know – before I drop them on the floor and reach to empty the bag onto my bed.

The knife falls out easily, bouncing lightly on the duvet. I pick it up with a blue T-shirt hanging on the back of the chair. Despite wiping it earlier I fancy there’s a slight smear on its dull surface, so I rub it down with the T-shirt again until its gleaming and then do the same with the handle. I notice it helps to stop my hands from trembling.

Finally, I look around my room for somewhere to hide it. Behind the wardrobe or somewhere inside – among the clothes and trainers? Perhaps it would be better hidden somewhere else in the house, like the kitchen? I decide to put it in a box full of old school books under my bed for the time being.

“Get rid of it!” – I can still hear Dekker’s hiss as I lie back on the bed. I feel exhausted but the pounding in my head won’t slow down.

Stupid idiot – why the fuck hadn’t I dropped it over the bridge on the way back? Now it was in my house, in my room, putting me right at the scene; it looked as if I had been the one to push it into his belly, as if I was the murderer. If it was murder. Maybe he hadn’t died after all – we hadn’t hung around to check. Either way, I had to get rid of the knife, as quickly and as far away as possible.

I try to concentrate on this but my mind keeps drifting back to what had happened less than an hour ago. The scene replays in my mind, over and over again. But most of all its his face I can see, the whiteness of his eyes in his even whiter face.

What happened today – it wasn’t meant to have been anything serious, just a little lesson. Just a bit of fun.

***

The four of us – Dekker, Ricky, Dom and me – had been hanging around outside the Costcutters after school. We were all on Boris bikes and getting ready to head over to Dekker’s for a bit before I had to go home for the birthday meal mum was planning – much to the amusement of the other three. They had already downed a few cans but I was less keen – it would be too obvious when I got home, and I just didn’t need that hassle right now. I was just finishing the fag I’d nicked from Dom when Ricky spotted Danny Smith further up the road and we decided to have some fun.

Danny had started at our school last year. He was a tall, thinnish boy with red hair, freckles and eyes that were slightly too close together. Someone – Ricky perhaps – had told us his dad was in banking, which frankly was enough reason for us all to hate him, even if Dekker hadn’t decided he couldn’t stand him at first sight. Other than a few laughs after school though, I’d never spoke to him, never saw him in any classes.

He was already turning off onto another road when we rounded the corner. As usual, Ricky, Dom and me followed Dekker’s lead, occasionally calling out to him as we discussed his banker wanker family among ourselves loudly and cycled behind him.

Eventually Dekker grew bored at Danny’s refusal to react and cycled up to stop a few paces in front of him. We were on quite a long road but I couldn’t see anyone else walking on either side. A few cars were driving past quickly.

“Hey Danny boy!” Dekker said.

“What do you want?” I heard him ask. The rest of us had paused behind him. The tips of his ears were red. I wondered briefly if he was angry or just scared.

“Well it would be nice if you acknowledged us when we talk to you,” Dekker said. “Didn’t mummy ever tell you it’s rude to ignore friends?”

There was silence was a moment. Dekker’s hood was pulled up and I couldn’t see his face.

“On your way home, are we?” His voice came softly. “Shall we take you home to mummy?”

“No thank you,” Danny mumbled stiffly. He tried to step around Dekker who moved his bike to the left to block him.

“What’s the hurry, Danny boy?”

Dekker began cycling slowly and we followed his cue so that the four of us soon encircled him. As I passed I noticed his face was expressionless.

“What do you want?” He asked again.

“It’s Vinnie’s birthday today, did anyone tell you?”

Danny’s eyes flickered briefly towards me then back to Dekker.

“Aren’t you going to wish him a happy birthday?” He continued.

This time Dekker reached out an arm as he tried to move past him. We all stopped on our bikes.

“Say, that’ s a nice jacket you’ve got there, Danny boy!” Dekker said, grabbing a fistful of it as he pulled him closer. “Tell you what – it’d make a nice birthday present.”

Suddenly everything broke out into a blur of movement. Danny, it seemed, had dared to shove Dekker away, which was so far from what Dekker had been expecting that he had toppled over from his precarious perch of the bike. It landed on top of him with a scream. We all rushed to pull him to his feet. His face was red with anger as he shouted “Get him!”

Danny was already quite far away when we gave chase, but the roads were fairly wide and open and it was obvious he wasn’t familiar with them. It wasn’t long before we had him cornered in a dirty, deserted little side street. Ricky and Dom held him down as Dekker laid into him for a few moments.

“Fucking ginger freak!” He sounded so incensed that I was beginning to feel uneasy. When he stood back I saw that his eyes were bloodshot and he was sweating heavily, and I wondered suddenly if he had taken something before those beers.  He searched in his pocket then threw me his jacket. “Hold this,” he said.

Then everything stopped. They were moving away and Danny was left lying in the dirt, unmoving. I stepped forward and stared down into his large colourless eyes; the empty whiteness around the irises matched the stunned, cool pallor of his face. As if in some kind of spoof horror comedy, a wet patch of red was spreading across his chest and soaking through his jacket and the ground.

“Let’s go.“ Dekker voice broke into the silence and we turned to fumble for our bikes.

“Vinnie – “ He had hissed then, and I turned. “Get rid of it.” He nodded at the knife lying on the ground a few inches from Danny’s foot.

I crouched down to pick it up, careful to avoid looking at his face. I didn’t need to look – it was etched on my eyeballs. I wiped the knife on a patch of grass closeby.

“Come on” Dekker said – his voice no longer certain. I avoided his face too.

***

We left the bikes by Waterloo station. Along the way we had managed to agree on a basic story about all of us going drinking for my birthday to account for that half hour (was that all it was?) between Costcutters and Waterloo.

It was partly true of course, but the taste of alcohol had soured on my tongue long ago and lying here in my room now, the story no longer sounds such a plausible alibi. Lots of people in those passing cars might have seen us on that road with him! There might be CCTV somewhere – they were everywhere these days. Fuck. I can feel the pounding in my head again as a reach for my phone.

“Vinnie!” interupts my sister’s voice from downstairs.

I sigh and turn to pull on my clothes again. “Coming!” I shout, but there’s a knock on the door.

“Vinnie. There’s someone here to see you.”

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