“Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.”
Book of Joel, Chapter One, Verses two and three
The building was an intimidating one, as he supposed it should be. Its grey antique features stood out from the brand new shop fronts and cafes that surrounded it and that by itself made it unique. Age, wisdom and experience all shouted from its walls, but it was the authority that he found hard to forgive.
It had always been a law court, ever since there was law to uphold. It mocked him as an insignificance but he did not understand its indifference. The world was as he saw it. He took no notice of how other things or other people saw it.
Martin felt uncomfortable in his suit. He didn’t wear suits often. Weddings and funerals. Nothing else. Except this. He tugged at the shirt collar and the top button came away with the force. He swore gently but strongly under his breath. The shirt was looser but it might mar his appearance. He pulled the tie up tighter to cover his mistake. Appearance was everything, he knew that much at least. He looked at his watch. It was quarter to. He had fifteen minutes. He was not sure what to do next but quickly looked around himself, assuming that someone might have been watching him. Despite the obvious risks, the summons brought with it a degree of kudos. The others would respect him for this little experience. He wouldn’t get a prison sentence, he felt sure of that. Perhaps community service. Irritating but not absolute. His leg itched and he scratched it. The suit had belonged to Danny, been worn in similar circumstances, and it didn’t fit Martin properly. It was made from some kind of wool. But it looked good and that was what was important.
He supposed he should go in. It was odd that he had an attitude of first impressions. He normally reserved that for work experience interviews or for meeting new people. He cared a great deal what others thought of him, despite his apparent throw-away attitude.
The guard at the desk looked him up and down in an arrogant manner. ‘Time?’ he asked. Martin replied in a surprisingly resonant voice.
‘Over there, to the left then. Court seven,’ continued the security guard.
Martin had to ask. ‘How did you know what I was here for? I might have been anyone.’
Laughter in the guard’s eyes. ‘The suit,’ he said, ‘always the suit.’
Martin found Court Seven with ease. They were all labelled with clear signs. The corridor was wide enough for a few tailored benches along its mid line. There were a couple of people seated around, awaiting their call to one of the various courtrooms. Martin took a seat. He did not recognise any of the other people. He was too caught up in his own situation to care. At the far end of the corridor was a huge double glazed window, which looked out on the street below. The traffic was constant. There was never a gap and the pedestrian crossing was well used.
The window itself was steamed up at the top. Where it was in reach someone had wiped the condensation away to get a better view. Martin could make out the motion of the unknown hand.
He didn’t hear his name being called. When he did recognise it he had to shake himself. He had been lost in thought. That happened sometimes. He remembered where he was and stood up slowly, making his way into the magistrate’s court.
He had only ever been in a crown court before, to show support for his elder brother and was surprised at how different it was from this. This room was far smaller and far less imposing. It was like the headmaster’s office at school. The walls were panelled in the same dark, oak boards, surrounded by a lighter rail. Light from the room’s lamps was reflected from it, giving a misty appearance. Martin did not think this had been a considered option but an accident.
At the front of the courtroom was a huge bench, behind which the magistrates must have sat. It was empty. There were only one or two other people in the room: the guard who had ushered him in and a clerk of some kind, occupying himself with reference to his typewriter. Martin would have expected a more technical method of recording information but there were none in sight. Without preamble a side door, behind the imposing bench, opened. The man who walked in was fairly young, perhaps early forties. This surprised Martin. He had been expecting someone far older. The magistrate waved them to sit down before they had even stood. It seemed informal. Martin thought he would have been asked to stand throughout proceedings but he was not.
‘Martin Garvin. Sixteen. Taking a car without permission.’ The clerk spoke tiredly, as if repeating overworked lines in a worn out soap opera. Martin remembered the night of the alleged crime. He hadn’t taken a car without permission. He has stolen it. Only defensive words later had ensured the lesser charge.
‘Yes,’ said the magistrate. He looked down at paper work in front of him. Martin wondered what he was looking at. Some dossier he supposed.
Martin didn’t know the question had been directed at him. It was repeated. Then he realised how foolish he would sound if he tried to explain his temporary deafness and his habit of becoming lost in thought. ‘Yes,’ he replied, stammering out his answer in uncertain confidence.
More looking. More silence.
‘It says in this report that the evidence is clear cut. The car was taken from St. Alistair Road. Several people saw you doing it. You were apprehended whilst driving it. Have you anything to say?’
The magistrate looked directly at Martin, seemingly disappointed at the silence he received in reply. ‘Well, I’ll take that as a no then. Better than the vulgarity some of your peers respond with.’
Martin snorted with that and was eyed with suspicion. ‘School comments, let me see. “ Mr.Garvin is an intelligent young man. He is communicative, well read and commonsensical.” It seems this latter attribute has let you down?’ It was said like a question, hanging in the air. ‘I see from your personal statement that you are articulate. You express yourself well. Yet I am confused? How did you come to be here?’
Martin, as he had already promised himself, remained silent.
‘I am not a mind reader.’
“Dickens once said that ‘Charity begins at home.’ ‘Helping yourself’ comes to mind. I am not a harsh man, but neither am I loaded with the task of social transformations. One hundred hours community service.’
Within, Martin grinned.
‘Absolutely no sweat.’
‘Come on man, your balls must have been janglin’. Creepy place.’
‘I told you: no sweat. Community service. Some old dear and a bit of gard’ning. That’s all.’
‘Like teachers them. A bit of mouth and all tears and screams.’
‘Yeah, well I said nothing. Let’s go.’
They walked out of the flat door in single file. Richmond went first and Martin followed, ignoring the unintelligible shouts of his mother from upstairs.
‘Pissed again?’ asked Richmond.
‘I guess,’ replied Martin, embarrassed to confirm the idea.
‘Where we going?’
‘Usual, where else?’
The usual was the basketball park, which doubled as a soccer pitch. The hard floor had been covered with some kind of new century wonder material. But no sooner had it been laid then a tear in it had appeared. No-one had repaired it and the rain had made it worse. No-one played basket ball there. No-one had asked the kids so it was no wonder it was an irrelevant piece of architecture. They would have preferred a bicycle track or similar. Wasted money. It was though a place to gather and chill out. They often met up there in the evenings after school. It was that or a menu of digital TV and set-up home video clips.
Martin and Richmond greeted the others with guttural and unintelligible pronouncements. There were about fifteen kids in all. They did not mean to be intimidating but like anything with numbers they were. Martin was greeted with a few cheers and an improvised round of applause. They had all known about the court case.
‘What happening, man?’ asked Biker, a lad who lived in the flat below Martin and was even in his physics class but whom he did not know at all well.
‘Community stuff, that’s all.’
‘Pain in the arse though man. Cleaning up wall art, man?’
‘Something like that.’ Martin did not like Biker’s odd way of speaking. For no apparent reason there was a general murmur then. Martin ignored it.
He turned to Richmond. ‘Got a light?’ he asked, reaching into his jacked for one of his gnarled cigarettes. Richmond passed him a lighter and Martin used his hand as a windshield. A second later he was puffing on the cigarette, enjoying the warmth of the fumes as they passed his lips. He blew a smoke ring, something he had been practising for a while. It came out smooth but soon disappeared into a pointless mass of smoke.
‘Cool,’ commented Richmond.
They spent the rest of the evening exchanging inadequate remarks, supplemented by tasteless smoke.
He’d always had problems waking up. The alarm clock buzzed irritatingly and he groped for it with his unseen hand. Then he remembered where he was and that brief period of not knowing was filled with immediate disappointment. He opened his eyes and stared at the bedroom ceiling. He knew it well. They had lived here for seventeen years. In his living memory for always. He had inherited this room when Danny was sent down. He’d inherited a lot of stuff then, including the ill fitting suit. It was more on loan really. Danny would be back one day: maybe. He lay still for a few more minutes, knowing he would have to get up soon. Sure enough the snooze time ran out and the alarm bellowed for a second time. He looked at the alarm clock. It was 7.30 a.m. He had stolen the alarm clock from an electrical shop in the high street. He had almost been caught but had known the local roads too well. He wished he had chosen with more care. It could have done with a radio on it.
Martin forced himself out of bed. He wondered over to the mirror and looked in it. He wasn’t bad looking, not by a long shot and fortunately he had been excused the intense scarring of pimply youth, which had plagued his brother. His hair was dark, kept short and spiked. His eyes were Paul Newman blue. Best thing about his face. The nose was not over bearing but it was sharp and so dominated the landscape. Eyebrows: thin and quiet. Lips: not too full, or too fat. He inspected his eyes for any sign of sleep dust. He blinked a few times then rolled some away with his hand. He flicked it onto the floor. His hair was out of place so he rubbed some wet-style gel into it and spent ten minutes flicking it here and there. He smiled, a wide uncompromising smile. Trip to the bathroom was next.
No-one else in the flat was up. He could hear some noise coming from his mother’s bedroom but wasn’t sure what it was. He went to the bathroom and spent some more time contemplating himself in the mirror. Then he brushed his teeth. He spent a little while with them. He liked the feeling of well brushed teeth and it cleared away the foul after taste of smoking too many cigarettes. Then, following the advice of the dentist on his one and only ever trip there, he flossed them, clearing the gaps between those dominant white tombstones. He bought the floss himself and it was his secret. He would loose severe credibility points if anyone ever saw him. It was the same as everything else: keeping a balance. A calculated balance. One day he feared he would fall.
He left the bathroom, having briefly washed himself and returned to the bedroom to get changed. The school had experimented with a uniform policy but it didn’t work out. Colours were recommended but not insisted upon. He slipped on black jeans and an open necked shirt. There was no tie. On his feet he chose a pair of dark navy socks then slipped on a pair of tired Doc Marten shoes. Casually smart. Then he headed towards the kitchen in search of some breakfast. He was slightly surprised to see someone there already, but he had faced the same situation before so wasn’t too riled.
The man, who was in his mid-thirties, was brooding over a cup of coffee. He looked up. ‘Didn’t see you last night. Martin right?’
Martin was surprised. Normally they didn’t bother to speak to him. ‘Postman’s been. This is yours.’
Martin didn’t reply but grabbed the letter. He glanced down at it and took in the court watermark. Then he put it in his pocket.
‘I know what that is,’ said the stranger, rubbing his unshaven chin as if not sure what to say next.
Martin didn’t reply. He often treated silence as the best option. ‘I’ve seen a few in my time. Confirmation or summons?’
Martin gauged the risks. This was difficult. He had not told his mother about the court case. She would have done her nut, more so than usual. ‘I dunno,’ he replied feebly. ‘I was in court yesterday.’
‘It’ll be a confirmation of the sentence. Nothing too drastic I hope.’ The man spoke the words with a rough accent but they were alien, as if foreign.
‘Community service. Nothing much.’
‘Right then,’ said the man in a quandary of some kind, ‘I won’t tell Shel…your mum.’
‘Thanks,’ muttered Martin. He did not like being in anyone’s debt. He walked into the unkempt kitchen. As he passed the broken table in the middle he took note of the man’s dressing gown. It was light cotton, in a grey chequered pattern. Posh.
Martin looked in the cupboard in the hope of finding some cereal that was not stale. He never really had any definite hope in the task, just a small quota of faith. He was not successful but settled on stale bread, transformed to life by a toaster that worked intermittently.
He didn’t know what to say to the man. Normally he would have ignored him but that was not to his advantage. Already this person knew something about him. He wanted it kept secret so he sat down and smiled pleasantly. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.’
The man looked up at him. ‘It’s John,’ he said and offered out his hand. ‘Pleased to meet you Martin.’ Martin took the hand and shook it. He’d probably never see the bloke again.
As he went to fetch his lukewarm toast he muttered ‘Likewise. Gotto go, school and all that.’
It was only 7.51 but Martin liked to arrive with plenty of time in hand. On the way out he grabbed his rucksack. John came to see him off. Unusual. ‘See you then,’ he said.
‘Maybe,’ replied Martin.
As he went past Richmond’s flat he banged on the door and was rewarded by a dark, sleepy face at the window, which soon broke out into a wide grin. Seconds later the flat’s door opened wide. ‘Morning,’ a shrill cry came from the kitchen.
‘Gd’morning,’ replied Martin. It was always wise to keep in with your friend’s parents. Richmond shouted his farewells and joined Martin. They spoke for a while about the previous evening.
It only took them a few minutes to arrive at the school gates, which had only just opened up. The care-taker, a man in his mid twenties, dressed unsuitably in a 1980s shell suit wandered away at a sullen pace after he had unlocked the gates, head drooped as if the floor held something of concern. Martin spied him out of the corner of his eye. It was a career path he did not want to take.
They had half an hour before they were to take their places in the hall for weekly assembly. It was Friday. Friday was good. The weekend and free-time awaited. With a little money it could be interesting as well.
They tended to stand by their lockers at this time of the morning, greeting some kids as they came in, blatantly ignoring others. There was a core group of them: seven. Others came and went. Acceptance was largely encouraged by the clothes they wore and the language they spoke. Martin knew that was not a good basis on which to judge someone, but he also knew that it was an assumption here. One that couldn’t be changed. Give it another couple of months and he would have left. He had played the game well. No-one had a clue about the amount of work he really did in his spare time, which was quite a lot. In public he had condemned revising for exams as a waste of time, laughing with the rest of them. With similar motives he opted to do as little coursework as possible, relying instead on untested skill. He felt he would sail through his exams. By the time the results were posted he would have left. There would be no comeback. Except perhaps from Richmond.
His thoughts were interrupted by a deliberately loud comment from Richmond. ‘Down boy, down,’ he said.
Martin looked up. Charlotte had just walked past. She took a lot of stick, but for good reasons. She was attractive. She twirled her head and gave them a lingering look. Then she was gone. ‘Man, what I’d do.’ Martin clamped his hand over Richmond’s mouth before he could finish. Then as insurance he poked his friend in the ribs. Richmond responded with a friendly punch. They were interrupted by an invasive, dictatorial ring. It was the school bell, herding them as it always did. Martin hadn’t even got his books yet. He opened his locker and searched frantically for them, cool exterior giving way to immediate panic. Perhaps he wasn’t as laid back as he supposed.
Everyone headed to the assembly hall and took their seats. It was actually the school gym which served the purpose. Plastic orange chairs, characterised by their bubbly surface, were set in an orderly fashion. Upon these uncomfortable resting places the students perched, kept alert by their discomfort. Various people spoke, bearing allegiance to their varied duties, posting verbal awareness notices. The school nurse spoke about the risk of flu. It went on. Finally the Headmaster spoke. Normally he would lead them straight into song. Today was different.
‘It’s time for a real challenge. Mocks are now behind you but revision still needs to be constant. Exams are harder than ever, despite public cynicism. Coursework is mostly completed. The exams loom. Be true to yourself. That’s all I have to say.’ His words were met with the usual derision, catcalls, shuffling of feet and inaudible comments. Martin remained quiet, as he usually did.
At mid morning break Martin remembered about the letter in his pocket. They had endured History and English that morning. Both teachers were men and fanatical about their subjects. Martin thought this was a little limiting but he listened to them and learnt from them. The lessons were forty five minutes but they had begun the day with double English Literature. It was eleven o’clock now. When he put his hand in his pocket for the compulsory cigarette he felt the sharp edges of the envelope and he pulled it out.
‘What’s that then?’ asked Richmond.
‘A letter from the courts.’
‘Yeah.’ Martin tore it open. It was, as John had guessed that morning, a confirmation of his sentence and its consequences. Martin was not used to formality so was surprised when he was addressed as Mr. Garvin. The letter was written in plain simple English. His task was simple. One hundred hours community service. To take place three times a week, from 4-00 pm to 6-00pm. He worked it out quickly. Seventeen weeks. Four months, give or take. He hadn’t really considered the consequences. He had avoided a prison sentence but had sacrificed much of the time he had put aside for revision. He wasn’t sure how he was going to sort this one out. He looked down at the letter. There was a name and address. ‘Mrs. R. Chambers. 17 Looking-glass Road.’
Martin didn’t like swearing. On rare occasions he did. He cursed loudly, realising his plans weren’t as infallible as he had thought they were.