His name is Nathan.
I saw it from when he got to being a teenager, but it was coming from before that. He was at school most times, didn’t miss a day unless it was for something important. Not like some of them other boys. Their mothers not concerned, just thought their own child was a burden. Don’t know what day it is unless benefits coming. God knows what happens to the fathers of them children. Nathan was only four years old when his father passed.
It wasn’t the big men who start it properly on him, it was the ones who want be big men. They see the big men come from the same place, out the estate, getting big cars, nice clothes, different women every day, never paying for nothing, getting respect. I think that it’s something I can understand, with the upbringing they get, just left to fend for themselves like dogs. My Nathan had upbringing, I told him, just like his father would have told him if he was still alive, and he would have been around, not like those feckless one who have nights fun with the women, give them baby then act like it nobody’s problem but the woman. I see them in the street, hear how they call the women dirty names, slapping them like they some kind of animal. Ain’t nobody better that nobody else what I tell Nathan when he see that.
I tell Nathan that it not like where I came from. I tell Nathan that what he sees on the TV or reads about on that computer he always on can be got, and that’s what I was always told when I his age, that in this country it don’t matter where you come from or what your skin colour, it’s all available if you willing to work for it. I had it tough telling him that it could work for him if he keep going school and get his qualifications, even though he say what happened you and dad when you told the same thing by your parents but you still here on the estate, and I tells him back that if we can’t aspire to better things then we lost like them crack whores out on the street selling them body for drugs. He seen that, I know that he seen that, because he get older and still kept going to his school, and kept using that computer to read and read about stuff, and he read about where his family came from and why they was there in the first place, and he took a pride in who he was, and knew that it something special to be, and I swear, as God is my witness, that he became a man, even though him still a teenager, and worked and worked to get from this place.
It start when him old enough to want a bit independence of his own, like all boys do when they get to a certain age, when they want to go outside and set their foot down and be men. I used to look over the balcony and see the other boys hanging round, drinking, smoking, getting together with each other. I see them girls going off with men, making money down the alleyways.
I saw this day in day out, except when the rains came and they ducked inside they shops or under the canopies, knocking the fruit and thing into the gutter and showing what waste they thought of their life. And I tell you they used to run and hide when the police came driving on the estate, they used run even when them not done nothing wrong that I see, they had the fear that time which they learnt to lose later when they see how them older bad boys faced up the police, and it broke my heart to watch them young black men having such little respect for the police who were only there making everyone safe. I even wanted them police to take away and beat a bit of respect into those boys like would have happened back home before it too late.
Soon came when it really started to happen though, when I think about it it makes me mad, because them older ones not brought up right, or stopped by the teachers or police them turn into some kind gangster talking about the Yard and taking liberties with the people on the estate who only want to live good lives, then they just want more and more, and there other boys who want more and more, and they realise for them there only so much to go around, so them boys start fighting and the fighting don’t get them what they want so they start killing and once you bad boy who done some killing the next bad boy wanna be king comes along and he goes kill the top man and soon they all be dead and nobody get nothing. And the young ones see this and think that the way it is, and they want some too because they not got no mother or father telling them no different.
I send him to the shop the first time, I gave him the money in his hand and watched as he shoved it deep down in his jean pocket and nodded without looking up like I telling him how to suck eggs when I say not to get it out until him at the till waiting to pay, and even then not when anyone too near, cos some people in this world ain’t got right thinking, they thinking that anything anyone else has is theirs to take to do their evil with, and he had be careful even though him all grown up. He went off like he didn’t have no care in the world, and I rushed through to the balcony so I could see him come out the bottom of the block and cross over to the shop. I felt a flutter when I see him pass a group of them around the phone-box but they only look at him pass and I no hear anything said from so far away, but his head didn’t turn or nothing when he pass so I think it safe to say that nothing was said. They didn’t have the dogs then, nothing bout dogs that time, they come later when the black man decide that a dog snarling at his knee make him a bad man.
He come back from the shop and give back the change even before he put the milk in the fridge or sit down read the magazine he bought about games he play on the computer. I think him proud that day, and he like his father in his pride not outward, he didn’t sit there grinning ear to ear or boasting what a man he was, he just sit down treat it like any other thing, though I know he swelling up inside that his old mother who always so protective since his father went let him out.
It’s thinking back, and what happened after that I see they didn’t speak to him, and of that I certain, no words exchanged or anything else, but they saw him, saw another face they not seen before because when he out with his mother him just a baby, not worth noting or commenting on, but that day when I let him out on his own, he became something else. He became a man to me, but him become a man to them as well. They sees another man like them coming across the yard, walking like him own the place, think him bad, even though Nathan only going to get milk from the shop, I think they see that that a direct challenge because they think them own the street and if they let something go they seen as weak, and if they seen as weak they lost. They see Nathan that day and his card marked. He wasn’t going to be allowed to walk around the streets on that estate without paying his respect.
It because he went off to the shop then came back and did his study, and when I looked at the photograph of his father on the mantelpiece and asked his opinion like I always do when it comes to matters of our son together, he say to me that Nathan a good boy and he made us proud by the efforts he was making to help his mother and better himself through education. I didn’t ask about the boys outside.
Nathan went times after that, and kept going to the bus stop to get to school every day at the same time, then he started to get home a bit later, and I saw that his uniform came back marked with dirt in places it never was before, and I found tears along the linings, but when I say anything he just shrugged it off, and went into his computer just like he always did. I see a scratch on his face one time, and put my hand on his cheek to ask so he says it nothing and moved away without looking me in the eye. I put that in my mind as the first time I started worry about him.
About a month after that he came home without his bag, but don’t say nothing, and say he want nothing to eat just something about homework and coursework or some such. I asked him what he going to do about taking his things to school and he not bothered, told me nobody else was so why should I?
Then it was that I got the brick through the window, heard the running down the stairs, and saw some figures going across outside. They was howling, one punched the air. I call the police, and a young white officer come without a hat, and took a statement in his notebook, but says that there not much they can do without witnesses. Nathan came back as the policeman leaving, and he just stared so much I say what wrong, and said it a few times before he react. He shouted something at the policeman, so I slap him across the face and tell him show some respect then pulled him into the flat to let the officer do his work. Nathan yelled and shouted so much I see tears in his eyes, but he kept wiping so nothing come down his cheeks. I ask him why he so angry, but he kept shouting about bringing the police to the door, so I ask him if he in trouble, and he just ignore me and go away.
That night I look out the door and see the boys gathered around the shops across the way, and they were legion, with dogs, and one set fire to the litter bin and they all circling round and shouting, and I see they keep looking up at our flat, and I hear them call his name, saying ‘Come! Come!’ So I turn off the lights and sit in the dark When Nathan come I turn on the light and see he holding his ribs and staggering, blood from his mouth and his eyes all swollen, so I nearly scream but take him in my arms and keep saying what happen, but he only shout no when I talk about getting the police or taking him hospital, so I wipe him up as best I can and put him to bed where he turns over and shows me his back without speaking.
The next day I tell him stay home from school, and he not move.
He stay in for the next week, just lying in his bed, so I go out and get the groceries. I get back and it not till I put the key in the lock that I feel something soft on my hand, and smell it, and I see they smeared their dog muck around my lock so I feel sick and go and scrub and scrub at my hands but I not lose the smell to this day. I tell him what happen, and ask him what going on, and why all this happening, but he just stare at me without speaking, and I tell him I can help and ask again what the problem is, but he just stare and stare so much I get scared.
Then they come, they come. The pounding of feet along the way with the barking of dogs, and they hammering at the door, and kicking, and I hear all the windows smash, and they screaming his name, telling him come they going kill him, then the door goes in and I smell the burning from where I sit, and I screamed when I saw the flames on the carpet as Nathan ran past me and outside to where they are and I see him hit one so hard the boy falls back and I hear the crack as his head hit the concrete and he not move then Nathan gone as they all run as a pack of wolves and the sirens came.
I stand there as the ambulance men treating the boy on the floor and putting neck brace on and I hear the sounds from outside, so I look over the balcony and see the police everywhere with the youth running with hoods up and I see a policewoman getting kicked to the floor and a dog attacking her, so more police come, and I hear the helicopter in the sky and then I see him, walking along the edge of the roof opposite, with the searchlight from the helicopter illuminating him as they scream from the ground, calling for his blood to avenge their brethren.
So they police come to the house, and search his room and tell me that the boy still in hospital, and that he only just alive, and it depends on what he say, whether he press charges, and they say my boy a gang member because he wearing blue and they all wearing red, and they say it gang related and I say no, no, and I tell them that he study to better himself, and he no gang member.
The estate all quiet when they come the next day, and they tell me sit down, and inform me the boy died in hospital and that my boy was charged with murder. So they say again, because I don’t believe them, and I look at the photo and he asks me why? And I say, I don’t know, and it not true, but the police say so.
Then he in prison where I sees him as much as I can, but they won’t let me be with him everyday. One day he decides to go be with his father, go to a better place, and he was gone from me, and I cry every night waiting for the time when I can go be with him again.
His name is Nathan.