Pigeon shit splattered on the dirty brown jacket he’d slept on the previous evening, it smelt damp. Grey pull himself to a seated position and rubbed his eyes. The cold air ripped through his remaining senses, hastening the constrictions in his belly and telling him he needed to eat. The car park wasn’t an ideal bedroom, but it beat getting pissed on in the park…no one came up here much unless they needed sleep. He’d taken his fair share of beatings and one of his lower right ribs still ached from a kicking last September. Surrounded by cackling voices Grey had balled up like porcupine waiting his end, but some guy chased them off. It hadn’t always been like this. Grey had been a champion.
A summer afternoon in ’82, with crisp blue sky and the sun gleaming on new placed oval windows. Kids were learning to walk up walls, as pretty young mothers chatted over half packed bags whilst older women with tight permed hair conducted a symphony of rattling cash. Grey and Pete rolled out their mat in front by the benches. They sat at either end of the blue linoleum that Pete had nicked from his Dad’s garage and spread out their paraphernalia in ritual. Jim joined on the east corner. They prepared roll ups from rusty tins that Matty D collected from his Granddad and sold at school, whilst their eyes flitted nervously between each other and the various passersby. Grey knew they could pull it off, but the others kept doubting. The garage practice, the time at the telly digesting the moves, lying on your back dreaming of spin, bass pumping and lyrics spat ferocious.
‘When we gonna start?’ said Jim.
‘When your ready boy’
‘Who you calling boy?’
‘Call me what?’
‘What you like?’
They laughed and smoked, sitting cross legged breathing in the Sunday morning air.
Listening to the traffic rumble they watched each other in expectation. Grey clasped his hands together and cracked his knuckles audibly telling Jim to start the tunes. The music would come from Jim’s solid metal blaster; a heavy beast that ate chunky batteries and pumped sound through two black grills into the surrounding atmosphere. Jim activated the mechanism and inserted a green C60 with a satisfying click then turned the silver knob. The beast whirred into life, as Jim quickly adjusted the EQ; Grey and Pete stood back from the mat and discussed the situation with raised eyebrows and a bit of eye contact. Grey nodded and approached with determination and heart racing, his mind telling him too many things to process and a general feeling that nothing else mattered. The tune squeaked to a scratchy start followed by the familiar beat, as his hands reached down to the mat and he started to spin.
Practice strengthened forearms bore his slight weight, he moved with unexpected grace through his routine; gyroscopic motion channeled nervous energy into freedom, as the blue sky swam with red brick colour and green from the occasional plant. His palms gripping despite the sweat, the sound fluttering in rotation, traveling from ear to toe and back. Then the bars dipped signaling change, and in one move he found himself upright and back at the edge of the mat, just in time to catch Jim’s approving gaze as he prepared to jump in.
Grey stepped back in surprise at the small but excited crowd that had formed during his spin, Pete was still smoking propped up against an outsize flower pot. His hands were shaking. Silver haired pensioners stood next to tight jeaned punks, they were all clapping. He staggered with part post-dance dizziness as he adjusted to the scene. The bench throbbed with a halo of dull red and the high sun beat down reflecting off the linoleum and catching his peripheral vision. Pete swore he’d stood there for ages staring at the bench, all through Jim’s dance and he was still looking when he’d finished as well. He’d not said much for the rest of the day, just muttered a few bits about having ‘seen’ and ‘been seen’.
Grey never danced again, but he was there every afternoon. He started drinking about that time. He’d set up, and smoke, and drink a few cans and stare at the bench, sometimes watching the dancers and sometimes the people. When the linoleum lost its sparkle and was chucked in a skip; the boys kept a scrap each, Grey wrapped his around his wrist and glued it as a bracelet; the days blurred into months and years, styles came and went as the mothers aged and the kids realised they’d never make it up the walls. The check out ladies grew old, but stayed about, plant pots filled with beer cans and the weeds grew out of hand.
He thought back to that summer afternoon as he took his seat and pulled open his first can of the day. He remembered the spin and the bench. He remembered the sun and the people clapping. And he’d never forget the image that had left him speechless. For an ever lasting second he’d made out a seated figure with a ragged beard and granite eyes, drinking a can and watching with a sickening smile. He’d grabbed the plant pot to steady himself, as bass runs rung echoed through his mind. Grey sipped the can and loosened his grin, fingering his linoleum bracelet.