An English Boy in New York (4 page)

BOOK: An English Boy in New York
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Thursday 2nd May

Popped into Pullinger's after school to pick up more Hoopie wool. Natasha was working. She was wearing a low-cut top and kept leaning over the counter blinking at me.

‘So, I'm going to New York next week  … ' I began.

‘I LOVE New York,' she said. ‘So romantic.'

‘Well, it's only to KnitFair USA,' I said, playing things down.

‘God, I wish I was going to KnitFair USA,' she sighed. ‘I'd give anything.'

‘Mum and Dad are tagging along,' I said, rolling my eyes. ‘How sad is that?'

‘Brilliant!' she said. ‘Your dad is so funny.'

‘Is he?'

‘And your mum's magic tricks! So clever.' She blinked quickly again.

Having trouble with your contact lenses?' I asked.

‘No,' she said, looking puzzled. ‘I've not got them in today.'

‘Anyway,' I said. ‘I'm going to be pretty busy in New York  …  Media commitments and so on.'

She gazed at me like I was Harry Styles. ‘Wow. You're going to be on the telly?'

‘Probably not. Newspapers, maybe. I have my own PR person. Her name is Brandi, would you believe?'

‘Brandi?' She interrupted the blinking for a moment so she could raise an eyebrow.

‘She works for the Knitting Guild Association of America, or something,' I explained.

‘People in PR can be a little false, don't you think?' Natasha suggested.

‘I'm sure she's not like that.'

‘Just be careful, Ben.'

‘I will,' I said, hurriedly paying for my purchases and heading for the door.

I mentally crossed off the one person on my list who would have bitten my arm off for the ticket if offered. I felt a bit bad about not asking her. But some people just want it too much.

Who's next on the list?

Oh God.

6.45pm

Gave Dad his Hamton FC scarf just as he was about to head out on a twenty-mile bike ride. This is how middle-aged men like to spend their birthdays, apparently.

He held the scarf like it was the Turin Shroud.

‘It's beautiful, Ben,' he said quietly.

‘It's just a scarf,' I replied, embarrassed by his reaction. ‘And I spelled Hampton wrong.' He looked up at me, his eyes slightly moist.

‘That just makes it even more special,' he said. ‘No one else will have a scarf quite like this.'

‘That's true.'

‘Thanks, Ben,' he said. ‘I'll wear it on Saturday. In fact I'm going to wear it now.' And then he went off on his bike, wearing brightly coloured Lycra, the scarf wrapped three times around his neck. Dad's obviously at that age where he's quite comfortable being a figure of fun. He honestly doesn't care what he looks like. Both he and Mum are either completely unaware of how embarrassing they are in public or else they like it. I think parents get off on embarrassing their children. How else to explain the ridiculous clothes, the awful music, the kaleidoscopic outdoor Christmas decorations?

Friday 3rd May

4.12pm

‘You should have come to the party, innit?'

‘Yes, I heard about the party,' I said. ‘It sounded grim.'

I'd caught up with Gex in the park, and we sat around there for a while, wasting time watching the younger kids from Gex's estate throw bricks at passing trains on the Portsmouth line. Now we'd come back to his little house on Ratchett Street (or Ratshit Street as Gex calls it) with the mattress in the front garden. I like to think that if I'm ever down on my luck and reduced to sleeping rough, I know there'll always be a bed for me in Gex's front yard. It's a bit rough round here. If Hampton were New York, Gex would live downtown. Very downtown. Possibly under the town. Today he was dressed as a gangsta-rapper, with shades, a singlet and a huge gold watch. We were eating cheese toasties in his kitchen.

‘It was the nuts, man,' he said. ‘It really kicked off.'

‘I heard the police were called.'

‘Yeah! They didn't do nothing,' Gex said, shrugging. ‘Just took a couple of lads off and then we got back to it.'

‘What did your neighbours say?'

‘They didn't mind, because we planned ahead and invited them too.'

‘You invited Mrs Gupta?'

‘Yeah.'

‘Did she come?'

‘No.'

‘No,' I said. ‘I didn't think so.'

‘Point is, she was invited,' he said.

‘Also, I heard from Joz there was puke everywhere.'

Gex shrugged. ‘That was no problem. I just let the Staffies in the next morning and they licked it all up.'

‘OK. I take it back, Pippa Middleton,' I said once I'd stopped retching. ‘You are the host with the most.'

There was a knock at the door. It was the TV licensing people.

‘You guys again!' Gex said.

‘We still haven't received your licence fee,' the man said. ‘We know you have a telly.'

‘Yeah, we got a telly,' Gex said. ‘But like I told you, it don't work, innit.'

‘Can you prove that, sir?'

‘Not personally,' Gex said. ‘But, tell you what. If you can make the telly work. I'll give you the cash.'

So the man came in and discovered that Gex was telling the truth. His telly hasn't worked for ages. The man went back out to his van and came back with his toolkit. We carried on chatting while the man took the back off Gex's telly. It's the largest telly I've ever seen and completely obscures the window in Gex's front room. Gex's dad bought it off a Polish truck driver, who said it came from Russia. It worked for a couple of weeks, giving off a bit of blue smoke, and then it stopped.

‘Do you wanna come to Wicked wiv me and Joz and Freddie on Saturday?' Gex asked me.

‘No, I'll be in New York on Saturday.'

‘In Basingstoke?'

‘What? No. Not New York Nite Club! I mean the real New York. In America.'

His mouth dropped. ‘Sick, man. Like with gangs and drugs and drive-by shootings?'

‘Well, I think they've cleaned up most of the crime problem  …  '

‘Like in
The Wire
?'

‘That was Baltimore. I'll be in New York.'

‘Like
The Sopranos
?'

‘That was New Jersey, I'll be in Manhattan.'

‘Like in
Gangs of New York
?'

‘Um, or maybe like a less violent film set in Manhattan?'

‘Like what –
Kick Ass
?' Gex suggested.

‘More like
Maid in Manhattan
,' I said wearily.

‘You watch way too many chick flicks, dude,' Gex said.

‘How many is too many?'

‘One.'

‘Look, do you want to come or not? I asked, a bit narked.

Gex stood and held out a grimy hand which I took, not entirely without hesitation.

‘I'm there, blud,' he said.

‘Awesome.' I tried to feel happy that I'd finally found someone to take to New York.

I tried really hard.

Sunday 5
th
May

8.11am

I emailed Ms Tyler this morning to let her know I'd asked Gex to come with me to New York and would it be all right if he missed a week of school. I remembered she'd told me there had to be a beneficial reason for the student to attend and I couldn't think of one, so was a bit worried she might say no. But as it happens she replied very quickly with a yes. Perhaps she was thinking Gex's absence might be beneficial to the rest of the school.

Tuesday 7
th
May

6.57pm

So Ms Gunter phoned this evening.'You owe me,' she said, sounding a bit grumpy.

‘You've sorted it?'

‘I've sorted it. I've arranged for a temporary relaxation on your travel ban on the proviso that you place a Skype call to me, personally, once every twenty-four hours while you are away.'

‘That's brilliant,' I said. ‘Thanks.'

‘This is a huge relief for Ben,' Dermot O'Leary said. ‘Failure to get Home Office approval would have been a major setback.' Dermot does like to state the bleeding obvious.

‘Ben,' she went on. ‘I had to use a lot of professional credit to arrange this. If you screw up, even once, then I am going to be in big trouble. I will probably be shuffled out of my job and end up working in the ASBO team, or in a maximum-security prison, or even worse, I could end up working in the Home Secretary's office.'

‘What's wrong with the Home Secretary's office?'

‘My ex-husband works there.'

‘I didn't know you'd been married!'

‘Look, this isn't about me,' she said impatiently.

‘Everything will be fine,' I said confidently. ‘When have I ever let you down?'

‘You need to call every day, Ben,' she repeated. ‘They will be monitoring.'

‘Like
Enemy of the State
?' I said, impressed.

‘And it needs to be a Skype call, with video. It may be recorded. You can't call from a payphone outside a strip club at four in the morning. Nor do I want to be called in the middle of the night,' she said. ‘New York is four hours ahead. You need to call me by midnight US time, but that is 4am here. So you need to be calling me by 2pm every day. That way you'll be calling me by 6pm UK time. Do you understand?'

‘Of course,' I said, scribbling this down. ‘I'll put it in my phone, AND my diary.'

‘Ben,' Ms Gunter said. ‘I'm doing this as a favour to you. Because you helped me out of a sticky spot earlier this year when you won the knitting thing.'

‘Thanks, Ms Gunter,' I said. ‘I really appreciate it.'

‘OK, but after this, we're square.'

Sheesh, I thought as I put the phone down, trying to quell the shiver of anxiety that ran through me. All I have to do is skype the woman every day.

What could possibly go wrong?

Wednesday 8
th
May

7.12pm

I've invested in a new phone. If I'm going to be doing all this skyping I need a big screen and a powerful battery. I've gone for the SBC Stiletto. Very thin and murderous. I'm not normally a big gadget freak but I do love this phone. It has some pretty cool games on it too. I've also discovered a knitting app which is amazing. You can use 3D graphics to design your own virtual garments and mess about with the colours, the weaves, the wool thickness and so on. It is totes.

I gave my old phone to Mrs Frensham, as she is the only person I know who doesn't have a smartphone. I tried to explain pay-as-you-go to her but I don't think she got it.

Gex came over today to discuss the trip. He also reported that the TV licensing man had managed to fix the giant telly.

‘So did you pay the licence fee?' I asked.

‘Nah, we don't have to cos of Gramps living with us.'

‘That can't have gone down well,' I said. ‘That guy was working on that telly for ages.'

‘He was cool about it.' Gex shrugged. ‘I made him a cheese toastie.'

‘Yes, I can see how that would compensate,' I said.

Gex was looking very chipper. Dare I say, almost excited?

‘You looking forward to taking a bite out of the Big Apple?' I asked him.

‘Oh yeah, man,' he said. ‘Those New York girls are going to go mental for us.'

‘Really?' I asked. ‘What makes you think that?'

‘The thing about American girls, right,' he said, coming closer to me and speaking in a low voice, ‘is that they love our English accents, innit?'

‘You don't really have an English accent though,' I pointed out. ‘You have a sort of Jamaican–Pakistani thing going on most of the time.'

‘I can do English,' he said, sniffing.

‘You mean, that accent you do that sounds like the Queen in drag?' I said. ‘Best not to try too hard, mate. You know, don't overdo it.'

Nothing it seemed was going to dampen Gex's spirits today, though.

‘Hey, I have a second cousin in Brooklyn!' he said. ‘I'm going to go and visit him.'

‘You have an American relative?'

‘Yeah, Dad's sister's kid, innit.'

‘So this guy in Brooklyn is your father's sister's son?'

Gex nodded.

‘So, he's actually your cousin. Not your second cousin. Your second cousin would be your –'

‘Yeah, whatever.' Gex looked impatient now. ‘Don't go off on one, you're harshing my vibe, blud.'

‘OK. Anyway  …  I'll probably be busy for a day or two with PR stuff, so that would be a good opportunity for you to catch up with your family.'

Gex grinned. ‘He has a “Family” all right.'

‘What do you mean?'

‘He's in a gang, innit.'

‘How do you know that?'

‘Everyone in the family knows.'

‘You mean the family, or the Family?'

‘The FAMILY,' he said, tapping the side of his nose. ‘
Capiche?
'

I regarded him dubiously. ‘Gex, maybe it's not such a good idea for you to get involved with organised crime.'

‘I can handle myself,' he said.

‘I don't care. I'm still on probation, remember,' I said. ‘Ms Gunter had to pull a lot of strings to get me permission to go. You can't screw up, you'll bring me down as well.'

‘Look, man, be cool. I'm not going to get involved. It takes years to get accepted into a gang, anyways.'

‘Glad to hear it.'

‘And you have to cap three people before they let you in.'

‘And we're only there a week,' I reminded him.

‘Though, a lot can happen in a week.' Gex nodded sagely. ‘Know what I mean?'

‘Unfortunately, Gex,' I said despairingly, ‘I know exactly what you mean.'

BOOK: An English Boy in New York
12.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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