An extract from Ashley Hickson-Lovence’s debut novel, The 392, published by OWN IT! on 25 April 2019
Hackney born and raised, I grew up on the street, the block, the bits, the estate, the hood, the ghetto, the ends, the manor. Whatever you wanna call it, it’s up to you innit, but it was a total shithole, something from a book, and not one of them fairy tales because I ain’t no princess. So now I’m writing it all down, every little bit, using the notes on my phone so you can read all about it.
Keep calm you know? How can he text me to keep calm? I could kill him. I feel to go to his flats, through the playpark with my hood up, wait for someone to buzz me through the big blue doors, my auntie lives on the fifth floor and her intercom doesn’t work, climb the concrete stairs two steps at a time, squeeze in through his mum’s kitchen window, creep into his bedroom – like I’ve done bare times anyways – and while he sleeps, shank him again and again. Boy, he’s just lucky I’m not the violent type.
I mean, what must I look like? Standing here under a railway bridge that stinks of piss, stroking my belly, which ain’t even that big yet! How can he send me a message saying I should keep calm, allow him, and leave him alone? Not even man enough to come and say something to my face and accept the fact he’s gonna be a dad soon. Not man enough to come to this first proper appointment today – see our baby for the first time on the little TV and check we’re well and healthy. Not there to hold my hand as the nurse puts that proper cold jelly on my belly, or get If people ask, my Facebook name is Miss Princess Natalie Amelia Nathans and I have 523 friends. In the education section, I’ve put I went to the University of Life, because even though I’m only nineteen, I’ve been through bare shitmy phone from the bottom of my bag to take pictures to put on Insta, ask the doctor questions and all that stuff dads should do.
It’s cool though, he’ll see. I’m sick of sneaking round his mum’s anyway, slipping off my new 97s in the passage and tip-toeing upstairs into his room like some cheap sket. I don’t need him. My mum raised me on her own and my nan raised my mum on her own too. I haven’t seen my dad since I was like seven, and I don’t need to neither. Anyways, I’m kinda lucky in a way, at least my wasteman babydaddy never gave me no STD like my girl Bethany’s man; got myself checked out at the Ivy innit, just in case. Got the all clear.
If people ask, my Facebook name is Miss Princess Natalie Amelia Nathans and I have 523 friends. In the education section, I’ve put I went to the University of Life, because even though I’m only nineteen, I’ve been through bare shit. And I could have gone to University Metropolitan Southbank of something if I wanted, because I done a BTEC in Health and Social Care once and I nearly got a Merit. I’m learning now though. Deleting him right here at this bus stop: Insta, Snapchat, Facebook. He’s dead to me. R.I.P. Prick.
Trust me when I say that wastemen like him are like buses. Shit. I’ve been waiting for this route now for like four, five weeks and still no sign of it. Not waiting at this bus stop obviously, I’m not thick, but I saw this poster a month ago about this new bus going from Hoxton to Highbury and I thought, with the baby coming and that, I could take this to Highbury and then get another bus to Whittington for all my scans and stuff. Whatever happens, I don’t want my baby being born in Homerton though because that hospital is dirt. My baby might not have a dad, but I don’t want them catching no disease like Ebola or bird flu or that Zika madness.
The bus stop is packed. Bare buses have come and gone but no one wants the 67, 149, 242 or 243 today. We’re all waiting for the same bus to turn the corner and pick us up and take us where we need to go innit. Everyone must want to get on this new route and go somewhere different, try something new, go on a little adventure all round theTrue say though, I have to say, it’s always changing round here. Shops that used to sell carpet cleaner and cat toys, now sell those tiny espresso coffees that are too strong and make your breath kick so you have to buy chewing gum straight after back streets of Hackney. I mean, who doesn’t like trying out new things sometimes?
True say though, I have to say, it’s always changing round here. Shops that used to sell carpet cleaner and cat toys, now sell those tiny espresso coffees that are too strong and make your breath kick so you have to buy chewing gum straight after. I remember when it used to be really rough round here, with gang fights between Hoxton and London Fields always going on. But now, all the white men wear big girly hats and them skinny jeans so tight it squashes their nuts and them ‘Doctor Martins’ – or whatever they’re called – and thick cardigans and even thicker glasses that make them look older than they really are.
Not even sure if I like this new Hoxton though. How many coffee shops do we need? And why my gonna pay like four bills for a tattoo down Pitfield, when my girl Destiny can come to my yard and do it for fifty? Don’t get me wrong, I like that I don’t have to pick up my Pizza Hut from New North Road anymore, because the delivery driver was too shook in case he got robbed. And cabs actually come into my estate as well these days, because before they didn’t. But there ain’t no kids left in the park, no ball games, no fun.
Finally, just in time before I get vex, I can see the bus’s little face at last. The 392. It’s turning the corner so slowly like it’s too shy to meet all of us for the first time or something. We all move closer to the edge of the pavement, all of us: a blind man with his white stick, a young black man in a grey suit, an older balder black man with a big black kitbag, a white man in a blue suit, me, a crackhead, a tourist-looking man looking lost and a brown man with a big beard and a rucksack. I clock them all. I remember from my days watching Crimewatch, it’s important to be observational sometimes innit. Especially in times like these.