This is a short piece about a young boy who lives on an estate with his mother. I enjoyed writing this so may continue on in another post.
Ten years old, Gary De Silva had lived on the Strongbridge Estate, in Lower Bevendean, for most of his life. While most people would avoid walking through an Estate, for fear of getting robbed, or harassed, by young bedlams, Gary could think of no place better to grow up. While he could agree that there were a few trouble making individuals who lived on his Estate, most of the people felt like family. He would only have to look out the window, of his 5th floor flat, to see dozens of friendly, familiar faces, all beaming up at him.
The children of the Estate would meet regularly after school and on weekends to play football or videogames. While they would not busy themselves with Elders speak, they could not feign deaf from their constant complaining. The worst adult to strike up a conversation with was Mrs Plainte, who lived in Building 1. She would murmur to herself as she walked around; grumbling about the government, and the shabby state of the infrastructure.
“The walls are made of cardboard, you know. One blast of wind and the whole bleedin’ place will come tumbling down. The old council houses were made of bricks and stone, but they gone knock ‘em down so they could make ‘em fancy flats for them posh fancies. An’ what do we get stuck with? These ‘orrible buildings.” She told him once, when he asked how her day was. She had spent a whole hour talking with him, that Gary’s mother had come out looking for him, wondering why it was taking him so long to buy one can of beans.
Although he was not a big fan of Mrs Plainte, he would have to agree that the living conditions were not the best, especially since there were often breakouts of rat infestations, from over flowing garbage bins. He would hate the hot summer evenings, as the smell from the garbage chute would waft in through the ventilation making the house smell worse than a dump. His mother would always buy freshly cut lilies to counteract the smell. She would leave them in the kitchen, and they would make the house smell floral and sweet. The smell reminded him of his mother.
In all there were 10 buildings on the Estate. Gary lived in Building 9, which he felt was the best, because their windows had a view overlooking the nearby River Yedding. It was especially nice to look at in the mornings, and evenings when the sun rose and set. He would sometimes, mostly while he was supposed to be doing his homework, stare out the window and look at the people passing along the bridge. He would watch their, often, vacant expressions and wonder if they knew about the rumours about the bridge.
Gary was 5 years old when Charlie Jallow and his friends had told him the story of the troll under the bridge, who loved to eat human eyes. He had run home that day, tears in his eyes, and wailing about being eaten by a troll. His mother had laughed it off, and told him there were no such thing as troll, although if he did see one, he was to tell her immediately. Even though Gary no longer believed there was actually a troll under the bridge he dared not go near the bridge unless he absolutely had to. He would still, clasp onto his mother’s hands as he crossed over the bridge every morning to school, pulling her as fast as he could to the other side.
All of the children of the Estate had different methods of appeasing the troll, but none were fail proof, as the troll would still eat when he was hungry. When they were younger, Gary and his best friend Alai Ibrahim would leave grapes for the troll every month, because the texture of it was similar to eyeballs. They hoped it would fill the Troll’s stomach enough so it wouldn’t come after them. A few of the kids from building 7 did the same, after they saw them, and they too began to leave grapes at the foot of the bridge. Gary would now laugh when he would sometimes see the younger children walking towards the bridge, bunches of grapes in their hands. Some had even started a trend of dropping pennies into the river, as a way of payment. This became a very popular method a few summers previous, until a sign was put up saying: ‘DON’T THROW COINS OFF THE BRIDGE. IT HARMS LOCAL WILDLIFE.’ Gary wasn’t sure about pennies hurting the local wildlife, but he was sure the parents were happier that money wasn’t being thrown off the edge, especially since the Sarah Winkle fiasco.
Sarah had been walking with her mother one night, when she had heard a noise from under the bridge. In fear she had snatched the purse from her mother’s hands and thrown it into the river, hoping the troll wouldn’t come after her. After the walloping she had received that evening, Gary thought she would have been better off fending of a troll.
It was for this reason that most people now called the Estate: Trollbridge Estate. Gary would smile to himself when he would even hear the Elders say it, rather than call it by the official name. Were you in need of any more affirmation of the compounds new name, you had only to look to the sign at the front entrance, which had been spray painted in the dead of night. Alai was so sure that it was one of Charlie’s friends as he had seen them the next morning standing in front of it and laughing, but, of course, they had no proof. Not that Gary would say anything, he rather liked the name Trollbridge, because it made the Estate seem more mysterious.
When Gary and Alai, decided to play football by the edge of Building 7, where this tale begins, they did not realize that it would be the last time they would be playing together. The two friend chatted animatedly as they made their way down the stairs to the open space between the buildings. The two positioned themselves between the lamppost and the bin, so they had at least one sturdy goal, while they used empty fizzy drink cans at the other end. The two of them were so engrossed deciding the rules of play that they had not noticed a fox streak past them, and dive under the bridge, it carried a small silver spoon in its mouth.
It was after the 5th goal was scored, and a few arguments later that the boys stopped playing and noticed a strange sight. Old Lady Lorelai, from Building 1, came walking over the bridge and disappeared into the compound. Alai shivered when he saw her pass, and muttered something in his mother tongue.
“That woman gives me the creeps!” He whispered, watching her walk through the buildings. “That’s the first time I’ve seen her leave her building.”
Gary was now balancing on the tips of his toes to see where she went. His jaw dropped as he saw her wonder over to his building. Alai, who had also seen this, began whispering excitedly.
“Why is she going into our building?”
“Do you think she is lost?” Gary suggested.
“Maybe, she only has one eye!”
Gary thought back to the rumours, wondering how true they were. While he did believe that she had a glass eye, he didn’t believe that one of them had been eaten by the troll as Charlie and his gang had suggested. The trouble was, as Old Lady Lorelai never left her building, he had only seen her from the window of her first floor apartment, he had never got close enough to her to see her eyes, although Alai swore that he had seen it once when she had come out of her flat to collect her mail.
“It was all shiny, like a mirror.” He had said.
As the woman vanished from eyesight the boys’ attention was once again enthralled in football, and they continued to the match, arguing about who got to kick off first. They had only been playing a while, when the ball, having been kicked to fiercely by Gary, hurtled towards the bridge and out of sight. The two of them dashed to the foot of the bridge, stopping just before the underpass, which descended into the river below. They looked at each other momentarily; phased expressions on their faces. No words passed from their lips, but each of them knew what the other was thinking.
“We could get a long stick and fish around for it?” Alai suggested, looking around for anything long.
Gary said nothing and peered over the edge of the bricks to the murky waters below. It was not very deep, and enough light was filtering through to guarantee them safe passage. He looked at Alai, who stared dumbly back. Fear flooded through his veins.
“We need to stop being babies about this.” Gary said finally. He crouched lower to the murky water, and Alai nodded in agreement following suit.
The two of them stepped off the walkway and into the water. Cold drops splashed against their legs and they were plunged into a cool shade. The little light that sieved through the gaps illuminated the water, giving it an enigmatic glimmer. Underneath the commotion of the Estate above, Gary felt secluded from the breathing world.
The foul smell, which Gary still remembered many years later, had such terrible strength, that it caused tears to run in his eyes. They boys waded further through the stream of stagnant fluid; which ran parallel to reeds and long grass that grew next to the moss covered walls. The luminosity was not scarce, and was enough for them to make out the pale white ball nestled among stems and pond scum.
Alai rushed over, spraying water as he did.
“Ew. It’s covered in sludge!” He said in disgust, which made Gary laugh. Just as made to walk over, he heard rustling in the reed’s next to him. He froze in alarm, turning slowly. Up ahead, Alai was still tittering away, washing the ball with his hands.
Gary thought to call out to his friend, but he stayed still. His heart was thudding rapidly. Unaware up ahead, Alai turned and walked over to Gary, the clean ball in his hands. He looked at him with a confused expression. His eyes tracing the spot that Gary was looking at.
“What?” Alai whispered, crouching down low to get a better look. The reeds rushed again, and the boys yelled, Alai throwing the ball up in the air in uncontrollable fear. A fox shot out of the tall stems so fast, and flew past their feet to the edge, jumping up onto the edge of the walkway. It paused there for a moment and looked at Gary straight in the eyes. It tilted its head curiously before stalking off over the bridge.
Alai let out a boisterous laugh, walking shakily towards the edge. “Did you see that! I thought we were troll steak, for sure.” Gary laughed with him, feeling considerably less nervous, although his heart continued to flutter.
“No one is going to believe we were here!”
“Even the elders don’t come down here.” Alai said in awe. His face was cracked with a huge smile, and Gary thought he looked rather pleased with himself. He looked around triumphantly, as though he stood on the ground of an epic battle.
“My mum said some of the Elders stash things down here. That’s why we shouldn’t go under the bridge.” Gary stared at the spot where the fox had jumped out, as if waiting for something else to jump out at him. “We should get out of here.” The stench was suddenly unbearable. Alai stepped out onto the foot of the bridge. He chattered away excitedly, wondering if the Elders had perhaps stashed away buried treasure, drawing up plans to return the next day and see if he could find it.
Gary picked up the ball and followed on behind him, unaware that all the while, a pair of bright eyes had been watching him from the shadows.