• Vol. 10
  • Chapter 09

Windows down

It’s Friday morning and Ma is driving us into the city. I should be in class. Instead, my thighs are sticky on the leatherette seat of Brian’s car. It smells of cigarette smoke. We have all the windows down even though it's raining.

Brian left at 2:23am. That’s what my Minnie Mouse alarm clock said. I was watching the green digits pulse in the dark. Her big mouse ears twitched on my bedside table when the door slammed. Brian came back and banged on the glass and swore at 2:43am. It was 3:23am when he left again, after the neighbour swore too and said he was calling the police.

At 5.33am Ma came into my room and just said, “Get up.” I put on my t-shirt and shorts and sandals and picked up my satchel and climbed in the back of the car. But at the end of our street, we didn’t turn left to go to school.

The journey seems to be taking a long time but without Minnie counting for me I’m not sure. I don’t ask questions as Ma doesn’t like to talk when she drives. She says she has to concentrate. This morning she seems to be concentrating super hard. She often puts on the radio, but today she hasn’t even done that.

I say my six times table in my head and look out, to see flashes of green lawns and the long straight grey motorway and the big factory chimneys giving off smoke and the warehouses behind mesh fences. We cross the river on a bridge I saw once on TV.

There’s a lot of traffic now. The fumes mix with the smell of Brian’s cigarettes and I bury my nose in my satchel. I dip my head down to try and


Windows down

see the top of the tall buildings and rainwater falls in my eye. I blink it out and watch Ma turn the steering wheel.

We’re at a junction when the light goes to GREEN for GO but this time Ma’s hand doesn’t move to the gearstick. Horns start and cars and taxis are pulling up alongside and shouting the same words that Brian and our neighbour used. Ma doesn’t say anything back. She takes her hands off the wheel and rests them in her lap and stares straight through the windscreen. For ages. I count all the way to five hundred and seventy-three.  

When the woman in the pink coat walks up and leans in the window, Ma doesn’t look at her, either. She’s pretty old, but she looks kind. She sees me in the back, and asks Ma if we’re lost and if we need any help. She leans in and gently touches Ma’s shoulder, and I can see that her nail varnish matches her coat.

Ma doesn’t look at her, but reaches up and holds the woman’s hand. “Thank you,” Ma says, “but we’re fine.” She finally puts the car in gear again. “We’ll be fine.”