26th February


A boy went down to the shop but not the nearest one. He went well past that, until he reached an unfamiliar part of town where he was not known, where nobody would recognise him and stop to chat. ‘Aye, Kenny, how’s your mither? How’s your faither?’ All that Kenny shite. He needed to be away from that.

He hung about for a while, watching people entering and leaving the shop. Just a wee corner shop but it was doing a good trade in milk, bread, crisps, juice. Drink and fags. All ages, coming and going. He got his money into his fist and went in.

The man behind the counter had a sleepy, careless expression on his face. The boy reckoned it would be all right, he’d turn a blind eye, but when he asked for a packet of ten the man looked at him hard.

‘How old are you, son?’

‘I’m eighteen.’

‘Any ID?’

‘Eh, what?’

‘ID, son.’ The man shook his head. Hopeless. As the boy started his retreat he shrugged, as if it didn’t matter. No skin off my nose, was a phrase his dad used sometimes. It was no skin off his nose.

Outside he stopped two or three youngish people in whom he thought he might find sympathy. ‘Gonnae buy us some fags?’ he said, holding out his money. But they shook their heads, laughing at him. One stuck-up cow lectured him on the evils of smoking.

He hung about in a close entrance. He didn’t fancy walking all the way home without getting what he’d come for. It was dark now. The shop would close in half an hour.

A couple of men were approaching. ‘Gonnae buy us some fags?’ he said before he could see them properly. They came right up to him. Then he saw that they weren’t men at all, more like his own age, but different. They had older, harder faces.

‘Who the fuck are you?’

‘Want a smoke, dae ye?’

‘Aye,’ he said, but then added, ‘No, it doesnae matter.’

‘Shouldnae fuckin ask then, should ye?’

They pushed him further down the close. He didn’t call for help. What would be the point?

Reader: Tam Dean Burn
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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