All the girls call me ‘Axe’. Tough name, but nah need fe aks me why, coz of me accent, ell-oh-ell!
They’re like to me – We were gonnay give you a kicking. Two days I’ve been in Glasgow, two days! I go out to a club, and these girls come over and they’re looking mean like they mean business, right. But the music is loud and the girl who’s doing all the talking has this accent, this Scottish accent, and she’s shouting over the music, and I’m like – What? What? And she’s back to me like – What? What? And then the music stops and all you can hear is her shouting what and me shouting what, and suddenly everyone’s laughing.
So the girl who’s doing all the talking, this is her to me – Come over to our table. And I’m like – Okay, cool. So we all get to be mates, and we’re laughing, and I can’t understand half of what they’re saying. I can now, though, later. I’m used to their accent, they’re used to mine though this is one of them to me back then – Oh. My. God. Your accent is weird!
Afterwards some of them are hammered and throwing up in the street, and we’re helping them. And she, this girl who was doing all the talking, she’s like – My name’s Marie, what’s yours? Only the way she says Marie is all Scottish like MAH-ri. And I’m like – I’m Shayla. And she’s like – you wernay scared when we came up to you, Shayla, we were gonnay give you a kicking, you didn’t back down. So I’m like – Why was you going to give me a kicking anyway? And she’s like – It was the way you were looking, looking at the lads in here, looking at us, just the way you were looking.
And she slips her arm through mine and we walk off down the street, and she’s like – Woot! That’s when we’re dodging round one of the other girls who’s not walking straight coz she’s hammered.
Then this is Marie to me when we’re walking down the street – Can you fight? Wannay be in the krew? This is me back to her – Yeah, all right.
So we’re The Gherls. The Gherls, right? They explain it to me once, it’s coz the krew started with, like, Celtic supporters’ girlfriends, and Celtic are called The Bhoys, yeah? But we’re not strictly Celtic supporters or Celtic supporters’ girlfriends any more, not Catholics. Well, Rosary is Catholic. We call her Rosary coz she gets her beads out before a fight, and like counts them with her thumb, then she puts them away and crosses herself. But Shireen is in our krew, and she’s a Muslim and Asian, and she wears a hijab thing and doesn’t drink, and it doesn’t matter even when we’re fighting Asian girls, so just the same it doesn’t matter to me if we’re fighting black girls. It’s the fighting that matters.
There’s ten of us hardcore, and there’s the also-rans, like girls who sometimes are there or girls we can call on, and some of those girls have mates who are okay and will help out. But like most of the time we don’t need them. The hardcore krew got loyalty.
And one day Marie’s like to me – How old are you? And I’m like – Why you aks me that? And she’s like – Axe? Axe? Ell-em-ay-oh, that’s what we’ll call you, your name is Axe. And I’m like – Laughing. My. Effing. Arse. Off.
When you’re fighting, like when I’m fighting, everything is so clear. Lights get really bright and white, and everything like stands out with this hard, black outline, and I feel really alive. I mean really alive, like my whole body is tingling and I can feel everything, and even when I get hurt it’s like the feeling takes over. It’s not like getting hurt normally. It’s different, better. I know that sounds weird, but I know what I mean.
There’s this girl, this Gherl, called Paysh, that’s like short for Patience which is her name, right. She’s cool, really quiet, never says nothing, never says nothing much. When she fights it’s like her fists go really tiny, and when they hit someone they must really hurt. I saw her once, and she’s really fast, and she’s fighting this other girl, and this other girl’s going down coz Paysh punches her in the face three times. Just like that, it took half a second. Bang bang bang. And these big red marks come on the girls face, and the rest of her face is pure white, and she looks like she’s going to cry. So all her mates are coming over like they want to kill Paysh, so we go and stand round Paysh and dare them, and they all back off.
And I’m like – that was sick, Paysh, really sick!
And the rest of The Gherls are like – yeah that was totally sick! And they’re all grinning.
And Paysh is suddenly all excited, and she’s like – Yeah it was sick, fuck yeah, did you see her face? And she’s making those tiny little fists. So anyway one day we’re in this bar, and I’m like – Where’s Paysh? And the others are like – She’s got her finals tomorrow, so she’s studying. And I’m like – What, no, Paysh is a fucking student?
And then the week after that I’m with Paysh shopping, and we go to Marks and Spencer’s café for a coffee, and this is me to her – Paysh, you’re really clever, so why’re you in a krew? Why’re you not, like, at the student union or something?
And she’s very quiet for a while, like she always is. She’s sitting there and I’m thinking how slim she is, and how she looks tall even when she’s sitting down, and how she always wears green but not bright green, not Celtic green, but sort of faded green, and how her hair is somewhere between blonde and red.
And then this is her to me – I don’t know, Axe. It’s as though when I’m at uni I’m on an island, or I’m behind bars, or I’m in a room with no windows full of mirrors. No one can see out. No one takes any notice of anything except what’s going on inside. No one sees that there’s a whole city outside of the uni. Yeah, it’s like I’m on an island and I want to see fish, but I can’t see fish unless I jump into the ocean, unless I make a conscious decision to jump into the ocean and swim and look for fish. So let’s take something simple: if I want a drink and a dance I go into the city, and there’s a club. If I want mates I go into the city, and there’s my krew. Some students if they want to do something dangerous and exciting they climb the big uni spire. When I want to do something and dangerous I get into fights with my krew. Do you understand, Axe?
And I nod, like I kind of understand. Then this is me to her – Yeah, I think so, it’s like when I’m at work it’s all brown and green, but when I’m out with The Gherls its bright yellow and bright blue, and when we’re fighting it’s brilliant white and there’s like wind-chimes going off in me head.
And she’s like – Synaesthesia. And I’m like – What? Whatever. Then we’re smiling at each other.
So one time I’m in our usual club and I’m fixing me makeup in the ladies, and Marie is standing next to me washing her hands. I’m sort of looking at her sideways and comparing her to Paysh coz they both have the same colour hair. But she’s shorter and like wider across the shoulders and hips, and she’s a little bit butch maybe, though not really stone just a little bit. And she’s taking a long time just washing her hands, and she looks over to me.
And she’s like – I really like you, Axe.
And I’m like – I really like you too, MAH-ri.
So then she leans over and kisses me right on the mouth, and her mouth is sort of nice so I kiss her back. Then we stop, and she’s like – Sick, or what? She’s grinning and I’m grinning too, and I’m like – Yeah, sick! And then we go back into the club to our mates.
Then there’s the time I see Rosary in the distance and I follow her, and she goes down streets I don’t know, where I’ve never been, and there’s this big Catholic church all brick and concrete, and she goes in. So I follow her, and there she is sitting in one of those long seats they have, and I go and sit next to her. She’s praying or something coz her eyes are closed and her hands are together and those beads of hers are between her hands. Her lips are moving but she’s not saying nothing. Then it’s like she realises I’m there or she finishes praying, coz she opens her eyes and crosses herself.
And I’m like – Hi! And she’s like – Hi. What are you doing here? And I’m like – I followed you. What are you doing? It’s not Sunday or nothing. And she’s like – I’m going to confession. And I’m like – What’s that? Coz I don’t know nothing about being Catholic.
And she’s like – I go into that box there, and there’s a priest in the other box, the one right next to it, and we cannay see each other but we can hear each other, and I tell him all the bad things I’ve done since the last time I was here. And he makes me promise no to do them again, and he forgives me like in God’s name, and tells me to go and say a bunchay Hail Marys or something as a penance.
So I think for a while, and then I’m like – Do you tell him about the krew and all the fights? And she’s like – Yeah of course.
So then there’s a creak and the door of the box opens and an old woman comes out and walks back through the church. Then Rosary gets up and goes into the box and closes the door behind her, and I suppose she’s telling the priest all about the things she’s done, and it makes me feel a bit weird because I’m sitting there and I’ve been part of the things she’s telling him. And I wonder what I would tell a priest if I was Catholic.
Then there’s this one big fight. There’s been another krew hanging out in the places we like to hang out, the mates of the girl Paysh punched. They’re like to everybody – we like it here, we’re gonnay keep coming here. So we’ve put the word round, Marie’s put the word round, that if they’re there on Friday then they are gonnay get a kicking. So on Friday there they are, and there’s more of them than before, and they’re really loud, they think they are so cool and tough. And Marie goes over to them and she’s like – Outside, round the back, ten minutes. And they’re like – Fuck you Missis Woman, but yeah.
So ten minutes later we’re all in the wynd and we’re thinking like – Where are they? Then we see them coming in at both ends of the wynd, and they’re grinning because they think they’ve got us trapped. And some of them are picking up stuff from the wynd, like sticks and stuff, and someone’s like – Watch out, that blonde hoor’s got a malky.
And Marie’s like – It makes me MAD when someone pulls a malky on me! Then we’re fighting our way out and they can’t keep us in, and Rosary’s up against some girl with a piece of wood, and I’m up against the girl with the malky, it’s a Stanley knife or a box-cutter or something and she cuts me across the face with it. And everything is brilliant white like camera flashes and ringing like bells in me head, and it’s like everyone is dancing and I’m breathing really fast. And I’m hitting the malky girl and she’s running and they’re all running, and we’re like – Woot!
Except Rosary is bent over with her hand on her knees and then she falls over, and someone’s like – She got hit over the head, someone with a piece of wood or something. And I’m like – Look, everyone, get out of here and I’ll stay with her. I’ll call an ambulance on me mobile, it’ll be all right, I’ll say we was mugged or something. Move! Get out of here! Before someone gets the coppers. Move!
So the ambulance comes and takes us to hospital, and Rosary is lying there with a blanket over her and a mask on her face, and I’m like – Rosary! Rosary! And the paramedics are seeing to me because of me cut face and they’re like – Look, keep still, you’re arm’s cut too. And me sleeve’s all wet and dark as they cut it away.
Then we’re at the hospital and there’s a woman doctor puts stitches in me face and me arm, and she’s like – We’ll keep you in overnight. And I’m like – Okay Miss, whatever, but can I have a bed next to me mate? And she’s like – I’ll see what I can do.
And the police are there and they want to talk to me, but I don’t tell them nothing, and I’m just like – We was mugged. We was jumped on. No I didn’t see who it was. It was dark. And they’re like – All right but we might want to talk to you again. And I can see they’re thinking, like – Black girl, black girl, blacks always equals trouble.
So then I’m sitting on this bed and Rosary is on the bed next to me with one of those drip things in her arm and bandages on her head where she got hit, and we’re talking to each other really quiet, and I’m like – You did really good, Rosary, at the fight, and you’ll be all right now the doctor’s seen you. And she’s like – You did really good too, Axe, and I’m glad you’re here. And then her voice goes even quieter, and she’s like – Hail Mary, full of grace. And it’s like she’s counting with her thumb but there’s nothing there, and suddenly her eyes roll and she starts to shake, and I’m like – Nurse! Miss! Miss!
Then there’s people running and pulling the curtains round her bed, and that’s Rosary dying, and I’m crying and I’m like – Rosary! Rosary! And there’s two nurses trying to make me be quiet, but I’m crying and I’m like – Rosary! Rosary!
So that’s when things go brown and green for me again, and the stitches in my arm and my face began to hurt, and Rosary dies and I never get to talk to her again, never get to tell her how great she is.
So we’re all standing round Rosary’s grave, The Gherls are here, and Rosary’s family that I’ve never met before, and there’s a priest and he’s like – And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. And he calls Rosary Christine McCluskey, because that was her name and I never knew it. I never heard it before. And Shireen isn’t there, she’s standing over by the path coz she can’t be at a Christian burial. So I walk over to her and I put my arm through hers, and Marie turns round and frowns, but I give her a sort of secret wave to let her know it’s all right, and she turns back again.
And this is Shireen to me – I really liked Rosary, I really liked her. And this is me back to Shireen – I really liked her too, we all did. And Shireen doesn’t know what else to say, so she’s like – La ilaha illallah, Muhammad rasulu-llah. And I don’t know what else to say either, so I’m like – Amen.
I’m standing there thinking the priest at Rosary’s church isn’t going to hear any more about us, about me. Now I won’t be in nobody’s confession.
And afterwards when Rosary’s parents have all gone, Marie’s like – No time to waste, we’re dressed in our best all in black, we are gonnay go and find the wee skank with the plank and we’re gonnay do to her what she did to Rosary, and we’re gonnay find the wee hoor who cut Axe with the malky, and we’re gonnay … we’re gonnay… something… like if they can pick up sticks we can pick up bricks.
And we’re all like – Yeah let’s fucking do it.
So we’re walking along in our best all in black, and inside me head there’s this rhyme, and inside I’m like – One two I love you, three four out the door, five six pick up bricks. And I’m looking at Marie and she’s looking back at me, and she’s like – This one’s for Rosary! And it’s cold and me teeth are chattering, and there’s bells in me head, and I’m angry but I’m smiling, and it’s all brilliant white, shining light, and I’m really alive again. Really, really alive.