The warmth of the spring sun shone down on the bikes as they swiftly glided over the grass. Their fearless riders sped rapidly up and down steep hills with little regard for their own safety. Their heads pointed downwards as they plunged down the hills, arriving at the bottom with a skid and moving instantly back to the top to go again. Now and then their bikes would jolt, nearly causing them to fall, but this only made the stunts more fun.
The park was filled with a mixture of inhabitants, including dog walkers, children and families enjoying the beginning of the Easter holidays. Several families had laid blankets out on the grass and were tucking into some sandwiches or drinking some chilled juice. A gentle breeze whispered through the air, tenderly shaking the fresh leaves of the trees before pleasantly cooling the occupants of the park. All around, bright yellow and orange daffodils were in full bloom.
When the four girls had had enough of their stunts, they dismounted their bikes and sat down in the middle of a grassy hill. Lizzy hauled her bicycle up the hill and leaned it on one of the nearby trees. She buckled and collapsed her large frame down onto the grass, puffing. Days like these were a break from her tormentors at school, who often joked that she should be called “Not-So-Thin-Lizzy”. Some kids could be very cruel.
Katie and Amy steadied their bikes on their sides at the bottom of the hill and joined Lizzy resting on it. Amy removed one of her shoes and shook it. A small stone flew out of it. The last girl was still mounted on her bike. Grinning slyly at Katie, she leaned forward on her handlebars and began peddling furiously towards the girl, stopping just in time to avoid the bike pummelling into her.
Katie screamed. ‘Paula! You bitch! That wasn’t funny!’
Paula laughed as the sun illuminated her short blonde hair. ‘Yes, it was and you know it!’
‘Yes, it was and you know it,’ Katie repeated in a mocking voice before unceremoniously dumping her bike down next to Amy’s and taking a seat next to Lizzy. Paula was never sure whether Katie was genuinely annoyed at her or if she was simply joking around.
‘Where’s Jill?’ Lizzy asked.
‘She’s supposed to be meeting us here,’ Amy said. ‘She’ll probably be late, though. She's always late.’
‘Always fucking us about you mean.’ Katie said bluntly. ‘I’m pure gaspin’ for a fag. Paula, you look old enough, go to that shop and get ten Lambert & Butler.’
‘I look old enough?’ Paula laughed. Had Katie really said that? ‘I’m the same age as you! They’ll never think I’m sixteen!’ It was almost an insult to say a girl looked six years older than she was, but Paula thought Katie was only clutching at straws. How could those horrible things make people so desperate for them?
Katie lay down on the grass and groaned.
‘I’d fucking love a fag as well,’ Lizzy moaned, lying back on the grass. ‘D’you think somebody’ll get them for us?’
'Probably not,' Katie said with a glum look. Paula's spirits lifted a little; she could endure her friends being a bit grumpy if it meant that she didn't have to stand with them while they were all smoking.
‘You should just quit anyway,’ Amy said. ‘Smoking gives you cancer.’
'You think you're gonna get cancer when you're ten?' Lizzy asked, with a sceptical look that seemed to judge Amy for what she had said.
'No,' Amy shook her head. 'But if you keep smoking, you'll get it when you're older.'
Katie rolled her eyes. ‘D’you think he’ll get sold?’ She indicated towards an older boy who was walking towards the park's gates. He was tall and muscular, with a hint of dark stubble on his face.
‘Nah,’ Paula said. ‘Doesn’t look old enough.’
‘Fuck off!’ Lizzy exclaimed. ‘He looks well old enough! Ask him, Katie.’
Katie sprung up from the grass and confidently walked over to the boy. ‘Excuse me?’
The boy didn’t look up. He kept walking in the direction of the newsagent's situated just outside of the park’s stone walls.
‘Here, mate!’ Katie continued. ‘Are you not listening?'
Still nothing. Paula thought the boy probably could hear her. And she felt that he was doing the same thing that she would have done in that situation. He simply kept his head down, ignoring Katie as he walked determinedly out of the park. As he disappeared through the gates, he had to side-step a little as another young girl on a bike zoomed in, barely squeezing between the boy and the other side of the gate.
‘Jill!’ Katie shouted.
Jill came riding into the park on what looked like one of those cool new bikes from the TV adverts. Its sparkly purple frame glittered in the bright sunlight from the cloudless sky above. When she spotted her cohorts, she accelerated, bucking the bicycle onto its back wheel to perform a wheelie. All the girls applauded, including Paula. As Jill neared, Paula spotted three items in the basket on the front of the bike. Two of them looked like some sort of boxes, the third item was clear to Paula, and she felt crushing disappointment. Jill was met with more applause when she arrived at the bottom of the hill, skidding to a stop in front of her friends.
‘Is that one of them new Zephyr XTs?’ Amy asked, wide-eyed and amazed.
‘Yup,’ Jill answered smugly. ‘Got it for my birthday. Smart, eh?’
They all agreed that it looked phenomenal. Paula would have asked for a go on it if she didn’t already know that Jill would undoubtedly refuse. The rest of the girls crowded around Jill’s new bicycle in awe. She whirred around the bottom of the hill in a satisfying exhibition showing off with more wheelies and skids, breaking into the grass and mud, damaging it.
‘Here,’ Jill said to Katie, handing her the items from the basket. ‘You better take these in case they fall out. I’m gonna do a big one!’
Katie took the items with a grin: a packet of cigarettes, a lighter and a box. Jill rode her bike halfway up the hill and came zipping down, showing off her biggest wheelie yet. She sped towards the park’s path, where a middle-aged man was walking his dog. When the dog spotted Jill's sparkly bike heading in its direction, it rushed forwards to see it, pulling its owner with it. The man stopped and tried to pull the dog out of the way, but it was too late; Jill braked harshly and slid off her bike and onto the grass with a sharp clunk. Paula couldn’t stifle her laugh at Jill’s misfortune, even as Jill shot her a riled look while being helped to her feet by the kind man while his dog sniffed at the bike. The experience clearly hadn’t startled her much however, as she simply hopped back onto her new Zephyr and whizzed back to the other girls as if nothing had happened.
‘Amazing!’ Katie exclaimed. ‘How’d you manage to get fags?’
‘Gave someone a pound to get them,’ Jill returned with a smug smile.
Katie immediately unwrapped the plastic on the pack, took out a cigarette and passed it on to Lizzy and Jill, who both did the same. Amy and Paula both refused their offers, despite the looks of ridicule from the others. Katie lit her cigarette and passed the lighter round the rest of the girls. Paula watched her three friends as they smoked explicitly in the middle of the park without a care for whoever might be watching them. She could smell the fumes coming from the cigarettes. They made her want to throw up. How could anyone stand the stench of those things?
‘What’s in the box?’ Amy asked.
Jill blew a puff of smoke out of her mouth and chuckled. ‘What does it look like? Open it up and see!’
Katie, preoccupied with her smoke, handed the small box over to Amy.
‘Oh no,’ Amy said. ‘Is that what I think it is?
Amy opened the box to reveal six small eggs positioned inside. Katie and Lizzy gasped and then chuckled.
‘Who’s the target?’ Lizzy asked.
‘That old bastard on my street,’ Jill said. ‘The moany one.’
‘Who? Mr Davidson?’ Amy asked, sounding alarmed.
‘Oh, no!’ Amy protested, waving her arms up. ‘Not Mr Davidson! My dad told me he has cancer.’
‘So fucking what?’ Katie said, puffing out a cloud of smoke. ‘He deserves it. He’s a moany prick!’
‘He's only grumpy 'cause he’s not feeling well!’ Amy said.
‘He’s well enough to go on holiday,’ Jill said. ‘The old bastard fucked off to Egypt or somewhere last year.’
Paula could see that Amy was close to tears now. Her voice wavered as she spoke. 'That was on his list.'
Jill looked at her with an expression that was half confusion, half anger. 'What list?'
‘My dad said he made a list of all the things he wants to do in case he dies. He wanted to see the pyramids.’
Lizzy began laughing. ‘What’s he gonna do next? A fucking bungee jump?’
Katie and Jill roared with laughter.
‘I’m with Amy,’ Paula said after taking in a deep breath. She felt she had to say something. ‘We can’t egg a poor old man who has cancer! He might have a heart attack!’
'We’re not egging him,' Jill said. ‘Just his windows.’
‘I’m not going with you.’ Amy said firmly, thrusting the box of eggs into Jill’s hands. She picked up her bike and walked it up the hill towards the park gate. Paula would have gone with her if she hadn't left so quickly, but she was too far away now. Lizzy, Katie and Jill swore at her as she marched up the hill, not looking back. With a quiet smirk, Jill took one of the eggs out of the box as Lizzy and Katie put their hands across their mouths, hiding their laughs. Paula felt a rush of blood precipitate into her face and turned her head away so that the others didn’t see. She wanted to shout a warning to Amy, but she thought her friends would probably egg her instead, so she said nothing.
‘Amy!’ Jill bellowed. ‘Fuck you!!’
Jill launched the egg in the air, and as Paula watched she hoped that it wouldn’t ever reach Amy, who was now nearly at the top of the hill. The egg seemed to be airborne for half a minute before it reached its target, and then – what did they call it on that game show? – Bullseye! The egg smashed right on top of Amy’s head, spewing its contents all over her hair.
'What an aim!' Lizzy bellowed. Katie fell to the grass, laughing, while Jill stood up tall, hands on hips with a proud smile spread across her face. Paula just stood with a reddened face and a broken heart.
Amy yelped a little and dropped her bike, using both of her hands to grasp at her head as she doubled over. Suddenly, she stood up straight and spun around to face the girls. For a minute, Paula thought Amy was about to run towards Jill to attack her, but she simply stood at the top of the hill, red-faced and crying.
‘Fuck you, you fucking bitches!!’ Amy cried as Lizzy, Katie and Jill shouted insults back at her. She grabbed her bike once more and rode off towards the park gates.
Paula reluctantly arrived at the old man’s house with the rest of the gang. She had expressed no protest or objection for fear of what might happen to her if she did. As she entered the street, she thought about what poor Amy must have been up to. Paula imagined her arriving home to tell her mum what had happened at the park. What if Paula got the blame? What if Amy’s parents told Paula’s parents? She felt terrible for worrying about herself, given what had happened to Amy.
The girls approached the house, dismounted their bikes and huddled together, speaking in hushed voices. Paula could sense their excitement and hoped that they could not sense her hesitance. Jill passed the eggs out to the other girls; there were enough left for one for each of them, two for Jill herself. Paula reluctantly took the egg that was thrust into her hands.
‘Hey,’ Paula began. ‘Maybe he’s not even in. Want to just go home?’
The girls didn’t buy it. In her heart, Paula knew that her friends recognised that she wanted nothing to do with this and that they didn't care. She reminded the others that Amy had said the old man had cancer, but they ignored her. She sighed and listened to the plan.
Jill instructed Lizzy and Katie to stay with her at the front of the house so that they could egg the living room window. Paula's role was to go through to his back garden and get one of his back windows. After another weak and failed protest, Paula wheeled her bike to a safe place in front of the next house along and sneaked round to the old man's back garden.
The garden was messy. Overgrown grass tangled in with tall weeds and climbed up Mr Davidson's brown shed at Paula's side. At the far end, a wooden fence had begun to show signs of mould and decay, and the middle had sagged inwards, exposing a part of the tidy garden of next door's house. A few yards in front of the fence were brightened up by the garden's last remaining piece of beauty; somehow, a row of daffodils had managed to grow there.
She wondered whether it would be worth knocking on the old man's back door and warning him about what was going to happen.
Great idea, then what happens when Jill sees me at school when we're back?
There was nothing for it. Paula would have to wait until the others were finished and then sneak away before she gets the blame. She sighed and sat in front of the daffodils, wondering if Mr Davidson ever got the chance to pick some and have them in his house.
After two or three minutes, she finally heard what she was listening out for – the cracking of eggs on a window, the screams and laughter from her cohorts and the whirring of bikes as the girls sped away, leaving Paula behind.
She sneaked round to the front of the next house where she had left her bike and picked it up. Glancing over her shoulder, Paula spotted the damage done to the old man's house. The girls had all targeted the same window; at least three runny yolks were slowly sliding down, carrying the broken eggshell with it. Paula felt waves of sadness, anger and embarrassment that she had been involved. Even if she hadn't actually caused any harm herself, she was still here. She was still a part of it.
At least now I can get out of here.
As Paula took her first step away from Mr Davidson's house, she heard the faint noise of a front door opening. Terrified, she dumped her bike down and dove in front of the next door's hedge, crouching down out of sight. She watched the old man come out of his front door, and her heart sank.
He was leaning against a cane, shaking and coughing. His clothes looked old and dirty; Paula thought his wife must have either died or left him, and there was nobody there to look after him. Did he not have a son? A daughter? After another cough, his frail voice came.
‘Who was that!?’ He gasped. ‘I’m away to phone the police, so you’d better not come back here!’
As he turned and ambled back into his house, gently closing the door behind him, Paula brushed a tear away from her eye.
I can't leave it like this.
She stood up and wheeled her bike to the side of Mr Davidson's house. Dumping it on its side, she returned to the back garden and collected what she needed. Returning once again to the front of the house, she took a deep breath and knocked on Mr Davidson’s front door. After a minute or so, he answered.
‘Oh,’ The old man began. ‘Come back to apologise, have you?’
Mr Davidson's face looked paler up close. And more aged. Paula nodded, keeping one hand behind her back. ‘My name’s Paula, Mr Davidson.' She found it incredibly difficult to speak. When her nerves allowed her voice to break through, it sounded weaker and smaller than usual. She took a quick breath before continuing, and when she started speaking again, she couldn't stop. 'Me and my friends came here to egg your house. Except, I didn’t want to. See, I have this other friend, Amy, and she’s nice, and she told me you had cancer, and I’m really sorry. If you give me a bucket of water and a sponge, I’ll clean your window. Oh, and I got these from the garden round the back for you.’
Paula produced a handful of daffodils from behind her back.
‘They’re beautiful flowers, and I thought maybe you can’t get about much to pick them, so I thought I’d get them for you to say sorry.’
Mr Davidson said nothing. He just stood there, looking perplexed.
Paula stood with her arm still extended, offering Mr Davidson the daffodils. Through her own watered eye, Paula spotted a hint of a tear in Mr Davidson's.
‘So, do you have a bucket and a sponge?’