The bikes sped along the grass in the warmth of the spring sun. Their riders were fearless, traversing rapidly up and down steep hills with no regard for their own safety. On days like these they would usually be outside looking for boys, or deliberately causing trouble for the thrill of being chased. Today they simply felt like riding their bikes around the park; school was finished for the next two weeks and they all wanted to make the most of it. The park was filled with inhabitants including dog walkers, children, and families enjoying the beginning of the Easter holidays. A cool breeze gently whispered through the air and tenderly shook the new leaves of the trees. All around the park, bright yellow and orange daffodils were in bloom.
The girls had had enough of their stunts for now; the four of them dismounted their bikes and sat down in the middle of a grassy hill. Lizzy hauled her bike up the hill and leaned it on one of the nearby trees. She buckled and collapsed down onto the grass, puffing. She was a particularly large young girl and had been bullied by others at school. “No-so-thin Lizzy” they would call her, among other names.
In front of her, Katie and Amy parked 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. She rode it towards Katie swiftly, stopping just in front of her and making her scream.
‘Paula!’ Katie exclaimed. ‘You bitch! That wasn’t funny!’
Paula laughed as the sun illuminated her blonde, almost yellow hair. ‘Yes it was and you know it!’
‘Yes it was and you know it,’ Katie repeated in a mocking voice.
She threw her bike down next to Amy’s and took a seat next to Lizzy.
‘Whar’s Jill?’ Lizzy asked.
‘She’s supposed to be meeting us here,’ Amy said. ‘She’s always late though.’
‘Always fucking us aboot you mean.’ Katie said, bluntly. ‘I’m pure gaspin’ for a fag. Paula, you look auld enough, go’an go in to the shop and get iz ten Lambert & Butler.’
‘I look old enough?’ Paula laughed. ‘I’m the same age as you! They’ll never think I’m sixteen!’
Katie lay down on the grass and groaned.
‘I’d fucking love a fag as well.’ Lizzy said, stretching her wide legs out onto the grass. ‘D’you ‘hink somebody’ll get them for us?’
‘You should just quit anyway,’ Amy said. ‘Smoking gives you cancer.’
‘So what?’ Katie said with disgust. ‘Abody dies anyway, might as well enjoy life first.’
Paula suddenly lit up and began dancing. ‘As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I take a look at my life and realise there’s not much left.’
‘What is that?’ Lizzy asked.
‘Coolio!’ Paula exclaimed. ‘Gangsta’s Paradise, have you not heard it?’
‘Oh eh.’ Lizzy said. ‘Bet you he smokes as well.’
Katie rolled her eyes. ‘D’you ‘hink he’ll get selt?’ She indicated towards an older boy who Paula thought must have been about seventeen. She thought that he probably could buy cigarettes for Katie but she hated the idea of her friends smoking. Paula had never been easily swayed; she had no interest in smoking or drinking alcohol despite most of her friends doing so.
‘Nah,’ Paula said. ‘Doesn’t look old enough.’
‘Fuck off!’ Lizzy exclaimed. ‘He looks well auld enough! Go’an 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 newsagents situated just outside of the park’s walls.
‘Here, mate!’ Katie continued. ‘Are you rubbering iz? Gonna fucking at least acknowledge me? Fuck you then, wideo!’
The boy didn’t even flinch. As he disappeared through the gates and out the park another young girl on a bike zoomed in, nearly knocking young boy over.
‘Jill!’ Katie shouted.
Jill came riding into the park on what looked like one of those cool new bikes from the advertisements on TV. Its sparkly purple frame glistened in the bright sunlight from the cloudless sky above. When she spotted her cohorts she bucked the bicycle onto its back wheel performing a wheelie to their applause. As she neared, Paula spotted that there were three items in the basket on the front of the bike, and her heart sank. Jill was met with more applause when she arrived at the bottom on the hill.
‘Is that ain o’ they new Zephyr XT’s?’ 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 was as selfish as anyone she’d ever known. The rest of the girls crowded around Jill’s new model in awe. She whirred around the bottom of the hill in a satisfied exhibition showing off with more wheelies and skids and breaking into the grass and mud of the park.
‘Here,’ Jill said to Katie, handing her the items from the basket. ‘You better take these in case they fa oot. I’m awa t’dae a big ain!’
Katie took the items with a smile: a packet of cigarettes, a lighter, and a box. Jill rode her bike halfway up the hill and came zipping down, showing off the biggest wheelie she had done since her arrival. She sped towards the park’s path where a man was walking his dog, braked harshly, and slid off of her bike and onto the grass with a sharp clunk. Paula couldn’t silence her giggle at Jill’s misfortune, even as Jill shot her a riled look while being helped to her feet by the kind man. 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.
‘Amazing!’ Katie exclaimed. ‘How’d you manage to get fags?’
‘Gave someone a pound to go’an get them.’ Jill returned with a smug smile.
Katie unwrapped the plastic on the pack, took out a cigarette and passed it on to Lizzy who done the same. Amy and Paula both refused the offer with Jill joining in with the smoking. Katie lit her cigarette and passed the lighter round the rest of the girls. They smoked explicitly in the middle of the park without a care for who may be watching them. Paula thought that smoking either made them feel grown up or allowed them to be rule breakers. Her friends didn’t like to be told what to do after all, which was evident in school classrooms when their teachers would struggle to control them. Her parents had always expressed concern about who she was hanging around with, but Paula thought her friends were okay.
‘What’s in the box?’ Amy asked.
Jill blew smoke out of her nose and mouth and chuckled. ‘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.
‘Wha’s the target?’ Lizzy asked.
‘That auld fucker on meh street,’ Jill said. ‘The ain wa’s iye dead moany.’
‘Who? Mr Davidson?’ Paula asked.
Jill nodded with a grin and Paula felt her heart sink. She never wanted to take part in these things. Sometimes she would find a way out by telling her friends that her mum wanted her back for a certain time, or she was tired and wanted to go home. This time however, she had run out of excuses.
‘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 some smoke. ‘He deserves it, he’s a moany bastard!’
‘Only cause he’s not feeling well!’ Amy said.
‘I’m with Amy,’ Paula said. ‘We can’t egg a poor defenceless old man who has cancer! He might have a heart attack!’
‘Well dinnae come then,’ Jill said. ‘And we’re no egging him, just ee’s windee!’
‘I’m not going with you.’ Amy said, arms folded, and with that, she thrust the box of eggs into Jill’s hands, picked up her bike and walked it up the hill towards the park gate. Lizzy, Katie and Jill swore at her as she marched up the hill not looking back. Jill, with a quiet sman took one of the eggs out of the box as Lizzy and Katie put their hands across their mouths and giggled. 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.
‘Here! Amy!’ Jill bellowed. ‘Fuck you!!’
As several onlookers shook their heads at the girls to the further embarrassment of Paula, Amy continued walking up the hill without looking back. Her only response to Jill’s insult was a raised middle finger, the other hand still clutched around the bike’s frame guiding it upwards.
Paula watched as Jill launched the egg in the air towards Amy. Paula hoped that it wouldn’t ever reach Amy, who was nearly at the top of the hill now, but it wasn’t so. It 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 on Amy’s head spewing its contents all over her hair. 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 round to face the girls. For a minute Paula’s heart raced as she thought Amy was about to run towards Jill to attack her, but she simply stood at the bottom 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 her 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? She felt terrible for thinking such a thought 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 unenthusiastically took her egg. It wasn’t in her nature to allow things like this to happen without her trying to stop it in some way, so she gave it one last attempt.
‘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 the fact that she wanted nothing to do with this. 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’s window, and she wanted Paula to go through to his back garden and get one of his back windows. After another weak protest, Paula wheeled her bike to a safe place in front of the house next door and snuck round to the back of the old man’s house.
Paula couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief at being relegated to egging the back window. She knew already that all she had to do was pretend that she had done it and they would leave her alone. She quickly disposed of her egg in some daffodils growing in a nearby garden and waited. After two or three minutes she heard what she was listening out for – the cracking of eggs on a window, the scrams and laughter from her cohorts, and the whirring of bikes as the girls sped away.
Paula snuck round to the front of the next house where she left her bike, and picked it up preparing to go home until she heard the faint noise of the old man’s front door opening. Terrified, she dumped her bike down and dove behind a nearby bush. She watched the 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 no-one there to look after him. After a couple more coughs, 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 returned to his home, Paula brushed a tear away from her eye, and returned to the back of his garden where she had left the egg. After collecting what she needed she returned once again to the front of the house, took a deep breath and knocked on the old man’s front door. After a minute or so, he answered.
‘Oh,’ The old man began. ‘Come back to apologise have you?’
Paula, heart thumping, nodded keeping one hand behind her back. ‘My name’s Paula, Mr Davidson, 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 the daffodils from behind her back.
‘I know they’re beautiful flowers and I know 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 but stood there, flabbergasted.
Paula stood with her arm still extended offering Mr Davidson the daffodils. Both of them had a small tear in their eyes. Paula, managing a bright little smile, repeated her offer.
‘So, do you have a bucket and a sponge?’