We were half way between somewhere and nowhere; a stone’s throw from the Divis and our street when we were pulled. Street lighting was kinder here as all the bulbs had been smithareend. The council kept fixing them. Then they just gave it up, wouldn’t come out, even in daylight. It wasn’t badness. It was just boredom. We’d sat down in our uniforms of black bomber jacket, Levi jeans, Adidas Kick trainers, on the pavement to rest. Wullie was probably the worst. He’d conked out, arm akimbo, sprawled across the pavement like a sick stain. Godge was fine. Godge was always fine. His mouth hung open and his head bounced back and forward, back and forward as if someone was adjusting a spring on the back of his neck. Calum leaned against a large estate car, smoking his last fag, our last fag, his hand a cockscomb covering the lighted end, as if hiding it from the phut, phut, the half strangled budgerigar drone of the chopper circling lazy loops overhead and hitting the same note. Calum pulling his feet up sat four-square on the bonnet of the car. A curtain moved in one of the bedrooms in the upper terrace, somebody sneaking a look. Calum had that vacant expression, but he missed nothing. He banged his heel down on the bonnet and flicked the dout away. ‘Jesus,’ he said to no one but God in particular.
‘Ah was twos on that,’ I said, rubbing my eyes, trying to get up off the pavement so I could properly expresses my indignation, but my feet weren’t working and I bounced right back down on my bum.
Godge stood up. ‘We better get going.’ That was the first sensible thing he’d said all day. He smiled in triumph that we were agreeing with him. I moved my arse. Calum slid off the car bonnet.
‘What about Wullie?’ asked Godge
I nudged Wullie’s leg with the toe of my sannie, but it was just to show he was hopeless. We could have cut his leg off with a bowsaw and he wouldn’t have woken. ‘We’ll need to carry him,’ I said.
Godge smaned though his nose. He found things like that funny.
‘Just fuckn’ leave him,’ said Calum.
‘We cannae fuckin’ leave him,’ I said. ‘Look at the state of him.’
‘Exactly,’ said Calum. ‘He cannae dae any harm lying there.’
I crouched down and pulled at Wullie, trying to ragdoll him into a sitting position, but it was no use. He kept slumping and falling backwards as if he was a lolling sack of boneless bones. ‘Geez a hand,’ I said to Godge, putting my arms through Wullie’s oxters and holding him in a sitting position.
He helped me get him up. Wullie hung between us, head locked against his chest, feet scraping the ground as we hauled him, like a blackout curtain, half the length of Boundary Street.
‘Just leave him,’ said Calum. He was walking ahead of us, as if he was on point duty.
‘You fuckin’ leave him,’ I shouted. ‘You fuckin’ leave him. What would you say to his ma in the morning?’ That shut him up.
But Calum always had to have the last word. ‘Fuck him. And fuck you.’
There was no animosity in what he said. We stumbled on born into the same rag-tag army, seeing the world with the same eyes, hearing the world with the same ears and understanding the world with the same heart. As long as we stayed on the rat runs of home we were safe.
Unlit buildings loomed in acres of rugged grey concrete, lifeless as the surface of the moon, with only the sounds of cat’s caterwauling like infant children, reminding us of life. A man cut out in front of us, startling us.
It was Mullan. He stopped midstride, his head turning towards us. Even some part of Wullie must have felt that look drinking in our faces and who we were. His legs settled and he grew feet, stood, swaying slightly, eyes opening and shutting and then, under Mullan’s gaze, standing straight and tall to a lopsided attention.
‘Good night for it lads,’ said Mullan.
Further up we heard a car starting and Mullan was away striding into the gloom.
‘I nearly shat myself,’ said Wullie as we heard the car tear away towards Pordysburn.
Calum circled back. ‘Smells like you did.’
‘Fuck off,’ said Wulliie.
‘That was Mullan,’ Godge spoke that out of breath way as if he’d been running, but was standing still. ‘Did you see who was with him?’
Calum shrugged, which might have been aye and might have been no. Wullie bent over and started spewing. Instinctively, we jumped back from him hitting out sannies. Any thoughts about who was with Mullan went down the plughole.
Calum smacked him on the back of the head. ‘Ya fuckin’ idiot. Could you no’ have spewed the other way.’
Wullie unbent from his geriatric posture, sniffed, hawked up what was left from the back of his throat and spat at Calum’s feet. ‘There’s only one way to spew and that’s up.’ He turned to the rest of us, a new man. ‘Jesus, I needed that.’
We laughed. We’d all been there. No longer needing to shoulder Wullie, it was a weightless world We started ambling towards the Divis, that home town smell of rain not dampening the thought of creeping up stairs and sliding into a warm bed, waking up in the morning to the weekend waft of sausage and ham coming from the stirrings of the kitchen downstairs and easing itself into the room.
The crunch of glass underfoot alerted us, but it was too late. Two Self Loading Rifles were pointed at us, pointing at me. The one at the front did something with his finger and the other soldier took up the observation position and covered my mates.
‘Where you been Paddy?’ He was deceptively small, but wider than any normal man should be, as if he’d spent his whole life eating iron bars and working it off in some stinky gym.
‘Nowhere.’ I sighed, dreams of getting home shelved.
My mates were the same. There was a loosening of limbs and an acceptance that we’d be P-checked and searched and fucked about for hours on end and if we were lucky we’d not be taken in, would be let go. I looked to see where they’d stashed their Army Land rover. They were good. I had to admit that. I couldn’t see it anywhere. I looked for where the other Brits were hiding and playing tag. An eight man patrol was standard. His helmet was pulled down low over his forehead. As he got closer I saw he'd the eyebrows of an angry bear. He looked up as the helicopter circled overhead.
That’s when I knew. 'Run,' I shouted.