By Craig Farrell
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She was still talking, Steven realised, a sharp rise in her voice temporarily bringing him out of his dreamlike trance and back to reality. A brief look at the rest of his sullen-faced classmates told him that he wasn't the only one not listening: the room was full of glazed over eyes, minds wandering in a host of subconscious worlds. There was the odd one or two who looked close to sleeping, their arms folded on the desks, with their heads resting on top of them, fashionable boredom someone had once called it.
She was stalking up and down the aisles between the desks, past her students reclining in the cheap plastic chairs, who were looking as though they were enjoying a mental trip to a deserted island somewhere. She had a textbook open in her hands, and was reading from it, only too aware that no one was listening but too tired and weary to care. It was last period on a Friday afternoon - anyone attempting to teach the students anything at this time was either insane, or very new to the job and yet to become embittered. Miss Campbell looked thirty years older than she was, her hair, bunched up in a tight bun, in the uncomfortable stages of just beginning to go grey. She had wrinkles under her eyes and her skin seemed to sag, through despite her outer appearance she was not a woman who was to be underestimated. Working in several rough schools in the Glasgow area had added years onto her appearance, but she was tougher than most, and had a pitbull's determination when she was angered so for the majority of the time was respected by the pupils. A rare thing.
'Repeat what I just said, Andrew." She suddenly looked up towards the boy, like a cat pouncing on its prey. Some of the class laughed quietly. Asking Andrew - Big Andy Fraser - anything usually meant you would receive less response than you would talking to a brick wall. A product of Glasgow's council housing schemes, and uncaring parents had fused in the huge figure sitting nonchalantly at his desk, legs sprawled and arms crossed, short black hair gelled into spikes over a face marked by cuts and bruises. Steven sighed. He disliked Andy, like he did all of Andy's kind. All of the "tough" kids who dragged the classes they were in through the mud of education at snail's pace, then failed the exams anyway. The ones who were only interested in sport, and who conglomerated after school in gangs, defacing property and stealing being their main forms of entertainment.
'Eh. Whit was the question?' Andy's face was a mixture of fatigue and bemusement, having being revived from his peaceful slumber with both eyes closed. Miss Campbell stared at him for a moment or two, then sighed in acceptance. She knew as well as everyone else that it would be pointless to repeat herself.
'Sit up straight Andrew, and finish eating please, Lunch ended several hours ago.' she finally said. She turned to Steven, who was sitting at the front of the class, like he did in every subject. 'Would you care to fill Mr. Fraser in, Steven?” she asked, smiling. He was her star pupil. Again, as he was in every subject.
'You said that although we now have a Scottish Parliament, its powers are lesser than those that Westminster has. And that its members are selected differently.' Steven replied quickly. He hadn't really been listening, but he was well ahead of the class in terms of learning and silently prayed for the day when the under-achievers in his classes would be jettisoned and he could get some real work done.
'Very well done.' she said, but the sound was lost under the shrill shrieking of the school bell that announced the end of the school day, and thus the week. The class stampeded towards the door like a pack of dogs, obviously much more awake now. Steven was in amongst them as they spilled out into the corridor along with all the other classes, the older and bigger pupils ramming their way through the younger ones, who were still bright-eyed and had all their uniforms perfect - and still retained their willingness to learn. A short-lived willingness for most people.
There was chaos, like there always was, unlucky people mashed up against the dulled pinkish walls. Alongside smudged pictures and posters that at one time probably brightened the place up, but only served as generic decoration now, as cheery as a funeral, no one having the heart to take them down. Steven eventually forced his way out into the main courtyard of the school. The whole pace was formed in a hollow rectangle, with the courtyard supposed to be the main meeting place for students. Most dispensed with the outdated idea of school loyalty though, and preferred to head down to the local shops, a quiet place where they would not be stopped from smoking or drinking.
It was getting dark already, even at only 3:35pm. It was the kind of darkness that felt tangible, solid, and was as much a national icon for Scotland that tartan was. It heralded the short transition from the wet Scottish summer into the wet Scottish winter, the only difference between the two being that it was darker, and much colder in the latter. Trudging out of the school, he stopped at the ancient iron gates that marked the edge of the school's boundary, to wait for his younger sister, Lisa.
She appeared not long after him, long blonde hair in a ponytail bobbing behind her, her skirt rolled up to make it shorter, though it would be pulled back down before they got home to avoid her mother's wrath. She was quite an attractive girl, though always trying to make herself more so with make-up and high heels, as was the growing fashion with girls her age. She was only a year younger than Steven, but was not much shorter than he was (which dented his male ego, though he'd never admit it) and also much more popular, with both females and males.
Steven started walking, and his sister fell into step beside him. They walked for a short while, past the lines of parked cars, parents waiting for their respective children, and turned into a road that led to their housing estate. Today, like most others, they took a small backroad which was a significant shortcut, and had at least some shielding from the rain that was beginning to fall around them.
They called it "Glasgow Rain". Thick, heavy downpours that could last days, or weeks. It was the kind of rain that was accompanied by high winds and bounced off the ground as it hit it. It blocked out vision, soaked clothing, and drove people off the streets with the avenging fury of the heavens. It was, for all intents and purposes, as if every bloated cloud in the sky had burst, raining their contents upon the hapless residents of the weather battered country.
'How was school, Lisa?’ Steven asked while quickening his step, not really caring about the answer, but glad to get rid of the silence between them.'Tha' bastard McDowall gave me detention for talkin' in class.' she said sullenly as they made their way up the narrowish passage, graffitied brick walls on both sides. The ground was still wet from the rain at lunchtime, and it was starting to collect small pockets of puddles as the rain slowly increased in intensity. The smell of smoke clung to the place without any intention of moving itself, the stubbed out cigarettes and empty bottles of beer were scattered on the ground like confetti - this was where the gangs came to distribute their illegal goods and drinks. There were a million other places like them all over the estate.
It was getting darker, and the rain was beginning to obscure Steven's vision, as well as seeping through his flimsy raincoat. He was finding it hard to see far in front of himself without difficulty, though he could make out that they were nearly approaching the end of their 'shortcut'. It wouldn't be long before they were home and dry, he thought happily. Even though he enjoyed school, weekends were a great reprieve, and he would do anything right now to be out of the infernal rain that was pounding harder and harder with every step he took.
The hand covered his mouth before he could make a sound. Hands with an iron grip grabbed his arms and pinned them to his side, while a large push brought him to the ground easily - he was not the biggest or strongest for his age. His face hit the ground hard, sending water spraying up into the air as all the air was knocked out of his lungs. He could not move, though he strained his arms with all his might, and the clammy hand remained clamped firmly on his mouth.
He heard Lisa scream.
The sound pierced him like a javelin, making him pause in fright. A startled rabbit, eyes wide and wild with fear, horror creeping through his chest, paralyzing his limbs. Through his numbed mind and glued limbs, a single, terrible message swam into view.
They were raping her.
With a muffled grunt of anger he tried to shake off whoever was holding him, but to no avail. His face remained pressed firmly into the wet concrete, the falling rain slowly soaking his hair, running down his head and mingling with his tears of rage. He could see faintly out the corner of his eye his sister, her skirt ridden up her thighs, pressed against the wall, one boy of about her height holding her, the other roughly kissing her as she struggled beneath them. Steven could not believe it. He was unable to stop them, unable to save his sister who he fought with daily, but loved with a passion. Wild thoughts of revenge and pity swirled into his mind, erupting in a rousing crescendo of raw emotion. "I'll kill them, all of them"...."they'll blame me, I should have helped her"..... fire was flowing through his veins, running through his body like molten iron, seeping into dark crevice of his being. He was afire with anger, tears of rage running down his cheeks as he hopelessly battled against his restraints.
There was another sound, something other than the pattering rain and his sister’s sobs. Someone else was there, moving swiftly towards them, the reverberations of the footsteps resounding in Steven's ears.
The steel-tipped toecap of a large black boot made contact with Steven's captor with a sick crunching sound; a cry of pain screeched out, and the pressure was released from his arms. His hands shot to his mouth, prying the hand from him, and throwing it to one side as he pushed himself up from the ground onto his knees. He looked up, into the face of his saviour.
Big Andy Fraser stood towering above him, a black leather angel, the falling rain forming a halo around him. He was holding one of the boys off the ground, and Steven could vaguely make out another figure fleeing back down the passage, holding his head with both hands. In sickeningly slow motion Steven watched as Andy's fist lashed out to the young boy's face, then dropped him on the ground beside Steven, his nose gushing forth a river of blood. Steven hauled himself to his feet, his back screaming with agony as he did so, and spun round in time to see Andy haul one of the boys off of his sister, the other already on the ground and clutching his stomach. Steven recognised him; he was in his sister’s year at school. Andy rammed the boy he was holding into the wall with a dull thudding sound, then punched him hard in the stomach, a punch that packed the power of a steam train.
'The fuck you think you're doin wee man?' He yelled in a giant's boom, again thumping him against the wall as if possessed by some rampant demon. There was no reply but coughs and groans from the youth, and the sound of another set of feet swiftly escaping the wrath of the enraged titan. Steven sank down beside his sister, who lay crying on the ground, her shirt and skirt ripped, and put his arm around her - his knees feeling as though they were about to give way under him.
Andy threw the boy he was holding onto the ground in disgust. 'Run." he hissed. And the boy did, clutching his chest and coughing wildly as he stumbled through the curtains of rain that were pounding the street with fury.
Andy looked at Steven. 'Those wee bastard's touch her?' he
asked, the anger still evident in his voice, his fists still clenched, virtual
sledgehammers of vengeful power.
'S-S-She's fine, they didn’t get time to...to' his voice was shaky, and trailed off at the end, the thoughts of what might have happened if this person that he despised hadn't turned up striking him.
'Yeah... I’ll be fine. Thank you.' Steven said while taking a deep gulp of air. Andy's anger subsided and he began to look embarrassed, even comical - he was soaked to the bone, as they all were.
'Aye, well, if yer both allright, I gotti get hame...' his eyes jumped between them uncertainly, not feeling right about going off, but not wanting to stay either. Steven nodded.
'We'll be fine' he said, with a cough. With another nod, Andy stalked off into the darkness as Steven hoisted his sister up to her feet, her arms clinging to him tightly, still sobbing. He began to walk them both slowly home, the seriousness of what just happened running over and over through his mind. He and his sister had just been saved from... saved by Andy; one of the people Steven disliked most in this world. What did he owe him? Why would he help them, him of all people? Steven sighed, his mind too full of absurd notions and chaotic emotions to make sense of things right now... he just had to get his sister home and safe.
All around the young pair, the Glasgow Rain fell- uncaring and harsh - as they disappeared into its embrace.