“There were dragons in the sky, the night the firework factory blew up,” Gran said. Courtleigh shuffled uncomfortably his seat. He looked up at the clock on the wall and wondered how much longer he would have to wait. “It was a sign. I know it was. A sign of evil and change, but one good thing came out of it,” Gran smiled and patted his knee. “It brought me you.”
Courtleigh looked at his little Gran with her black skin as wrinkled as a walnut, her bright coloured dress and the gold tooth, that flashed when she grinned, and wondered why she was telling him all this. He knew the story of how the ground had opened up after the explosion and the block of flats, where he lived with his mum, had been swallowed up, never to be seen again. Gran blamed the dragons fighting. She said it was terrible battle and he was lucky to have survived.
“I found you in the morning,” she continued. “You came running to me out of the smoke and dust. You and this baby were the only two left alive. Your Mamma was gone and your Daddy was on his travels, so it was up to me to bring you up.”
“I know,” Courtleigh muttered. His stomach was churning and his mouth was dry.
“I did my best,” Gran said softly. “Whatever happens, I want you to remember that.”
“Courtleigh Jones,” the usher stood in the doorway. “They are ready for you now.” His footsteps echoed on the marble floor, as he led the way into the gloomy courtroom.
Mrs Whiteside, the magistrate, glared at the boy in front of her. Her fat, white face looked as if it had been carved out of lard. There was a long black hair growing out of the mole on her chin and a faint moustache over her top lip. She hated teenagers, especially jumped up lads who swaggered around thinking they knew everything.
“If I had my way, Courtleigh Jones, I would have you locked up and the key thrown away,” she said.
“Yes Mam,” he muttered. He thrust his hands in his pockets and stared at the floor.
Here she goes again, he thought, as Mrs Whiteside banged her fist on the desk and leaned towards him.
“Look at me Courtleigh,” she snarled.
She looks like a pig, he thought. In a minute she’ll start snorting and grunting and she’ll get down on all fours and run out of the court and I can go home with Gran. He bit the inside of his mouth, but it was too late, the grin spread over his face and Mrs Whiteside was turning purple with fury.
“You find this funny, do you?” she screamed. “Let me tell you this. I have done everything possible to get you back onto the straight and narrow. It’s typical of boys your age that nothing I do seems to make any difference. I have tried fines; I have tried putting you on probation and still you go back to your thieving ways. There is only one thing left and if that does not work, then it will be St. Savlons for you, young man.”
“Oh not St. Savlons, please Ma’am. My Courtleigh is a good boy at heart,” Gran pleaded. “He’s been brought up properly. I’ve always told him not to take things from shops.” She turned towards her grandson. “You know that’s not how you do it, Courtleigh.”
“I tried to put something back,” he muttered.
“Excuse me!” Mrs Whiteside cried. “I am not accustomed to being interrupted in my own court. What is all this nonsense about putting things back? He should never have taken anything in the first place!”
Gran drew herself up to her full four foot ten and looked steadily at the magistrate. “The way it goes Ma’am is this. You never take but you also give.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?” snapped Mrs Whiteside.
“Let me explain,” Gran said softly. “It’s like this…” and she began to talk in a low, dark voice, that was like treacle dripping off a spoon, so soothing and calming that Mrs Whiteside felt herself growing sleepy and finding it harder and harder to concentrate on what was being said. She had fully intended to send this criminally minded teenager straight into youth custody, but by the time Gran had finished, she was thinking of foster care with weekends home for good behaviour.
“Mr and Mrs Harris are very experienced, especially with the more difficult sort of child,” she said. “But let me warn you Courtleigh, one step out of line and it will be straight to St. Savlons.”
“Thank you Mam. I am sure he will behave. Won’t you Courtleigh?”
Courtleigh said nothing. He didn’t want to leave his Gran. He didn’t want to live in a foster home. But what could he do?
Friday, 11 February 2011