I had a cup of tea with the devil and his Mum the other day. The devil, sitting on a shiny cream and blue leather sofa thanked his Mum when she gave him a plate of biscuits and then blushed when she told him off for not offering one to me first. He awkwardly waved the plate in my direction and then glanced back at his Mum for approval before popping a whole Jaffa cake into his mouth and smacking his lips.
I took a drink of milky weak coffee from a mug with “# 1 dad” on it and wished I’d asked for tea when the choice had been offered. The devils Mum shook her head at her son who had moved onto to Jaffa cake number three and sipped her own tea from a mug with the Liverpool football club crest.
On the flat screen TV in the corner a couple were looking for a place in the country with a budget that would bail out Greece, or at the very least buy everyone there their own packet of Jaffa cakes and we all silently watched it for a moment until the Devils Mum said,
“If we lived somewhere like that he wouldn’t get into the trouble he does.”
And the devil, by way of reply, ate another Jaffa cake and grunted shaking his head.
It wasn’t the real Devil of course, not unless the Devil wears Homer Simpson slippers and lives in a tidy housing trust property in a slightly down at heel estate in Huyton, just outside Liverpool. This devil was seventeen years old, pale skinned and shaven headed, he had the build of a fly weight boxer and his milky white arms reminded me of a greyhounds legs, skin stretched tight over explosive, long thin muscles laced with quink filled veins.
Where exactly the saturated fat from the Jaffa cakes was going I can only guess.
I’d first met him when I was driving my cab the night before. He’d gotten in with a boisterous mate, both smelling of pocketed skunk weed and chip fat, from an address in the Kensington area of Liverpool and asked to go to Huyton, a suburb about three miles away.
“Been out boys?” I’d asked, by way of ice breaker,
“Sittin’ off lad, new fifa in’it?” The devils mate had replied, leaning between the front seats to get a look at me.
I turned to look him in the eye and he’d sat back, whatever question he was asking answered.
“I kicked his arse!” Said the devil
“Eeee lad, behave” said his mate “you was shit lad, yer ma would be better than you lad!”
“You couldn’t beat me lad, I was playin’ as Wigan lad and you still couldn’t beat me lad!”
They collapsed in a fit of skunk fuelled laughter behind me and I rolled my eyes as they rolled around.
I should explain, as well as being a cab driver I write, or maybe, I should say, as well as writing I drive a cab. I suppose which order depends on which job has paid for dog food that month. A few weeks earlier I’d been accepted onto The Guardians Reading The Riots project, the papers attempt, along with the London School Of Economics, to make sense of what had happened on our streets the few short riot riddled days a couple of months earlier. The project involved me interviewing people who had actually rioted on the days in question, sort of “sorting the chaff from the wheat” and sitting down with them to see what they had to say.
I’d found that the leads from The Guardian had proven to be unsuccessful so amongst other tactics I had resorted to asking young people who had got into my cab if they had been there on the nights in question. Most times my questions had been met with stunned silence, with my being acutely aware that I still looked like the Policeman I once was.
This time however my “Do you remember the riots?” gambit resulted in an avalanche of reply.
“Yeah lad, we was there, it was boss, a proper laugh lad!”
“You went to them all the way from Huyton?”
“Yeah lad, we jumped a baxi and got down there to have a go lad, mix it with the bizzies lad, can’t miss that lad can yer?”
I laughed along with their infectious excitement and explained why I wanted to know,
“So would we be in the paper lad?”
“No, totally anonymous, there is no way the bizzies can find out about you.”
“I’m not arsed if they did lad, would my photo go in?”
“No mate, nobody would know you had spoken to us.”
“Do I get dollar lad?”
“Why do it lad?”
“So the government can learn about you, how you live, it might make things better for you, maybe help you get a job.”
“I don’t want no job lad, they can fuck off lad, they don’t care ‘bout me, I don’t want to help them.”
The conversation continued along these lines for a while until I dropped the devils mate off, once left alone with Satan the atmosphere in the car became less charged and he seemed to be coming around to talking to me about the riots,
“I don’t want the bizzies to get involved lad, are you sure they won’t find out? I’m on a curfew and I don’t want banging up again.”
I reassured him once again, explaining the highest of journalistic standards would be in place before adding,
“We can meet at McDonald s if you want? So your family don’t know.” I felt like a potential adulterer,
“Me ma knows I was there, she went off her head, I stunk of smoke when I got in, that’s why I only went the first night, I’ve got a kid, she was going to blow me up to the bizzies if I went again.” He said sadly, and I wondered if it was the threat of losing his liberty or losing his child that was making him sad.
“Do you want to meet tomorrow? It’ll only take an hour.”
“Yeah go ‘ed then. About four, come me ma’s.”
I’d just done a deal with the devil.
In daylight the house looked less run down than it had the day before, his Mum opened the door and shouted upstairs for him to come down when I knocked, she then invited me in an offered me the coffee tea conundrum I’d failed so miserably.
I took a seat in the living room while she shouted at the ceiling again and a Staffordshire bull terrier wandered out of the kitchen to inspect me and then to loll against me leg,
“Are you okay with dogs?”
“As long as he is okay with me.” I replied as he noisily licked two conker like testicles whilst using my leg as support, we both pretended not to notice, me and the mum that is, not the dog, who was concentrating intently.
Mum wandered out into the kitchen and I scratched the dogs belly to distract him from his labours, eventually he slid down my leg and lay on his back accepting my offering of a tickle instead of a testicle.
When the devil walked into the room he looked tired, rubbing a hand across his head his black tracksuit bottoms looked as creased as his grey tee shirt, with his milky white skin he could have stepped out of a black and white film, only Homer smiling up from the floor offered up any colour,
“Alright mate, sorry... I forgot.” He said as he flopped down on the couch,
“It was only last night!” I laughed and the devil tapped his head and then shook it,
“He’s got a head like a cabbage,” said his Mum walking in with my “coffee” and I wondered how much skunk weed it took to help you forget the night before, “He told me about it this morning when he showed me the letter you gave him, how did you find him?”
“He got in my cab.”
“You drive a taxi? I thought you were a writer?”
“I am, it’s just that I’m rubbish so I drive the cab for food and stuff.”
She smiled at my “joke” and went to open the box of Jaffa cakes; the devil sipped some tea and sniffed loudly,
“We still alright with the interview?” I asked and by way of reply he flicked his head to the door and rolled his eyes, I sipped my coffee and we waited for his Mum.
Once she was seated, and biscuits consumption was commenced I asked him again,
“We okay to start then mate?” I nodded to my bag that the devils dog was using as a head rest, it won’t take long.”
The devils mum pulled her eyes from the Cotswolds and shook her head at him,
“I don’t think he should,” she said, and I launched, a little too quickly into my spiel about sources and safety and society. She listened and nodded and sipped at her drink and waited until I had finished before lighting a cigarette and pointing it at him,
“He’s brought me nothing but trouble for ten years, I’ve had to move because of him, do you see that front door? Twice that’s been knocked through by the bizzies because of him. My nerves are shot, you don’t know what it is like to have to live with him. His mood swings, his mates, coming in at all hours, drugs, the drink. He’s got a baby now... did he tell you?”
“He’s supposed to be a father and he couldn’t even boil an egg, he hardly sees him, do you?” the devil sighed and looked at the cracks in the ceiling barely listening to the cracks forming in his mother’s voice “People like you have no idea.” She pointed at me,
“I do! I grew up around here; I work on these streets every night!” I said indignant that I was being seen as a middle class writer type, even though that was what I was aspiring to be.
“I don’t mean what it is like to be around here, I mean, you don’t know what it is like to be me, what I put up with, what it’s like to break your heart every time the Police come knocking looking for him, when the girl he got pregnant comes knocking looking for money, you don’t know what it is like! Who is going to interview me? I’m a victim of this too.”
The room was filling with smoke from the resting cigarette and we all sat silently for a moment, lost for things to say, the devil stood up and walked to the door, parting through the swirling smoke as he left the room, as the door shut behind him he said two words,
So I did.