It was a sunny afternoon in May. Ali, a mixed race boy of fourteen, big for his age, should have been in school, but instead he was hiding behind the garages, chatting to Cindy. He liked Cindy; she was his friend, not like most of the other boys and girls on the estate and in school, who were horrible to him.
Ali made a grab for Cindy’s new phone. “Gimme a look Cindy,” he said.
Cindy dodged. “No, you’ll break it, you big lump – it’s expensive. I’ve gotto go now anyway.”
Ali was disappointed. “Where are you going?”
“Can I come?” Ali said.
Cindy laughed. “You’re funny.”
A large stone was thrown from somewhere and hit the metal door of the closest garage with a loud crash. Ali and Cindy were startled and looked around anxiously.
A group of boys and girls appeared – they were laughing. Baz, a tall boy of about fifteen was at the front. Baz smiled at Cindy and looked her up and down, nodding his head approvingly.
Cindy blushed and looked away.
“What’s that?” Baz asked, pointing at the phone Cindy was holding.
Cindy handed the phone to Baz without saying a word.
Baz turned it over in his hand. “Nice,” he said, nodding.
He handed the phone back to Cindy and turned to Ali. Ali looked down at his feet.
“You’re Ali, aren’t you?” Baz said.
Ali nodded and mumbled. “Yes.”
“Ha ha! You’re a raghead, aren’t you? Are you going to blow us all up?” Baz leant into Ali’s face: “Boom!” he shouted.
Ali jumped backwards, stumbled, and fell into the garage door.
Baz and the rest of his gang laughed and pointed at Ali.
“Leave him alone Baz,” Cindy said.
“Hah,” Baz said. “He’s too stupid to blow a balloon up – aren’t you Ali, aren’t you?”
Baz poked Ali. Ali stumbled back again. The rest of the gang got excited and started jostling and poking at Ali.
“Please stop, Baz,” Cindy said.
Baz winked at Cindy. “OK your Highness.” He turned to the group of boys and girls and raised his voice. “Enough! Stop!”
The excitement died down. Ali took his chance and rushed away, running awkwardly. Baz imitated Ali’s clumsy run. The rest of the gang laughed.
Baz turned to Cindy. “You coming?” he said.
Ali ran through the streets of the estate towards his grandfather Terry’s house. He could hide there until the boys went away and it was hometime.
His grandfather was in the front garden of his house clambering over an old fishing boat that he was renovating. When he saw Ali rushing breathlessly into the garden he climbed down, paintbrush in his hand. Ali hid behind the boat.
“What’s the matter Ali?” Terry asked.
“Ssh Gramps, they’re coming after me.” Ali said, still struggling to breathe.
“Who is? Who’s after you?”
Ali didn’t answer, just squeezed himself against the hull of the boat, looking terrified.
“Why aren’t you in school?” Terry said. “Does your Mam know where you are?”
Ali shook with fear, tears filled his eyes.
Terry pushed the paintbrush into a pot and put his arm around Ali. “Come on,” he said, leading Ali towards the front door. “Let’s have a cuppa and you can tell me all about it.”
In the kitchen Terry swept an accumulation of detritus off the table and picked up the kettle. “Sorry about the mess,” he said. “You know what it’s like when you’re on your own.”
Ali sat down looking bewildered.
Terry shook his head, smiling. “No, of course you don’t, you’ve got your Mam haven’t you.”
“And my Dad.” Ali said. “When he comes home next week.”
Terry shook his head and put the kettle on. “Now, there must be clean cups somewhere,” he said.
Out on the streets of the estate, Baz and his gang were marauding. Cindy was walking along at Baz’s side. Another of the gang, Dorian, a fifteen year old boy was at Baz’s other side.
“I’m bored,” Baz said. “Where’s that moron gone?”
“Ha,” Dorian said, “to that stupid old man’s house I suppose – you know, the one with the boat.”
“Yeah, he’s a spaz too, come on.”
The gang headed off noisily along the streets towards Terry’s house, Cindy followed them silently.
In the kitchen, Terry and Ali were drinking tea at the table.
“It’s those kids again isn’t it?” Terry said.
“You don’t want to be taking no notice of them, they’re just ignorant.”
The back door burst open and Jeannie, Ali’s mother, rushed in. She was worked up, in a temper.
“Dad – what have I told you? He’s supposed to be in school – they’ve been on the phone again – I can’t cope with this.” She made a grab for Ali. “Come on Ali.”
Ali backed away, bumping into the table and dislodging more of the accumulated rubbish to the floor.
“Look at this mess – don’t you ever clean up? There’s no excuse Dad . . . You’ll just have to come to terms with it . . . she’s gone.” Jeannie said, making another grab at Ali.
“Leave him alone Jeannie,” Terry said. “He’s not done anything wrong – neither have I.”
“Huh! – putting ideas into his head – it’s not as if he hasn’t got enough problems – the way he is. You and your stupid boat.”
Ali looked hurt. “It’s not a boat, it’s an ark. For when the floods come.”
“See what I mean,” Jeannie sighed. “Now, come on Ali, I’m going to have to take you back to school.”
Jeannie made another grab for Ali – he pulled away and fell against the table, knocking more rubbish to the floor.
Terry went to help Ali and put his arm around him.
“Now look what you’ve done,” Jeannie said.
“Me?” Terry said.
Jeannie put her head in her hands and sobbed. “I can’t cope with this anymore Dad, I can’t cope with him.”
Terry sighed and put his other arm around Jeannie. “What are we going to do?”
“The flat is too small,” Jeannie said, “and Masood is coming home next week.
“Hah – more trouble,” Terry said.
“He’s a good man Dad, he’s learned his lesson; he just wants to do the right thing now.”
Terry shook his head but hugged his daughter closer.
As Terry and Jeannie talked they didn’t notice Ali slipping away and going outside.
Ali retrieved the paint brush and pot from where Terry had left it and climbed onto the boat intending to carry on from where his grandfather had left off and surprise him. Before he could begin working he heard someone laughing and looked over the side. He started shaking when he saw Baz, Dorian and the rest of the gang jostling around the boat and laughing at him.
Baz and Dorian started to rock the boat. Ali clung on, terrified.
“Is this your Ark, Ali? Ha ha. Where you going to put the elephants then? In your backpack?” Baz teased.
“Stop it – stop it! Please,” Ali begged.
A boy picked up an open can of paint and threw it into the boat and all over Ali.
Others followed suit in a bout of madness – the boat got covered in paint and thinners – Cindy looked on silently – open-mouthed.
Baz nudged Cindy. “Watch this,” he said.
Baz took a lighter from his pocket and lit a paintbrush that was saturated with thinner. He tossed the brush into the boat and a whoosh of flame appeared.
Cindy was horrified. “Oh My God! Idiot,” she said.
Ali screamed in panic – the flames grew larger and fiercer.
Back in the kitchen Terry and Jeannie heard something.
“Ssh – what was that?” Terry asked.
“Ali?” Jeannie said.
They both got up from the table and rushed towards the front of the house.
The boat was in flames. Baz was laughing maniacally as Ali was screaming, stuck on top of the boat – his clothes were on fire.
Cindy hit Baz. “You’re the moron,” she said.
The other members of the gang stared with horrified looks on their faces. Jeannie and Terry came running out of the house.
“Ali . . . Ali,” Jeannie called. “Dad, do something.”
Terry looked around, panicking.
Cindy pushed Baz aside and climbed up the boat, removing her jacket; she wrapped the jacket around Ali and helped him down from the boat.
Jeannie ran forward and hugged Ali. Terry grabbed hold of Baz.
Baz struggled to get away. “Get off you old loser,” he said, then turned to the rest of the gang, “Come on – get this mong off me. Get him off.”
The gang members withdrew, shaking their heads.
A police car arrived and two uniformed officers got out; one had a fire extinguisher. He sprayed the boat and the flames went out – the other policeman took hold of Baz.
“Sorry Ali,” Cindy said.
The first officer looked at Terry and nodded towards Cindy. “And this one?” he asked.
Terry shook his head. “No – she’s the one that helped.”
Later, in the kitchen Ali, Terry, and Jeannie were sitting around the table, drinking tea.
“I’m sorry Gramps – the Ark . . .” Ali said.
“It’s just a boat Ali,” Terry said. “And besides I’m going to build a shed instead – with the wood. You can help me build it.”
Ali looked at his mother. “Can I Mam? Can I come whenever I want?”
“Better than that Ali,” Terry said. He paused. “You can come and live with me, you and your Mam . . . and your father – Masood . . . when he comes home . . . there’s plenty of room. What do you think Jeannie?”
“Oh Dad,” Jeannie said, with a tear in her eye.
They all hugged.