Photograph by Dan Sully, Story by Phil Whitaker
Bird song! What the feck? Cheeping and twittering like a fecking dawn chorus. He looked around like he might actually find some beaked ball of feathers perched on top of a service duct or something. At one a.m. But - maybe it was some robin or thrush, flown in here in daytime confusion, then been bamboozled by the low ceilings and the endless ramps, impossible to find a way out, the fluorescent 24/7 lighting perpetually postponing the instinct to roost.
Was it feck! He let out a snort as he figured it out. Better than muzak. He started taking the stairs two at a time, the soles of his sneakers gritting on the concrete. Piped bird song! Like some pre-recorded sounds of nature might actually soften this sharp-edged, pillar-forested, coining-the-cash multi-storey money machine.
He reached the first landing. Deck 1A on the door. Piped bird song! He'd love to tell Chell. She'd laugh. Maybe. Once she would've laughed, maybe not now.
The thought. Chell. Taking a look at her in the half-light from the hall before he quietly closed the bedroom door. Deep in her doctor-drugged sleep, half-out from under the duvet, her legs too hot, her knicker-clad bum, those long thighs. Would she even notice he'd gone? Not unless the nipper woke her. Little Kieran. Cot wedged between the TV and the sofa in the lounge. Hair tufted up, thumb in his gob, lemon-yellow blanket rising-falling with his little-lung breaths. Not his own cot. A hand-out from the Elim Pentecostal on Piper St. The mattress faintly stained; the white paint chipped and scuffed, rectangles of dried adhesive from where some other kid's stickers had been.
He took the next flight faster, teeth clenching. Little Kieran. Chell. Deck 1B.
There was no one else in the stairwell - no one to see, not a sound save the fecking tweeting.
Don't do it, she'd told him. We don't need it. We'll be all right. We'll manage.
She had no idea. No idea how far off managing they were. No idea what Alvin was capable of. He'd seen it. The doors splintered out of their frames. The smashed mayhem for other feckers who'd fallen behind on their loans.
Friday week, he told her. If we don't have it by Friday week he's gonna take us down.
Chell. Vest top and shorts. Hand cupped under one elbow, V-sign fingers holding the fag to her lips, the trail of smoke signalling her tremor. We'll clear out, she said. Go to me mam's.
Yeah. Like Bradford was far enough to shake off Alvin.
Deck 2A. He was breathing harder. It wasn't as if it had gone on a washing machine, or some part to keep the crapped-out Fiat on the road, or even some tat to give Kier on his first birthday. Rent, electric, food, a few clothes. Just the stuff of life.
The endless initials, always in threes. JSA, ESA, CTC. Every change was a new fight, grasping and clutching to hang on to the dwindling cash. I just want a fecking job! Of course you do, she'd tell him, stroking his head resting against her chest. Him and every other fecker in this fecking place.
Deck 2B. Legs starting to feel it. And then Musk rolls back into town - finished his sentence, ready to build his business again. Enough for a hundred wraps, Musk had promised - on tick, too, to help his old mate out of a jam. They were hard terms, what Musk wanted once the gear was sold, but that was fair enough. He'd never get a chance like this from anyone else.
Chell: Promise. Promise me you won't. You said you were finished with all that.
I am, I swear, he'd told her. Just this once. Just to get us straight with Alvin. Then never again.
He had to slow, body unable to match his urgency. He had to quit smoking; his lungs were shot. He rounded the next flight, hand on the cold metal bannister. Deck 3A.
Chell: I couldn't stand it if you went inside again. Stubbing her fag with a hard jab on the saucer. I want Kier to be proud of his dad. I want him to know you.
And her eyes had filled. And she'd smudged the wetness off her cheeks with the heels of her hands. And she'd looked so fecking sad and weary. So he'd promised.
Deck 3B. He paused in front of the door, breath coming fast, not all from exertion. It would be fine. A hundred wraps - only take four, five days to shift it. He knew the haunts; the punters knew him from the old days. Then he'd have enough to get Alvin the feck out of it. And there'd be some left. A treat for Chell. A toy for Kier. Four, five days. He'd be fecking unlucky to be busted.
He had been before, though. Four and a half years for possession with intent. If he got that again. Kier would be what? - three at least by the time he got parole. Wouldn't know him from Adam. That's if Chell would have him back.
He pushed the door open and stepped into the car park. His eyes narrowed in the glare. Then he saw it. Musk's orange sedan - the only vehicle in the place. He started towards it, the door to Deck 3B shutting behind him.
His phone went. Text. Where r u? K's crying. Wants his daddy. Come home.
A few more steps and the pillar would no longer block him from Musk's sight. He could keep going, pay Alvin off, clean the slate and make a fresh start. Or turn around, Musk never to know he'd come. Tell Chell he hadn't been able to sleep, that's all. That he'd had to get some air.
But Alvin, and the splintering violence. He halted, pulled in all directions. The piped birdsong twittered on.
Dan Sully is an award-winning British filmmaker and photographer based in London. He started his career as a music video director, directing videos for bands and artists such as Beach House, Elbow, Will Young, Miles Kane and The Maccabees. His short films have played the London Film Festival and Encounters as well as reaching over a million views on YouTube. His photography has featured in Creative Review and Huck Magazine. See more of his work at @dan_sully