on the battered yellow bus
may prevent pedestrians
from scrunching up their noses.
But for these girls,
Air strikes launched on the dashboard:
clumps of padding from the backs of the chairs
bouncing off the windscreen,
and nestling in the foot well.
A few foam missiles
aren’t much to have to deal with,
but when the air strikes are constant,
it becomes a different matter.
Mid evening in mid-August.
on the bonnets that we pass.
“Left before the lights,
and then pull over by the Off Licence.”
for the yellow bus
and flashes a smile.
We snake through the pebbledash estates.
We’re in the suburbs of Newcastle,
but at this stage it’s anonymous:
Byker kids in Barça kits,
paddling pools and Union Flags.
(It takes me back to boyhood
on Old Crown Road.)
Radio 1 cranked up to eleven.
A three-point turn in a cul-de-sac.
Snapchat making animals
of adults unaware,
and Amber Leaf
being passed about
as air strikes reach
One of the girls on board
was kicked out on her sixteenth birthday.
Maternal doors slamming
since the scuffle in the hot tub:
booze and blood and broken glass
erupting from the bubbles.
The last thing that she saw,
as she peered over her shoulder,
was her tiny toddler sister
with her hands against the glass.
She could’ve done with the cash from babysitting
since they turned her down at Aldi.
She’s old enough to fend for herself,
but her little sister’s helpless.
Destined for evenings filled with:
Leftover loaves and
But the atmosphere brings giggled gossip.
The news isn’t treated as traumatic.
And the girls take turns,
blissfully unaware of any scrunching.
The yellow bus
backs into a space,
and sunlight dances
on the North Shields quay.
The air around us is deadly still
as we step down to the concrete.
They head off in pairs.
You might think they’re conspiring,
but mainly they’re confiding.
Cigarette smoke rises
above every little missile
that’s been bouncing off their windscreens
since before they can remember.
I look around me.
I see six remarkable young women.
I hear six voices eager
with ambition and resilience.
I hear six tales, matter-of-fact,
and that’s when I scrunch up my nose.
They’re left to live and learn
Bars on windows,
padlocks on doors,
and paint that peels
amidst patches of damp.
Bereft of any sense of value.
Left without an open door.
Theft of a level playing field.
A system that’s stacked
for square pegs
in square holes,
and set roles.
Being average is a blessing.
Being normal is a virtue.
Being left behind is a one-way street,
and the postcode lottery
is a simple fact of life.
But they finish their fags,
flick through their filters,
and for the three hours that follow,
they fill a room
It’s infectious at the time,
but the streetlights blur with a tear.
First you hear hyenas,
then you see hedgehogs.
Limbs masked by Adidas
that quiver with anxiety.
These girls present potential
that’s been strangled at the source.
Fuck me, it’s frustrating.
A generation gargled.
And one-by-one, they wave goodbye
to the battered yellow bus.