Mercy meets the sea

Here is a sample of my work in progress. Let me know what you think in the comments.

There had been a shedload of trouble in Mercy’s brief life, but this was the worst, and she knew it. She had been so excited to see the sea, so happy. She had never been to the seaside, and she had run from the station to the beach in an emotional state she could not name but was, in fact, joy. Jason had showed her how to use the map on the smart phone — not the burner, which was in her pocket — but the iPhone which he told her she could keep. “If anyone asks, this is your only phone,” he had told her. The map showed the beach was only five minutes walk, if that, from the station. Relating the map to the actual streets, with their fast-food outlets and beach wares — plastic buckets, balls and bats, inflatable dolphins and fantasy creatures — was harder than she thought. Some families looked they were leaving the beach for the day, carrying sandy towels, wailing infants and sadly deflated dolphins and unicorns. It was mid-afternoon, and she wondered, why leave so early? She set out in the direction they had come from and soon saw the bay in front of her. The sea was as flat and grey as dirty bath water. It was wonderful. Out at sea were big ships at anchor: oil tankers, and an immense vessel stacked with hundreds of coloured containers, full of plastic items from factories in China. A yacht sailed listlessly behind its ballooning spinnaker, but seemed to make no progress in the pathetic breeze.

To her right was a small funfair with a waltzer and dodgems. Beyond it was one of the two piers, jutting out into the water. Its pavilion advertised a show starring a comic her mother used to like. She jumped from the esplanade onto the beach. There was a strange building sheltering some Disney characters, sculpted from the sand. The weirdness of this made her want to laugh, but there was nobody to laugh with. She took off her trainers and stuffed her socks into them, so she could feel the sand with her pink soles. It seeped between her toes. It was like… she had felt nothing like it. She trotted to the water to see how that felt. You could not come to the seaside and not have a paddle, could you? The cold was shocking, and she gasped. Nobody seemed to be looking at her, so she smiled. Smiling was another strange experience; she had never gone in for it much. But nobody knew her here; she didn’t have to be the prickly, disdainful Mercy she liked her peers to see. She didn’t have to be anybody here, on this broad, bright, breezy beach.

All was good until she remembered the mission. The mission to give the bag to Bazzer. The bag she had left on the train. The train that had brought her from the city. The city that had maimed her, claimed her and spat her out toward this sunny, desperate, seaside resort. The realisation punched all the joy out of her. She had left the bag on the train. It sucked the air from her lungs, the wind from her cheeks and the sun from the limitless sky. She dropped to her knees on the sand and sobbed. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

“You all right, love?” 

The enquiry came from a middle-aged woman, invisible to Mercy. She took it as a call to action. Without bothering to reply, she rose and ran from the beach towards the town.

“He ain’t worth it, love,” the voice called after her. “They never are.”

She thought she remembered the way back to the station, but after chasing down one unfamiliar street after another she stopped, and holding a lamppost for support, bent over and gulped breath into her raw and rasping lungs. She needed to ask directions again, but the street was empty of people. Trotting to the corner, she saw a mother pushing a sleeping toddler in a buggy.

“’Scuse… station?”

“Turn left up there, then turn right at the lights and carry on until you see the station on your right. You can’t miss it. You must be late?”

“Yeah… Ta.”

She ran on, fear carrying her through the painful stitch in her side. Her knees were wobbly and sandy, her breath caught at her throat like a nail file. The station appeared and she could see straight away that the train had gone. A man in a uniform and an unfashionable moustache stood at the entrance to the platform.

“The London train, I was on it. I left my bag on the seat…”

“Sorry love, but nothing’s been handed in, I’d know. I can ring through to Waterloo, but if it’s found we wouldn’t hear before tomorrow. Can you describe the bag? What was in it?”

She couldn’t say, of course. She couldn’t describe the bag, and she certainly must not say what was in it. And she must get away from this man and his ridiculous facial hair before her features impressed themselves on his memory. Not that she had seen many black people in this town — she would stand out here. Perhaps, she figured, we all look alike to him.

“Gotta go. I’ll come back tomorrow, maybe. Ask again then.”

She ran off, leaving him bemused. Kids today, eh? She didn’t look old enough to be travelling on her own. She should be in school, surely?

Mercy meandered around the town centre, head bowed to hide her panic and tears. She found the pub where she was supposed to meet Bazzer, then hastily made off, following the harbour back to the beach. Supposing he was there now? Supposing he spotted her? They had never met, but he would know. Black teenage girls were everywhere back home, but this town seemed to have no people of colour. He would know it was her. 

She scuttled to the beach and down to the water that licked at the sand, following its edge to the second pier, a mile away. Thinking seemed impossible, but she must. She bought a hot dog and ate as she walked to the end of the pier, where two or three anglers cast their lines into the sea. A buzzing in her left pocket turned into an annoying little tune. It was the burner phone. It could only be Jason, checking that she had made the drop. She snatched the cheap phone out, stared at it for several seconds, and then threw it into the sea. An angler whistled and opened his mouth to speak. She dropped the half-eaten hot dog and ran. Behind her, seagulls squabbled over the hot dog and men turned from their rods to stare at her. Tears dribbled down her face and chilled in the breeze. Fear fed her despair. 

She was in a street that gave rear access to some grand terraced houses and beachfront hotels. Ducking into a yard, she searched for somewhere to hide. From what? From who? Everything. Everyone. She spotted some green dumpsters against a wall and squeezed her thin body behind one, squatting down. After a time, she was able to bring her sobbing breath back under control. She waited in silence. Nobody came. Nobody knew she was here. A CCTV camera had caught her entering the yard, but nobody looked at that. She could think here.

If anything worse could have happened to her, Mercy could not imagine it. Even though she had been there at that party, when Nuff had squirted One Shot Instant Drain Cleaner onto Jamila’s pretty face. Because her retribution would be worse than that. She had left the bag on the train. The bag which Jason had instructed her to exchange for Bazzer’s thousands. Jason would have to make an example of her, she could see that. She thought of Mikey, hit in the street by a stolen black Mercedes and then left to bleed out from multiple stab wounds. He was just fourteen, cheeky and chirpy until the day he died. 

The iPhone vibrated: incoming from Jason. He said he’d never call her on that phone; the burner was for business. She hovered her finger over the screen, then switched it off. The daylight began to fail and Mercy grew chilly. She hugged her knees and closed her eyes.


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