Costumes

“What have you come as?” Ruben said.

Takia looked down at herself. “A bat, obviously.”

“Don’t you mean a vampire?”

“No. I mean a bat.”

“Same thing.”

“Similar but different. What have you come as?”

“Can’t you tell?”

“No.”

“I’ve come as a doctor.”

“You don’t look like one.”

“Do you want to try a prescription?”

Takia smiled. She handed Ruben a twenty-pound note as he gave her a packet containing two pills.

*

Ripples of laughter spread throughout the house as Ruben forced his way through the dense crowd. He could feel the moisture from the collective sweat of countless people as he pushed through. When he reached a corner of the living room, he stood against the wall and spotted Sina making his way towards him.

“Didn’t expect this many,” Sina said.

Ruben nodded. “Me neither, but I’m not surprised. I’m a popular guy.”

Sina laughed. “Think you’ll throw another one?”

Ruben made a gesture at two people he saw at the end of the room. They began to approach him. “Definitely. Have you seen Liam yet?”

“I haven’t. Wait, you asked Liam to come?”

“Yeah, he’s cool.”

“No he isn’t.”

“He is. He’s alright.” Ruben scanned the outfits of the guests in his living room. “It’d be better if everyone was in a costume.”

“You’re not in one yourself.”

“That’s different.”

“How so?

“Because it’s my house party.” He looked to his left and saw Takia talking to someone. “That’s a proper costume. Take a look at Takia.”

Sina eyed her. “She’s got a bit of face paint and weird ears, but it’s a barely a costume.” He glanced at Ruben. “You’re still trying it with her, aren’t you?”

“There’s no need to try. I’m winning on all fronts today. Believe me. I’m making a grand at least, and Takia’s going to open up like a fountain.”

Sina chuckled. “You can tell me all about it afterwards.”

Ruben came off the wall. The two people he had gestured at were now near him behind the TV stand. He met them and took the money they handed him as he gave them a small bag of weed. Afterwards, he saw Sina doing the same at the other end of the living room. He glanced at Takia, and she grinned back at him.

Whenever Ruben checked his phone, there was a text from someone asking if he had something they wanted, and he went around the house, often paring with Sina, selling what he had. He spent time in the garden, taking in the smell of cannabis and cigarettes but turned down every offer to smoke. Near the shed, he saw someone with a shisha pipe sharing it with several others, and the bins him and Sina had left around the house were filling while the music was getting louder. He scanned his neighbour’s windows and saw one of the lights come on. Someone peered out of it. Ruben looked away and into the window of his kitchen to see people struggling to get in and out. As he surveyed the garden, he noticed two boys sizing each other up. He lunged forward, jumping in-between them and forcing them apart.

One of them walked away the moment he interrupted, but the taller one of the two stared down at him. “What’s your problem?”

“Are you being serious?”

The taller one glared at him for a few moments before trudging away.

Ruben wandered back to the house. As he did, he realised that more people had arrived, but less of them were in costumes.

*

The corridor was loud and cramped. Ruben swore as he tried to pass through it. He stopped when he felt someone pinch him and spun around to see it was Takia. Her eyes were wider than before.

“You rock, Ruben. This party’s actually good.”

“Rock? Do people still say that?”

“Well, I’ve just said it, so . . . What’s up? You look miserable.”

Behind Takia people were bustling about, and she was pushed against Ruben. He made eye contact with her then attempted to kiss her. She turned her face, causing him to kiss her cheek. She smirked before saying, “If your mum comes back and the house is in a state you’re screwed, y’know?”

“That won’t happen. Why do you think I’m everywhere? I’m keeping tabs on everything.”

“Are you? What about the person I saw upstairs writing on your wall?”

Ruben stared at her, waiting to see if she was joking. She didn’t blink. He turned towards the stairs then felt her pull him back. His eyes narrowed as she laughed. “Not funny.” She hugged him, and when she started to giggle he gently pushed her away. “Pace yourself. There’s hours of the night left.”

“. . . Have you got any more?”

He checked his pocket. There were a few bags of pills. He closed it, covering it with his hand. “I’m all out.”

“Some doctor you are.”

He watched her turn away and move further down the corridor. The vibration of his phone stopped him staring in her direction to show a message from Sina, which he quickly read. Afterwards, he slipped his phone into his pocket and headed towards the living room.

*

“You’re a genius for putting this on.” Sina was grinning and rubbing his hands together. “Everyone’s in one place.”

“I should tax your earnings,” Ruben said.

“What?”

“I made this all happen, right?”

Sina glared at Ruben, who began to laugh, and he responded with something Ruben couldn’t hear due to the front door shaking loudly as it was banged against. Whispering calls for quiet spread throughout the living room. The music stopped, and soon the whole house was close to silent. Ruben rushed into the passageway and waited for someone nearest the door to confirm who was outside but no one did. The door was thumped again. He couldn’t get to it, but he could hear the loud voices of his neighbours behind the door telling everyone in the house to stop the noise and threatening to call the police. Behind him, he heard Sina trying to keep everyone silent. He gave up trying to move forward and instead began telling everyone to do the same. “Turn the music back on,” he said once it seemed like his neighbours were gone, “but have the volume lower.” As he left the passageway he noticed something on the wall. He walked past it then stopped and returned a few steps to study it again. It was a large graffiti tag written in silver. He tried to decipher it even though there wasn’t much light. He read it aloud, “Robbie Raws.” He stepped back, rereading it before whispering, “Who the fuck is that?”

Wanting the loo and a moment away from the crowds, Ruben headed upstairs, but after seeing how many people were waiting for the toilet he headed back down, past the second toilet, which had a queue, and took a piss in the garden. On his return to the house he caught sight of several people gathered by the shed. He recognised the smell of the cannabis he had been selling, and he approached them. He spoke to them for a few minutes. Before he left, he saw writing in thick silver lines on the inside of the shed door that was the same as what he had seen on the passageway wall. “Who wrote that?” he asked. Everyone in the shed said they either hadn’t noticed it or had no idea who. He raised his hand and rubbed the tag with his finger. It didn’t fade.

Takia was in the corner of Ruben’s bedroom with a few of her friends. She was slouched on top of his bed and her eyes were low. She glanced up at him as he neared her and smiled with shut eyes.

“Who’s tagging around my house?”

“Forget it. She’s gone.”

Ruben looked to his side to see who had spoken and saw Sina.

“You mean the silver shit someone’s been leaving everywhere?” Sina added.

He nodded.

“Where’s Liam?” Takia shouted. “Aren’t you meant to be The Three Musketeers?”

“No, we’re not,” Sina answered. “Come,” he said to Ruben. “Let’s find this guy.”

Hours passed as Ruben and Sina went around the house, selling much of what they had. Sina walked around with his hand close to his chest pocket where most of his notes were, while Ruben stopped repeatedly to speak to people he knew. The two of them went back downstairs for another time and spotted a boy shoving several paint markers into a cross-body bag before zipping it up. They watched Takia appear and lazily hug him.

Sina chuckled and whispered, “Did someone open the fountain before you?”

Ruben advanced forward, away from Sina’s laughter, and forced Takia and the graffiti artist apart. Takia pushed him, making him shove her back into the crowd behind her.

The artist jumped forward but braked when he saw Sina.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Ruben said.

“What?”

“Your name’s all over my house, but it’s not on the lease. How does that make sense?”

“That’s not my name.”

The artist glanced at Takia. She looked back at him then at Ruben. “Okay,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

“What?”

Takia stood nervously with her hands in her pockets. “He was carrying my stuff for me, that’s all.”

Ruben watched her take the bag off the artist. “It was you?”

“Yeah, it was. What’s your problem anyway? It’s a house party. Whoever puts one on expects their place to get ruined.”

He glanced at Sina, who responded with an expression that told him he should do something. He faced Takia. “Get out my house.”

She stared at him. Several people were observing, and the noise of the house filled the silence in-between them. She shook her head and cut through the crowd.

“Can I go now?” the artist said.

Ruben ignored him and made his way out of the living room with Sina behind him.

Underneath the staircase the two of them continued to sell more of their stock. After some time, Ruben forced his way upstairs and into the bathroom where he welcomed the cold air from the garden through the window. He spent longer there than he needed to, sitting in the relative quiet and wondering what he was going to do about Takia and her graffiti around the house. He left the bathroom several minutes later, ignoring the annoyed expressions of those who had been waiting but who were afraid to say anything. He grunted as he ploughed his way through the stairway and the elated guests posted there. All of the emptied rooms were filled with people. He checked his mother’s bedroom to make sure he had locked it. It was open. Inside, a group of boys were sitting down smoking. A few of the faces he recognised and they didn’t move when they noticed him. It was only when he shouted that they shot up and rushed out apologising. One of them was laughing as they passed him. “What’s funny?” Ruben said. The boy spun around and pushed him. Ruben darted forward, about to throw a punch, but stopped when he heard screaming and the sound of things crashing in the kitchen. It was topped by the noise of those in the living room, and the music too was louder than he wanted. He shouldered his way downstairs and realised before he reached the bottom the same two people who were sizing each other up in the garden now fighting as others tried to stop them. He could see one girl in-between them yelling repeatedly for them to break it up, but they continued, and she was hit as both sides tried to reach each other. He winced as she grabbed her face just as the sound of shattering glass stopped the fight. The light in the kitchen went off. Swearing, he tried to discern which window had been broken until whispers for silence travelled around the kitchen. Police, someone said. Ruben came to a halt and studied everyone around him in the slight darkness. They stared back at him with faces that were hidden by masks and creative makeup. He could hear the thump of his door being banged against as the bell rang without stop. He saw Sina in the corridor, looking back at him wide-eyed. Sina mouthed, Yeah, it’s the police. Ruben ran upstairs. The thick crowd prevented him from getting to his room so he barged his way into the bathroom and closed the door. He took everything out of his coat pockets and shoved them into a cupboard by the sink behind several toiletries. He remained there, staring at the floor while listening to the low sound of everyone beneath him.

When Ruben finally came downstairs, he saw Sina with several people around him talking to three police officers.

“Whose house is this?” one of the officers asked.

Ruben came in front of Sina. “Mine.”

The officer shifted their attention to him and began speaking.

He listened. He tried to appear relaxed but stopped paying attention when he noticed Liam in the distance nearing the house.

“Ruben,” Liam shouted.

The officers turned around. Everyone watching in the doorway chuckled as Liam walked up and stood beside the police. He was in a three piece suit and carrying a can of beer.

“Why are you looking at me like that? I’ve come as the extraordinary gentleman. I’ve got class. You look like scruffs.”

The woman of the three officers told him to move back. Ruben looked on as Liam became agitated and started arguing with her. The other two officers intervened, telling him to relax. “I am,” he shouted. “Don’t touch me.” He began wrestling with them. Ruben and Sina stepped forward, telling them not to be so forceful. The biggest of the three cops told them to back off, leaving them to watch as Liam was eventually dragged to the floor and handcuffed with the female officer on top of him. The two others shouted for everyone in the house to go home, and Ruben did nothing as several people came out, gasping and gawking at Liam as he was shoved into a police car.

*

Ruben was standing in front of his smashed kitchen window in near darkness, leaving the light from the passageway to create visibility. Sina tried the kitchen switch. Nothing happened. He leaned against the oven and folded his arms. “You need a new strip light.”

“I know . . . This is going to take too long to clean.”

Sina lifted a broom and started brushing dirt to one side.

Ruben began clearing the tables. He could hear the distant sound of movement and talking from guests who hadn’t left. “I feel bad for Liam.”

Sina laughed. “You shouldn’t. He saved the day.”

“Have you heard anything from him?”

“I’ve tried texting him. Nothing back yet.”

“We’ll thank him after.” He tied a black sack full of rubbish. “Did you see who smashed my window?”

“Nope.”

He began gathering glass bottles off the table and putting them in a bin.

The night reached day, and Ruben was sat outside on the doorstep holding a drink while Sina smoked a spliff beside him. There were people coming out of the house and onto the front lawn making their way home or stopping to speak to others. He was observing who had remained when he noticed Takia appear from the back of his house with some friends.

“What’s she still doing here?” Sina asked.

Ruben watched her staring down at the grass as she plodded over to him. He turned away as she came nearer.

“Great party,” she said.

He glanced up at her. She had two dark bags under her eyes.

“I’m so sorry about the writing. I really am.”

He was about to have a drink from his bottle when he felt her grab his free hand and force some money into his palm. “What are you doing? Take that back.”

“To pay for the paint.” She stood up and moved away before he could return the money to her. “Keep it.” She walked backwards. “And you guys should throw another one.”

He eyed the crumpled notes in his hand.

“Don’t expect an invite,” said Sina.

Takia grinned. She returned to her friends.

“Hold on,” Sina said, “I swear you said you were going to make her open up like a fountain?”

“Shut up, man.”

Sina laughed and put his spliff out. “What are you going to do about the house?”

Ruben shrugged.

“Why are you shrugging? Have you seen it? It’s nothing to shrug about. Will you even be able to replace the window before your mum comes back?”

“I know. I’m going to text her.”

“Really?”

“It’ll soften the blow if she already knows.”

Sina waited for him to type a message, and after seeing him write a text and then send it, he nodded. “Impressed.”

“It looks even worse now that it’s morning,” Ruben said as he got up.

“Told you.”

“We’ll start cleaning again. Let me put this money away first.”

The two of them travelled to his room. Sina opened the curtain. Ruben sat on his bed and took the cash out of his inside pockets. He put it on his mattress and began to count it.

“How much?” asked Sina.

“Four hundred and eighty pounds.”

“You said you were going to make a grand at least.”

Ruben lay on his back, facing his door. He touched his jean pocket and felt the money Takia had given him. He put it on the bed. “Make that five hundred.”

“Still not a thousand.”

“How much did you make?”

“I wasn’t the one throwing figures around.”

Ruben was focusing on his door. It had Takia’s tagging on it, and he could read it clearly in the morning light. He sat up. “That doesn’t say Robbie Raws.”

“What?”

He stared at the graffiti on his door and smirked.

“Are you definitely going to throw another one?”

“Not any more. There’s no need.”

“You’re satisfied?”

“More or less.”

He lay back down. He felt the notes he had left on the mattress underneath his hair, and he reread what Takia had written.

“What does it say then?” Sina asked, pointing at the door.

Ruben smiled. “Ruben Rocks.”

Featured image, Sculptures in Windows, by Roman Drits

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