“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.”
“Similar but different. What have you come as?”
“Can’t you tell?”
“I’ve come as a doctor.”
“You don’t look like one.”
“Do you want to try a prescription?”
Takia smiled and 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 saw 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, and 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 looked around the living room. “It’d be better if everyone was in a costume.”
“You’re not in one yourself.”
“Because it’s my house party.” Ruben turned 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 looked at Takia, and she smiled 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 up while the music was getting louder. He scanned his neighbour’s windows and saw one of the lights come on and someone peer out of it. Ruben looked away and into the window of his kitchen to see people struggling to get in and out. He surveyed the garden once more and noticed two boys sizing each other up. He stepped towards them and separated them.
One of them walked away the moment Ruben interrupted, but the taller one of the two looked down at him.
“What’s your problem?”
“Are you being serious?” Ruben said.
The taller one stared at him for a few moments before trudging away.
Ruben wandered back to the house, and as he did so he saw 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,” she said. “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 leaned forward to kiss her. She turned her face, making him kiss her cheek.
She smirked, before saying, “If your mum comes back and the house is in a state you’re screwed, you know?”
He leaned back. “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 stared back. He turned towards the stairs then felt her pull him back. He watched her laugh. “Not funny,” he said. She hugged him, and he listened to her giggle before gently pushing her off him. “Pace yourself. There’s hours of the night left.”
“. . . Have you got any more?”
He checked his pocket and saw a few bags of pills. He closed it and covered it with his hand. “I’m all out.”
“Some doctor you are.” She turned away and moved further down the corridor.
Ruben watched her. He felt his phone vibrate and stopped staring in Takia’s direction to read the message from Sina. He put his phone in his pocket and headed towards the living room.
“You’re a genius for putting this on,” Sina said as he grinned and rubbed his hands together. “Everyone’s in one place.”
“I should tax your earnings,” Ruben said.
“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 searched for signs from people nearest the door confirming who was outside but received none. The door was thumped again. He couldn’t get to it, but he could hear the loud voices of his neighbours from 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. Ruben gave up trying to move forward and instead began telling everyone to do the same. “Turn the music back on,” he said eventually, “but have the volume lower.” As he made his way out of the passage way 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 read it even though there wasn’t much light; “Robbie Raws.”
Ruben went upstairs to the toilet, but after seeing how many people were waiting he headed back down, passed the second toilet, which had a queue, and took a piss in the garden. As he paced back 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 couple moments, and 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. Ruben 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 Ruben as he neared her and smiled with her eyes closed.
“Who’s writing Robbie Raws on my walls?”
“Forget it. She’s gone.”
Ruben looked to his side to see who had spoke and saw Sina.
“Do you mean the silver tag someone’s been leaving on your doors?” Sina added.
“Where’s Liam?” Takia shouted. “Aren’t you meant to be The Three Musketeers?”
“No, we’re not,” Sina answered. “C’mon, let’s find this graffiti guy.”
Hours passed as Ruben and Sina went around the house. They sold much of what they had, and 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 guy shoving several paint markers into a cross-body bag before zipping it up. They watched Takia appear and lazily hug him.
Sina chuckled and said behind Ruben, “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 and Ruben shoved her into the people beside them.
The artist jumped forward but braked when he saw Sina.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Ruben said.
“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, and she looked back at him then at Ruben. “Okay,” Takia said. “I’m sorry.”
Ruben went quiet. “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.”
Ruben 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. Ruben watched her disappear down the passageway towards the door.
“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 sold more of their stock. Afterwards, Ruben forced his way upstairs into the bathroom where he used the toilet and could feel the cold air from the garden through the window. He left the bathroom and looked around the stairway at the elated guests and grunted as he ploughed his way through. All of the emptied bedrooms were filled with people. He checked his mother’s room to make sure he had locked it. It was open. Inside, he saw a group of people 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 stood up and rushed out apologising. One of them was laughing as they passed him. “What’s funny?” Ruben said. The boy spun around and shoved him. Ruben lunged forward, about to throw a punch, but stopped when he heard screaming and the sound of things falling in the kitchen. He could hear the noise from people in the living room, and the music was louder than he wanted. He pushed his way downstairs and saw before he reached the bottom the same two people who were sizing each other up in the garden now fighting and others trying 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. Ruben winced as she grabbed her face before the sound of shattering glass stopped the fight. The light in the kitchen turned off. He started to swear and 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 watched everyone around him in the slight darkness. People stared back at him with faces that were hidden by masks and creative makeup. He could hear the noise of his door being banged against as the bell rang without stop. He saw Sina in the corridor who stared back at him wide-eyed and mouthed, Yeah, it’s the police. He darted upstairs. The thick crowd prevented him from getting to his room so he went 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 stood in the toilet and stared at the floor while listening to the low sound of everyone beneath him.
When Ruben came downstairs, he saw Sina with several people around him talking to three police officers.
“Whose house is this?” one of the officers said.
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 walking towards the house.
“Ruben,” Liam shouted.
The officers turned around and 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, and Ruben could only watch 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 step back. Ruben looked on 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. Ruben did nothing as several people came out, gasping and gawking at Liam as he was shoved into a police car.
Ruben was stood in front of his smashed kitchen window in near darkness. The light from the passage way created some visibility, and Sina tried the kitchen switch, which didn’t work. Sina 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. “We better start.”
Ruben began clearing the tables. He heard the sound of people who hadn’t left speaking and moving around the house. “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.” Ruben tied a black sack full of rubbish. “Did you see who smashed my window?”
Ruben gathered the glass bottles off the table and put 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. Ruben was observing who was left when he saw Takia appear from the back of his house with some friends.
“What’s she still doing here?” Sina said.
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 Takia 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 Ruben could give the money back to her. “Keep it.” She walked backwards. “And you guys should throw another one.”
Ruben eyed the crumpled notes in his hand.
“Don’t expect an invite,” Sina said.
Takia grinned before turning around and going back to her friends.
Sina turned to Ruben. “Hold on, 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?”
“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.”
“It’ll soften the blow if she already knows.”
Sina watched Ruben type a message and send it.
Ruben stood up. “It looks even worse now that it’s morning.”
“We’ll start cleaning again. Let me put this money away first.”
The two of them travelled to Ruben’s room. Sina opened the curtain. Ruben sat on his bed and took his money out of his inside pockets. He put it on his mattress and began to count it.
“How much?” Sina said.
“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 stared at his door. It had Takia’s tagging on it. He could read it clearly in the morning light. He sat up and re-read it. “That doesn’t say Robbie Raws.”
Ruben stared at the graffiti on his door and grinned.
“Are you definitely going to throw another one?”
“Not anymore. There’s no need for it.”
“More or less.”
Ruben lay back down. He felt the notes he had left on the mattress underneath his hair, and he re-read what Takia had written.
“What does it say then?” Sina said, pointing at the door.
Ruben smiled. “Ruben Rocks.”
Featured image, Sculptures in Windows, by Roman Drits