The lights are on in the kitchen but I can’t hear any noise coming from it. Like an un-mutated teenage ninja non-turtle (i.e. a normal teenage ninja), I push myself back against the wall and roll my head slowly and deliberately towards the door. There is no one in there. The TV is on but the sound is off. The screen flickers and changes the lighting in the room slightly. I look at the screen. It’s some talking heads programme with shitty graphics and people who aren’t famous enough to not have a caption underneath them explaining who they are. With no one to see me from the kitchen, the path to the front door is now clear. I pad softly towards it. Like a jewel thief I caress the lock open with gentle hands. It makes a soft click. I pull the door open about a foot and curl myself out of it before closing it with even more caution. I put my key in the lock so I can close the door without it having to be pulled with any vim, without it clacking shut. It sighs into place.
I move to the wall, away from where I could be seen through the glass door. It’s not cold outside, but it’s not warm either. The sun set about an hour ago and took most of its early spring warmth with it. It’s maybe about 12°C. I get my phone out of my hoodie pocket, open the weather app.
I am as annoyed as I am pleased with myself to be only one degree off. With my phone back in my pocket I edge to the window. From the raving shadows I know the TV is on in the living room. This family is wasting electricity like there’s no tomorrow. I guess there will be no tomorrow if this kind of thing carries on. I realise I could’ve switched the TV off in the kitchen myself but it’s too risky now. I make a note to myself to recycle everything I can. I crouch under the window and scurry across to the end of the driveway. I don’t know if scurry is the right word but it felt like scurrying. I turn left and head for the main road down the hill. The house now out of sight, I relax a bit.
I am fifteen years old. I am too old for this shit.
The trees sway in front of the house as if waving goodbye. I pull my hood up and walk to the bus stop. The sound of traffic welcomes me to the Mumbles Road aka the A4067 aka My Way Out Of Blackpill.
Through the cracked screen of my phone I see it’s 8.37pm. The grubby paper timetable trapped behind the grubby perspex says there was a bus at 8.35pm. I kick the bench.
“What are you doing that for now, good girl?”
An old woman, maybe a million years old, has just arrived at the bus stop. She has one of those trolley bags. What do they put in them? Welsh cakes, tissues, rich tea biscuits, pop socks, huge knickers, vitamin tablets, copies of Take a Break, Bella and Chat magazines, more tissues, reading glasses, old-fashioned paper diaries, letters from the council about changing the day the bins are collected—
“You are not going to kick it again now, are you? Because I’m sitting down here now, I am.”
I tell her no. She doesn’t hear me, makes a face at me that says, “I can’t hear you, I’m a million years old, you have to shout.” I say no again loudly and shake my head at the same time.
“Don’t patronise me, good girl.”
I sit down on the bench as far away from her as I can, which is nothing because the bus stop is tiny, and I get my phone out. It’s 8.42pm now. The next one is meant to be here at 8.55pm. I consider walking, type the journey into my maps app and it tells me it’s a 2.3 mile journey that will take 45 minutes to walk. It’s 8.45pm now. No point walking. I go back to thinking about what might be in her trolley bag. Shrunken heads, old photos, potatoes, piano keys, handkerchiefs, locks of hair, loads of cash, pints of jelly, letters from Littlewoods, appointment cards from the hospital—
“It’s nice to sit and wait sometimes,” she says to no one, but it must be to me, I’m the only one here.
I say to her that she must love getting the bus then, which I think is pretty funny, because the buses are pretty shit to be fair. She doesn’t laugh. Doesn’t even smile.
I get a text from Sasha asking me where I am. I reply telling her I’ve been taken hostage by a witch at the bus stop. I imagine the trolley bag full of potions and a cauldron, herbs and dead animals, a broom, a crystal ball.
My phone vibrates in my hand. “Whatever. Everything will be gone before you get here if you don’t hurry up. Bring your witch with you if you have to.”
I see the bus approaching and stand up and look straight at it, as if willing it to dare to stop to pick me up. It accepts the dare, pulls up to the curb and I’m stood right at the doors when they open.
“Half single to town please, driver.”
“Runaway, is it?”
“What? No. I’m getting a lift back. It’s none of your business anyway.”
He sort of smiles to himself as I snatch the ticket from the machine and go sit in the only spare window seat. As the bus pulls out I see the old woman walking away from the stop. She wasn’t even waiting for a bus. What a weirdo. Probably has a car in her trolley bag. Or a Segway. Or a limo with a chauffeur.
I want to lean my head against the window but someone with greasy hair already did and the glass is smeared with grease or gel or wax. Knowing Swansea it might even be cum. I edge away from the window. I think about what kind of person would jizz on a bus window and conclude that it’s probably just hair product. I still don’t lean my head on it.
When the bus gets to Singleton an old man sits on the seat next to me. He’s eating an extra strong mint. I can smell it and hear it clicking about in his old man mouth. My grandfather used to do the same. He’d describe the mintyness as “burny”. Anything with a strong flavour was burny. It’s good he never lived to try Nando’s Extra Hot. I remember the time I took my grandmother to Nando’s and she sent back her lemon & herb burger because it was “too spicy” and “too burny” and how me and my friends found this hilarious and for weeks after would pretend that anything lemon-flavoured was burning us like a fire.
“This 7-Up! It’s burning through me like acid!”
“Won’t someone unleash a fire extinguisher on this lemon drizzle cake before the whole place goes up in smoke!”
The man in the coffee shop did not appreciate that one. Actually, neither did most of the other people in the coffee shop. Maybe that lemon drizzle cake meant a lot to them. Maybe it was the cake at their wedding. A wedding which ended in tragedy when the bride’s hair caught fire because it had too much hairspray. You never know what people (and cakes) have been through.
The bus pulls into the Quadrant, the main bus station of this ugly, lovely town, and all the passengers plod off. I avoid looking at the driver as I step down. I walk past the long line of platforms that promise to take people to every part of our peninsula. It’s after 9pm so there are not many people around and fewer buses. The lights in the station are bright and make it hard to see anything outside the grimy glass walls. Once outside I put my hood up again, put my hands in my front pocket and jog across the taxi rank, past the giant 24 hour Tesco Extra, across the main road, and through the marina until I get to the prom. I turn right and carry on until I get to a sandy part of the beach.
I probably could’ve got off the bus earlier and had less of a walk, but I like getting off at the station. Feels more satisfying to get to the end of the line.
The tide is about halfway up and I think it’s coming in. There’s something about the tide that makes Swansea Bay special but I can’t remember what it is. It’s big or it’s wide or it won a poetry prize or something. I can see a fire on the beach, so I slow down and stroll towards it. My natural pace is too quick to look casual. I have to make an effort to look normal. As I get closer I can hear Sasha’s voice. Not her voice, her laugh. Sasha laughs at a lot of my jokes and it’s probably the main reason I like hanging out with her. Joel is there, he’s brought his guitar. He’s incapable of going out without it to the point where I wonder what he does when he needs to go to the toilet. I try to remember if I’ve seen him leave it anywhere and I’m sure I can’t. It’s a ridiculous affectation, but to be fair to him he’s really good and it does sound better than playing music from our phones. Danny is playing with the fire, poking it with a stick. None of them notice me until I’m practically touching them.
“What took you so long, Lay?” Danny asks me, looking up from the fire, his face is flushed with heat.
“Had to wait ’til everyone had dinner before I could leave, didn’t I.”
“Well, she’s here now.” Sasha comes over to me and offers me the joint she’s smoking.
I have a toke on it and go sit next to the fire. The smoke seems to follow me around as I try to find a spot that doesn’t make my eyes water. My thighs get hot really quickly; it’s like my jeans are a magnet for the fire’s fever. Danny hands me a beer. It’s not cold but at least it’s colder than my lemon-hot thighs right now.
Joel’s playing one of his own songs which we like the least because none of us know the words and to be honest they’re not that great. He’s a good player, but not much of a songwriter.
I’m looking out at the bay. It’s wearing a necklace of lights from Port Talbot all the way to the Mumbles Lighthouse. You can see how far the tide is by seeing which parts reflect the lights and the moon. The sea is black and shining, like a latex sex outfit. The sand absorbs all the light like a heavy duty kitchen towel.
Now Joel’s playing that Eric Clapton song with my name in it. He always does this to get my attention. Everyone else is joining in.
“Got me on my knees, Layla...”
They all sing. Sasha and Danny have thrown themselves onto their knees and are singing up at me. I call them idiots, but I love it really. We’re all laughing.
Sasha stands up and starts taking her clothes off.
“Steady on, Sash. It’s only thirteen degrees.”
“I don’t care. I’m going in the sea.” She says as she undoes her jeans, forgetting to take her shoes off first so she falls back onto her bum but it’s only on sand so she’s not hurt or even bothered. She pulls one shoe off and chucks it at me. Amazingly, I catch it and for a moment we’re all amazed, including me. Then I remember she’s just chucked her shoe at me and I chuck it back at her. She screams at me to watch out, says I nearly threw it straight in the fire. I didn’t. It wasn’t even close, but she’s drunk and stoned and making herself laugh too much to even remember why she was taking her shoes off.
I finish my beer but my hand is still cold from the can so I hold it on my thighs. I carefully place the can next to me, making a mental note to make sure I put it in a recycling bin. Sasha is now in her pants and bra. Her hair’s a mess and she looks really sexy but also a bit stupid because it’s April and it’s Swansea Bay at night. She asks if anyone is coming and we all say fuck no to that and grab another beer each as she scuttles off to where the tide is creeping up the bay.
It’s easily five hundred metres of sand before she gets to the water so it takes a while before we hear her scream about how cold it is. Then she screams about how lovely it is and we should all go join her. I’m realising that Sasha screams a lot.
Joel starts to play a Bob Marley song and we’re really into it but not saying anything to each other. We don’t need to. Sasha has melted into the black shine of the sea, I can’t make her out anymore. The lights from Port Talbot slide across the surface of the water on the far side of the bay like coins at the bottom of a bag. The lighthouse light continues its nightly waltz. One, two, light. One, two light. I think about all the boats that haven’t crashed on the rocks of Mumbles and Limeslade because of that flashing light. I think about how many must have crashed on those rocks that they needed to put a lighthouse there.
I’m suddenly aware that Danny is standing up quickly and it takes me a second to figure out he’s going on about Sasha. That we haven’t heard her for ages. Has it been ages? I tell him to calm down, that she’s just fucking with us and she’ll be back in a bit. He won’t calm down, he’s marching off down the sand towards the water. Joel and I look at each other. We’re trying to figure out if the other one is bothered about it. I ask him if he’s bothered about it. He says she has been gone a while. I know he won’t go looking because he won’t leave his guitar.
“Shall I call someone?” he asks.
I tell him why that’s a stupid idea. Who would we even call? We can’t call the cops because we’re drinking underage and we’re smoking illegal drugs. Same reason we can’t call our parents. Mine don’t even know I’m not in the house. Imagine how well that phone call would go down with my dad.
“Hi Dad, we’re out drinking and smoking on the beach and the boys - oh yeah, there are boys - are worried that Sasha (who has taken all her clothes off) has drowned in the sea. Can you come pick us up and bring the coast guard or something. Oh, and remember to switch the telly off.”
I think about the coast guard. Is there one? Where do they work from? I know the lifeboat house on the Mumbles pier but I can’t think of anytime it looked like it was actually being used by people in peril. It reminds me of the RNLI coin box in the chip shop in Port Eynon. I loved that coin box as a kid. Put a penny in it and the boat would rock.
I can hear Danny shouting Sasha’s name now. The tide has come in a bit closer. He’s just bellowing at the sea. Shouting “Sasha!” into the Atlantic Ocean. Each time he shouts it, her name gets swallowed up the the black water. It dissolves into the flickering reflected lights.
I think about Sasha swimming all the way to the Caribbean. I know it’s the same ocean from here to the eastern shores of those tropical islands. I imagine her swimming against the Gulf Stream and laughing. Laughing and swallowing water. Choking because she swallowed the water. Dolphins coming to help her because everyone loves Sasha, including dolphins. She’s holding onto a dorsal fin and she’s stopped choking. She’s laughing again. The dolphins are making clicking noises. They’re laughing too. The Atlantic Ocean is the greatest comedy club Sasha and the dolphins have ever been to. Every joke lands. They laugh at the idea of a joke landing. Why doesn’t a joke splash? Every jokes splashes. They laugh at that. Sasha is now clicking. She’s picked up their language. They’re impressed like Ms Thomas in our French lessons when Sasha explains why we weren’t paying attention but she does it in perfect French.
Joel is now saying that we have to call someone. He’s freaking out. He’s saying it’s too cold for her to have been out this long. He doesn’t know that she’s with the dolphins on her way to St Lucia. He stands up, swings his guitar onto his back like a koala and stalks off to where Danny is howling at the tide’s edge.
The fire has calmed down and is now barely alight. I sit a bit closer to it and watch the boys dance back and forth with the waves, both of them now yelling Sasha’s name. The letters of it chasing her across the briny air.
“What are they shouting at?” Sasha asks me. She stands above me, dripping dark spots into the sand. She’s shivering and wet and salty. I take off my hoody and give it to her to dry herself.
“They think you’ve drowned.” I tell her. She asks why I didn’t. I look at her and tell her I knew she’d be fine.
“Sometimes it’s nice to sit and wait.” I say to her.
She laughs her Sasha laugh which now sounds like clicking in my ears, then sits next to me. We cuddle for warmth as we watch the boys roar at the Bible-black Swansea sea.