What follows is based on a true story. Names and place names have been changed to protect the anonymity of those involved.
It is August and the oily blackness of the sky hangs over the swollen orange lights of the city. Stars drown. The cracked pavements are warm from soaking up the last rays of the sun. The burning night seeps into the dirty concrete towers of South Kilburn Estate and on the second floor of Orwell House, Pidgeon is having a house party. Baseline pumps out of open windows. Inside, bodies sweat and move in cramped darkness, winding against each other while purple-blue smoke curls itself lazily around the flat. Ice chains sparkle heavy on mandem's necks and yellow-gold dangles between the breasts of girls in hotpants who arch their backs as they dance so that their bootys pop out, looking even more curved and juicy and I jus wanna bite dat someone says to his boy as they watch and laugh. The summer night drips in people's eyes and the sweet smell of skunk clings to the walls. A couple fumbles in the corner and then staggers out of the room and she jumps on him, wrapping her legs round his waist while his right hand searches for a bedroom door. Pidgeon (who turned 21 a few months earlier) is in the main room and one chick is winding on him and maybe later, when everyone goes, they'll go to the bedroom. Or perhaps they'll just do it right here over the sofa covered in burn marks and ashy smudges with empty Courvoisier and Hennessy bottles on the floor, fading memories lingering in the corridor. Whatever.
Just after three in the morning the glow of bodies in the front room is broken up by a shadow who runs into the flat blacked out, masked up, hood on, holding a black Glock 9 with a red laser. He shoots Pidgeon in the chest and Pidgeon runs out on to the balcony, gets shot again and jumps, or maybe it's the force of the second bullet that sends him flying over the balcony wall. Two floors down he falls and then everyone hears his legs break. The shadow runs out of the flat, down flights of concrete stairs that smell of piss and stale weed and out the block and he finds Pidgeon lying outside. He walks over and shoots Pidgeon in the head three times and runs off, swallowed up by the night.
Lights go on in Orwell House and the surrounding blocks, yellow eyes opening in concrete faces. Someone has turned the music off now and the neighbours can hear girls screaming.
Pidgeon dies in the shadow of a grimy block, without knowing anything about George Orwell; on his back, holding his shattered legs with his brains spilling onto the pavement in the sickly orange of the block lights. The moon dips its face into a pool of darkness.
Pidgeon's murder never makes the news. No one ever writes about it and no one is ever arrested for it. It remains unsolved. Years later, a journalist publishes a book about gangs and guns in London where he mentions the killing. It takes him just eight sentences to cover the whole incident and he ends by stating, "Detectives, finding no firm motive for the attack, speculated that he may have been mistaken for the boyfriend of the girl he was standing next to."
I was still living in South Kilburn when Gotti told me what really happened. We were jamming in Precinct, on the other side of the estate from where Pidgeon got killed. I was leaning on the railings of the first floor balcony of one of the little blocks – sandy bricks and windows full of dirty curtains and electric cables hanging in black streams down the outside of the building – and I was talking to Gotti while we waited for Bimz to come home so we could jam in his flat. White clouds with wet grey bellies hung in the sky and the day wandered past. The wind moaned as it ran up the open stairways, I pulled my hood on and Gotti turned his back to the railings, billing a zoot as he told me about witch-doctors and gunmen and black magic.
He tells me that round here when you decide to become a gunman and you know you're going to be shooting people, you go to an Obeah man – a man who can talk to the spirits, who can give you amulets and magic powers that help and protect you. Everyone who's on the murder game does it, says Gotti.
He lights the zoot as we shiver on the first-floor landing in our Nike tracksuits.
The thing is, I've heard of this before, when someone would say how so-and-so got shot six times and blood I swear down he's fucking wiv dat juju shit coz the bullets went right through him even though man was shooting at him from like three metres away. Now it's one thing to hear stories and rumours passed around by word of mouth in the hood, but I knew Gotti proper well, we were rolling deep almost every day these times and he was telling me this straight. For the right price the Obeah man summons up a spirit that grants you one wish, like invisibility from police or being bulletproof, and this shit is for real, he says. But this is dark magic, the spirit isn't a good spirit and in exchange for protecting you, the spirit attaches itself and follows you wherever you go. I guess it takes your soul or some shit, Gotti says, and he tells me how for some people the spirit always looks like a person they killed, how he knew some brer in prison who said he could always see the spirit standing at the foot of his bed, watching him – and so you better know what you're doing if you're going to be about that life.
A drop of hot ash fell from the zoot, burning a little hole in Gotti's hoodie and he kissed his teeth and passed it to me. The deep brown skin of Gotti's face turned blue as the day began to fade, he stuck his hands down the front of his tracksuit bottoms and continued.
"You see Bunny sold his soul to the spirits so that he would always get away with murder."
"Bugs Bunny", he replies, "but everyone called him Bunny. Fam I swear he was crazy, everyone knew about Bunny, he was known for real G shit, like I remember when he come back from some move and we was all youts jamming on the block and he comes with this black bin bag and lets everyone stick their hands in – obviously not everyone, not just any youts like, but all the hungry youngers, all the up n coming youngers – and everyone pulls their hands out with mad p's even fifties like it was some movie shit."
Gotti spits and it slaps the concrete below.
"He was a hitman innit and he like got away with the murder game coz he did black magic n shit. When Bunny went to the juju man, he got a spirit that would help him get away with murder."
And Gotti tells me how he was in a chicken shop with two of his boys somewhere in Kilburn, "and some next man run up on us, all bally'd up sticking straps in man's face while we're waiting for some chicken burgers. When I see the gun I knew we couldn't do shit – they ripped off Namco's chain and iced out pendant and his Rolex and Spooks had the Rolly with the iced out face as well and they popped that off his wrist too. And then they gunbucked Spooks and just cut out. It was bate who it was though, everyone recognised the voices, all Pest and them man tryna be on this stick up ting like Bunny.
"So then we tell Bunny coz we're his goons, innit, and obviously he's going mad coz that's some mad violation and Pest and them man are from North West as well so if nothing happens now it's like they ain't shook of us n they don't fear Bunny. Obviously everyone knows what he's on but man just need to catch them slipping first. And blood, for time no one saw none of them – they were ghosts round the ends."
Four schoolboys in hoodies walk across the precinct, past the dead little shops, and the camera that sits on top of a pole in the centre of the precinct (covered in anti-climb paint and sharp metal spikes under the camera just in case) turns slowly to watch them.
Gotti says, "And couple months later fam I'm in one house party in O-block and I see this brer Pidgeon there. And I heard that he was Pest's cousin, but he wasn't involved in the robbery – he wasn't even on shit like that. I remember in the summertime he used to come out with this little drinks stand and try shot us drinks even though there was the shop there, some dickhead ting. But he was Pest's cousin anyway so I phone Bunny and tell him that one of the brers that robbed us is in this house party. And Bunny's like 'are you sure?' and I'm like 'course I recognise him innit' and Bunny says 'arright stay there and make sure you're standing right next to him'. And then about ten minutes later Bunny runs up in the yard all blacked out and bally'd up holding a nine with a laser beam on it and I'm standing next to Pidgeon and Bunny pops him twice in the chest and Pidgeon jumps off the balcony. And I swear he breaks his legs when he lands and Bunny runs downstairs and comes out the block and he pops him three times in the head to finish him off. And then he just ducks out. And fam I swear down he never got caught for it, no one got done for it even though everyone in the party, shit everyone in S.K. knows it was Bunny."
Gotti stops and the black acne scars on his cheeks change position as he smiles.
And I'm like, "Swear down?" – even though I know he's not lying – "And so Pidgeon got murked just coz you told Bunny that he was one of the brers that robbed you and them man?"
And Gotti laughs again and says, "yeah fam, fuck Pidgeon though, I didn't even like him anyway and I done know Pest was vexed when he heard his cousin got duppy'd."
There's this bible story I read later, about how Jacob and the tribe of Israel were camped outside a city in the desert and Jacob's daughter, Dina, went into the city to get water and the prince of the city saw her and raped her. Jacob heard what had happened to his daughter but he didn't tell his sons at first because he knew they'd want revenge. Then the prince and the king of that city came to Jacob talking peace, asking him to let the prince marry Dina because the prince was now in love with her. But Jacob's sons, Simeon and Levi, found out what had been done to their sister and they came and told the prince that they could only agree to give their sister away on the condition that all the men in the city, including the king and prince, were circumcised just like Jacob and the rest of his tribe. The prince was happy to agree to this condition and all the males of the city from the age of 13 upwards were circumcised. When they were all lying in their beds in pain, unable to move as they healed, Simeon and Levi picked up their swords and entered the city, and they went from house to house, killing all the men and boys. And they killed the king and the prince and they took their sister with them and left the city. And Jacob's people went into the city and looted it and burnt it down and took all the women and children as slaves. When Jacob saw what his sons had done he was angry and scared – "you've brought me shame and trouble, everyone in the land will hate us". But his sons simply replied, "Should we just do nothing and let our sister get disrespected?"
Evening creeps on icy feet into the streets around the blocks and Bimz has come back from work so we go downstairs and into his flat.
We're sitting in Bimz's yard on the floor of the spare room with black mold growing on the ceiling and night leaning its cool head against the window and I don't have any uni lectures tomorrow so I'm getting high. A shot cracks through the evening and as usual we all go to the window and look out across the precinct and everyone sees nothing and then we go back to our corners and carry on smoking.
And I'm thinking Pidgeon's murder probably never made the papers because he was 21, he wasn't a teenager anymore. It wouldn't have been shocking enough to write about. And they won't ever write about him now, not if it's an unsolved murder, unsolved for over 15 years. And anyway, this kind of thing isn't supposed to happen – doesn't happen – in London. That's how it's supposed to be. When people say "where I'm from", they usually mean a geographical location like their city, or the country where their parents are from, but I always think that's way too vague to really mean anything. Just because you're from London and I'm from London doesn't mean we know the same city. Where I'm from isn't on any map – it's a different version of reality. And if you've never been here then you can't begin to understand it.
"Anyway, fuck Pidgeon", I'm saying to Gotti and I tell him about something I studied at uni, about the Greeks having beef with the Spartans and how it was normal for the winner to go and burn the city down and rape all the women and kill all the men and he's laughing, saying exactly, exactly. And then fuck all that morality shit anyway, he says, "people just hide behind that coz they ain't got the heart to do madness so believing in morals and shit protects them". But when life is about power, when you live in a place where only violence is decisive enough to change your fate, revenge makes perfect sense. Not taking revenge becomes a weakness, becomes something that people don't respect, something that can destroy a person's status and reputation in one moment and reduce them to Nothing. And when you take revenge you do it with all your heart; that means no remorse, no conscience and No Rules. So here you find that morality is just an excuse for being powerless. And for the rest, morality is a luxury.
Years later I was in one of the blocks right next to Orwell House and it was two in the morning, black rain was slashing the concrete and I was catching a cab home from Uncle T's. The lift was broken and I'd just bunned a big zoot after not smoking anything for 53 days so I was proper faded, and every time the metal lift doors closed, they would slam open straight away like something from a Japanese horror film and I started to think about Pidgeon's ghost, wandering the blocks. And so I had to walk down the stairs, making sure I didn't step in piss, hoping not to find a fiend sitting on the stairs smoking crack. When I got to the bottom I could still hear the lift doors on the top floor slamming open and shut, open and shut, out of control. Then the emergency alarm you're supposed to press if you get stuck in the lift started ringing even though there was no one in the lift and I had to tell myself that I was just being parro because I was so high and I hadn't smoked punk for so long and I felt like I was bugging out. I came out of the block, got in the cab and went back to my mother's to sleep.
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