The estate was lively now that dusk had fallen. The concrete monstrosities that a previous government had erected in the hopes that they’d be mistaken for homes towered above us, and on the skyline, not that far removed, cranes were silhouetted against the last of the light, building more expensive architecture for people with a better view and better prospects. But people buzzed and hummed around, made happier by the shadows that concealed the prison-like surroundings, and in many cases faces and skins damaged by substandard living in corner-cut housing. There were conversation going on around me that I idly eavesdropped on.
“Look bruv, I got the new Dulux tones. I reckon I’m dusky rose, whatta ya think?”
“Bruv! You can’t say dat!”
“Bruv, what? My skin like, it’s either Dusky Rose or Bladderwrack Beige, and I think it’s closer to the Dusky Rose.” The speaker, a kid with brownish-grey skin and acne, held a piece of laminated plastic against his cheek.
“Bruv, dis is a Pantone manor. You can’t go bringing no Dulux Tones round here!”
“Aw shit, man.”
I stopped listening, transported for a moment back to the day, three years ago, when the Residents Association had knocked on my front door. I’d answered with my hands covered in worming powder and the dogs barking in the kitchen, and they’d looked a little taken aback.
“We’re here about your sign,” they’d said, all three of them speaking in unison. I figured they must practice after their meetings. “Um, is everything alright?”
I waved my hands theatrically. “Cocaine orgy,” I said. “The dogs are too keep the unwanted out.”
“Oh. Well, your sign.”
“What about it?” I was genuinely puzzled, it was a small rectangular plaque for the postman that simply read “No circulars, junk-mail or anything targeting marketing groups B and below.” Well, ok, it wasn’t that small, but you did have to get at least ten feet away to be able to read it.
“The font you’ve chosen is inappropriate. We did issue you a list of fonts when you moved in. They were all pre-approved, and you could have come to any of our meetings and submitted your choice of a new font for approval.” They were still talking in unison, and it was getting very disconcerting. The dogs were barking louder too, and the worming powder was making my hands itch.
“Sure,” I said, wanting to be rid of them. “I’ll get it changed. Any preferences?”
“We like Bodoni,” they said instantly, and I nodded and closed the door.
The kids with the designer skin tones and sheep skin-diseases had wandered off while I reminisced, and so I moved on a little, leaning against a supporting column here, a wall there, reading the graffiti and checking the Resident’s Association notice board. Apparently they were organising a coach trip to a work-house; work-houses had come back into vogue again after the fourth consecutive recession and the imposition of austerity cuts on anyone too poor to be able to buy their way out of them. Then I rounded a corner and found myself just outside the circle of light cast by a oil-drum fire.
Around the oil-drum concentrating hard, were three teenagers, gaunt and skinny to a man. One of them was being supported by another, his head lolling slightly, his tongue protruding from between teeth so white they had to be dentures, and his eyes rolled back in his head. The other one was working with a knife on his arm.
It was douchebag scrimshaw, I recognised it instantly. The arm had been laid open from just below the elbow to just above the wrist and pinned to a board while the kid with a knife carved the living bone. He was working fast, but he had to. They’d have called the ambulance before they started, and he needed to get the bone carved and the arm stapled back up before the paramedics got there. They’d be slow and late because it was this estate and they didn’t like coming out here. They liked taking any of us out of here even less, but they still did their job, and an arm as mangled as this needed the hospital and a blood transfusion on the way. The kid getting it done looked like he’d been given some drugs this time; too often they just relied on the recipient passing out when the pain from having his or her arm opened up kicked in. Sometimes they didn’t pass out, which was a serious merit badge on the estate. Sometimes they didn’t survive. There was a memorial garden for them that the scrimshaw kids thought no-one knew about.
I stepped backwards and back around the corner again. It was a weird little scene they had going on. They would pick and carve at the scar they got from the stitching too, shaping it to look like the carving on the bone beneath so that people would know what they’d had done. All things considered I preferred the Pantone kids with their obsession with being able to assign a number to anyone based on their skin tone. I was still trying to figure out how the hierarchy of numbers went after that, but at least they didn’t seem to kill anyone regularly.
Well, less regularly, anyway.