Tony Bianchi responds to Derek Bainton’s painting Taff Embankment (above), part of the 2012 Imagistic project
It’s Tuesday night. Sol Kussini lies on the sofa, watching the football on television. To his right, on an armchair much too big for him, a six-year-old boy kicks his heels. It’s past his bedtime but his mam’s not back, and there’s no bedtime without his mam. Sol picks up a can from the floor, shakes it, thinks about getting another from the kitchen, but then he’ll want a cigarette and there are none left. He gets up and checks the drawers again. He looks in the pockets of Carol’s dressing gown hanging from the door. Nothing. And the baby’s started crying. He looks at the boy.
‘See what she wants.’
But the boy knows he’s too young to look after his sister. And anyway, Sol isn’t his dad, this isn’t his flat. So he gets up and walks to the window, looks out for his mam.
On the television, City’s Kenny Miller, his back to goal, swivels on his left foot and volleys Peter Whittingham’s cross against the post. The crowd roars. The commentator shouts, ‘So close! So close!’ Between the noise of the television and the baby’s cries, Sol doesn’t hear the car pull up outside. Then, as the Palace full-back clears for a corner, a door slams shut. Sol sits up, tells the boy to get back from the window. But the boy takes no notice.
‘When’s Mam coming back?’
So Sol has to get down on his knees, crawl over and pull him back by his arm.
‘When’s Mam . . .’
Sol picks up the remote, kills the sound on the television and listens. Hears nothing.
In silence now, Palace’s Zaha puts his right foot on the ball. Chris Martin comes from behind, runs to the wing and raises his arm. The distraction is enough to wrong-foot the City defence. Zaha drops a shoulder and slips through the gap that has opened between Gunnersson and Gerrard. Gerrard sticks out a foot. As Zaha trips, someone knocks on the front door. The boy looks at Sol. Sol looks at the window. He is surprised at how reticent the knock sounds, as though it were just the Betterware man, selling brushes from his catalogue, not wanting to be too pushy. For a moment Sol thinks, perhaps that’s who it is. Just wait a while and he’ll realise there’s no-one at home. But since when has the Betterware man come in a car? Since when has he called so late?
The second knock is a loud rat-tat-tat. Sol takes his mobile from his pocket and looks for Daz’s number and thinks, ‘It’s not too late, not yet, not if he comes now. Maybe he’ll bring his brother, too, because he’ll be next, that’s for certain, if they don’t get moving’. But Sol’s thumbs are suddenly too big, his hands are shaking. He drops the phone on the floor and has to pick it up and start all over again. And it’s even worse the second time.
The voice on the phone says sorry, Daz is out, please leave a message.
‘Daz . . . Daz, you’ve got to . . .’
This is when Sol hears the kick. The kick, then another cry. And Sol knows that the baby’s cry is worst of all, is even worse than the kick, because crying means there’s somebody in. He wants to phone the baby’s mother, to ask her where the hell she is. But he would have to say, ‘No, Carol, don’t come back now, they’re outside’. And what would she do then, with her baby there, and her boy? Because even over the phone she would hear the crying, the kicking. And the kids would come first.
So Sol tells the boy to sit where he is and he goes down on all fours and crawls out of the room. There’s no light on out there, on the landing, which is good. He’d like to close the door behind him, too, to stop the shadows, but they’d see that, the light turn to dark. So he stays on his knees, just in case. Keeps his head down. Crawls as fast as he can.
Inside the baby’s room, Sol gets to his feet, leans over the cot and pulls back the blankets. He’s at the back of the house now, and the curtains are drawn, so when he lifts up the baby and whispers, ‘Ssh! Ssh!’ he knows he can’t be seen. But the crying gets worse. He puts the baby over his shoulder, cradling her head in his hand, just like he’s seen Carol doing. ‘Ssh! Ssh!’ He checks her nappy, a little clumsily now, a fingernail scratching the soft skin below the navel, so that the baby catches her breath before howling again. And what else can he do? So he lowers her back into the cot, draws up the blankets and covers her mouth with his right hand, quite gently at first, watching where he puts his fingernails. He whispers again, ‘Ssh! Ssh!’ But when that doesn’t work, when the baby’s face turns red, when she kicks off the blankets, and shakes her head from side to side, and cries more loudly than ever, and Sol can’t believe how much strength, how much anger, there is in such a little body, he has to press more firmly.
And then, through the letterbox, the voice.
‘Kussini! We know you’re in there.’
Keeping one hand on the baby’s mouth, Sol takes out his mobile. ‘Daz . . . They’re here . . . They’re at Carol’s . . . You’ve got to come.’
But Daz and his brother are in the pub, watching Rudy Gestede score the second penalty. And between the roar of the crowd and his brother, shouting into his ear that somebody needs to stick a bomb up the arse of that fuckin Sol Kussini, Daz doesn’t hear the phone purring in his pocket.
And Sol keeps his hand on the baby’s mouth.