We’re in this old converted fire station and Sean is on stage doing a speech about how he draws inspiration from nostalgia and the working class and his mates and how his art means everything to him and how he’s so happy that we all came out to support him. He finishes and the hall full of a good few hundred people erupts with applause and cheers. He jumps off the stage and these four skinny lads get on the instruments and start thrashing out this punky song.
There’s a bunch of chavvy Essex guys near us who I know are good mates with Sean’s brother, and they start jumping around and one of them knocks me pretty hard. It fucks me off something terrible so I chuck him some daggers and grit my teeth and I find that he’s really wound me up, but I loosen up and try not to let it get to me, opting to instead walk away and take a look at some of Sean’s paintings, which are pretty much covering all of the four walls in the hall.
I say paintings; what he does is he takes these black and white photographs of normal things, like ash trays and fish and chip shops and skips and council estates and kids in trackies and bull dogs, and what he does is he paints over them in these bright colours, I guess to sort of bring them to life, to show what’s on the inside, and then he writes these weird cryptic messages like, ‘lands of the earth will hold you in the end’, ‘a move is best taken before the thought’, ‘sand paper and plasters’, ‘your thought is my last’, ‘blowing dandelions beside the lake’ and ‘hold me, I think I love you’.
I drink the remaining half of my beer in one long quick glug and then stumble back to the boys. They shuffle along to the music and I ask each of them if they have any coke, which none of them do. I go back to the bar and get a beer and do a shot of vodka, just because I’m there, and then I go back and try and muster the energy to look as if I’m enjoying myself.
Bailey is necking one of those Brighton girls next to me and it looks like Ian’s nearly there with her mate too, and I feel a bit hot and dizzy and cramped for some reason, so I move away to where there’s more room. I stand there and blankly watch the chaotic band, when abruptly one of those Essex lads slams into me and I fall over. I find myself shouting ‘wanker’, and he turns to me and goes, ‘alright, fakin’ hell mate, I didn’t fakin mean it, did I.’ And I stand back up and call him a stupid wanker this time, and then he goes, ‘fack off you little fackin’ prat’ – so I grab him by the collar and smack him in the face as hard as I fucking can.
He doesn’t go down; he just falls back into all his mates who are suddenly perky as fuck. Some girl yelps beside me and everyone clears out of the way. The lad and his mates all charge towards me so I quickly run to the exit as they shout and swear after me. I get outside into the cold and I turn to see six of them reappear, then the guy I hit comes at me first and smacks me in the ear. I quickly hit him back and then he kicks my shin and then some other bloke whacks the side of my head and then I’m on the floor and it feels like three or four of them are whacking and booting me whilst I curl into a ball, everything external to the dark an electric blur.
It goes on in this weird mix of quick and slow for about fifteen seconds and then I hear all the boys shouting too, and I uncurl to see Billy knocking one out and Ian wrestling one to the ground and Jim kicking one on the floor. Luke and Bailey help me up and I realise my face is bleeding somewhere and then to the right I see Sean and Duncan and Mitch run out looking shocked, and then I search out the original twat and see him watching the medley and backing away, so I push through everyone and do this weird sort of all-around-the-world-punch that clips him right on the jaw, knocking him over.
I want to jump and stamp on his face but suddenly we hear a police van so me and the boys dart for this alleyway which we sprint down and then we’re out of it and we’re running up a steep road for what feels like forever as the sirens get quieter in the distance and my chest bursts and begs for air.
‘5th Weekend’ is an extract from TJ’s novel ‘Quarter Life’