Right now I'm working on lots and lots of things including a few stories for anthologies that are due out next year and two new YA books! The first book I'm working on is called The Girls. It's the story of two girls who steal a car from one of their boyfriends and go on a road trip. The second YA I'm cowriting with the amazing Sheila Pham and Faith Chaza. It's a novel about a party gone wrong, told from three different perspectives.
So. This is how it goes. Summer. We spend the longest, longest time getting ready on these nights when mum works nightshift and Asheeka comes over and we watch the street and plan our moves and talk about the boys and Asheeka uses her eyeliner pen to make my eyes pop out like two round pieces of fruit cake.
Right now, here we are! Hanging over the balcony in mum’s two old bathrobes like we are in some five star hotel in the movies, like we are celebrities and all that waiting for our fans to show up on the road and wave and hold up signs. I love you Rosa, I love you Asheeka, those signs would say but no, not today. Today there are only the red flashes of lights of some police car that is parked up the street and the sun setting through the spaces between the apartment blocks across the road, spreading itself across the road like some kind of golden slime. It’s still so hot here in the night time that everyone’s sitting on plastic chairs on nobody’s lawn outside the apartment blocks. People just hanging with their phones on speaker so you can hear their music.
Asheeka leans against the balcony, unfolds her hands, lights a cigarette she stole from her father’s pack. She looks bored. She always looks bored when things make her nervous. She is wearing one of those skirts and tops, where the top isn’t long enough so there’s this space where you show off your belly. That’s what in now so she’ll wear it everyday even if it’s too cold to be showing off your body parts until something else is in.
I was getting myself done up when she showed up at my apartment door, her black eye liner smudged, her hair in a messy bun on the top of her head. You know when she’s like this, when everything’s not the glamour it should be that there’s something wrong. These days the something wrong is usually Arnold and his boys— the ones we’re hooking up with later tonight.
Tonight! I realise the leopard print dress I am wearing isn’t even zipped up at the back. Asheeka gave me this dress after our last fight. She said the same thing she always says when I tried it on, looks good, you need a fake tan, but. Buy it in a can at Chemist Warehouse and I can put it on ya.
Down on the street, my upstairs neighbour is standing in Nikes that flash small red lights every time he leans himself in a slightly different way against his mate’s new lowered Honda. All his friends are on the inside, he’s on the outside. No one is moving. They’re just scheming to do something later. That’s it, that’s what everyone does out here. Cars. Cars. Cars—driving around, leaning against them, looking good. Looking excellent. Showing off your muscles or your leopard print dress.
I look at Asheeka and I look at my dress and I try to zip it up behind me but the zipper gets stuck. ’I don’t know, ‘ I say. ‘Maybe something else. I don’t know if I can walk down the street in those heels and that dress. And you know everyone in their cars is ’gonna honk at me and there’s that guy on the corner who tries it on every time and also, maybe my relatives or something, maybe they’ll tell my mum.’
Asheeka puts her middle finger up and says ‘That’s what you do to all of them’ but I can’t do that stuff right. Not like Asheeka does, not with that same kind of look that says you are totally absolutely sure of everything you are doing.
Ash falls from her cigarette to the floor of the balcony. She’s not even smoking. It’s disgusting, everyone knows it, but sometimes it’s part of the look. When I’m closer to her I can see that her mascara isn’t really smudged. It’s some kind of bruise. A black eye. I know black eyes because Asheeka was the first person to give me one. I covered for her butt—that’s what you do. She’d punched me in the eye with that big ring of hers because I told her that she was too good for Arnold and his crew. Some girls, they just love the wrong kind of guys. I thought about it later, and I understood that he’d hurt her and she’d hurt me, not that that’s alright, but just that that’s how it is. That time we got hauled into the principal’s office, the two of us sitting there, me with my black eye. I remember how Principal Alloshi looked at her like he was suspicious and said, “Juanita, what happened?” He called her Juanita approximately half the time because Asheeka and Juanita were the only black students in our year at school and he couldn’t tell them apart. I don’t know why she never corrected him. That time, she just shrugged her shoulders and looked at the floor and I said
I fell down the stairs.
I can’t remember what Arnold had done to her that time. Truth is, I’ve always been jealous of her. She just carries it. You know? Like she owns the world or something and everyone believes her. Everyone except Arnold.
The Hare Krishnas in the last house on the corner start their drumming and someone turns up Eminen so they don’t have to hear it. ‘You know’, Asheeka says, we should get going. ‘Everyone’ll be waiting.’
I leave her on the balcony to change in the other room. In the wardrobe mirror I check myself out, I wish I had curves, I wish I had a lot of things, a bit more height maybe. I check the red and blond streaks in my hair. Asheeka told me how to do them from a packet you buy at Priceline. She told me I needed them and that I also needed to learn to use those wax strips to do my eyebrows and that I also needed to paint my nails in red at least once every couple of weeks. She said everyone would respect me more if I did these things. She said it like it was a fact and it was.
When I am changed things move quickly. The streets suck us into them again and we are walking down Church Street towards Guildford/Merrylands way when we see the sign emerging- that yellow, yellow glow of the McDonalds’ M. In two years, when we’re 18, we will go clubbing in the city, or at least to the local pub but for now, this is where it’s at on a Friday night— in the parking lot of course—no one hangs on the inside.
We pass the last apartment block at the end of my street and Asheeka has gone ahead. She has these muscles on the back of her lower legs. I don’t get where she got those from or the swimmer’s shoulders. I can see the red soles on her heels as we hit the lights coming out of the restaurants on Church Street. That’s how you know they’re not K-Mart crap she told me once because the leather is underneath the shoe, not just on top. She’s the only 16 year old I know that doesn’t shop at Supre. Most of her clothes are like this, bought with three evenings a week of putting the clothes people leave on the Myers dressing room floor back in their place.
We stop on the corner where the Fijian-Indians used to sell cooked yams. Now there’s the bright lights of a brand new Coles. Everything is changing. We go left, past the emo pub and the Croatian bakery near the station and we head down under the overpass. Asheeka asks me random life questions whenever the street goes quiet and I know it’s because she can’t stand the silent spaces. How you going with, you know everythingGot lots of friends besides me now. Good. You’re well-liked now you know. People looking at ya. Cute. And I know she’s trying really hard to be nice. The housos that Asheeka lived in when we first started high school used to be somewhere around here. It’s dark and she holds my hand as she scans the streets. She thinks I get easily distracted and wander off too much like I used to when we were in year seven. She likes to keep me close to her so that she knows that I am safe.
When we get to McDonald’s Arnold and his crew are all leaning up against his car. He’s wearing a 59Fifty cap even though its dark and saggy jeans. He’s not that much bigger than Asheeka, but he stands there like he’s huge. Only two months since he’s had this old Ford Falcon. Painted it with the blue house paint he found in his parent’s shed and made it shinny with discount wood lacquer from Bunnings. He’s got new seat covers in a dark red. Not too bad looking. It’s his everything and he doesn’t let so many people inside it, except Asheeka.
Tonight he’s just hanging back, watching the Filipino kids break dance. He knows we’re here but he doesn’t say nothing. Neither does Asheeka. When Kylie and Paul and Steve and Ellie from school come over to say hi, Asheeka gets up all close to Paul. Everyone’s talking about how Mr Alloshi kicked two kids out of school the other day but I know that Asheeka’s not paying attention to none of it. She’s got her head snuggled up against Paul’s shoulder and she’s looking out at Arnold like she’s trying to get his attention.
There’s kids taking up every bit of the parking lot, just hanging, talking to their friends, strutting their stuff. The security guy’s got his arms crossed. He’s looking at everyone like he’s ’gonna start a rumble but we all know he won’t. Above there’s this big white moon behind the McDonald’s M and it’s like every bit of everywhere is lit up and I’m staring at that moon, not noticing much when Arnold comes over and yanks Asheeka hard by the arm and drags her over silently to his car where he throws her in the passenger seat and slams the car door.
No one says nothing.
I just watch the place for a while. Sometimes I hate this, the way that stuff just happens and everyone goes silent. Paul and Steve and Kylie and Ellie keep on talking about those two kids and Arnold is leaning against the back of his car like he’s got his dog back in its big blue cage. So I walk on over there and press my fingers to the windshield of the car and Asheeka’s in there, arms crossed looking like she’s filled with a rage so big she could crack the windscreen with it. When I tap the window with my nails again, she opens the door and whispers ‘get in’.
I do like she says and she squishes over and I notice that Arnold’s keys are just sitting there in the ignition. ‘Sometimes’, I say because I don’t know what else to say, ‘it sucks being a girl.’
And she thinks about it for a while and turns the ignition and says, ‘maybe it doesn’t always have to suck.’
As soon as the engine starts to whizz Arnold starts yelling from the outside and Asheeka presses the button that makes all the doors lock. She turns to me and grabs my hand and squeezes it a little and says, ‘we could go anywhere.’
‘Like movie stars,’ she says.
‘Us in our big fancy car. Just cruising without the boys.’
‘Better that way.’
Asheeka puts the car in reverse and taps her foot down on the peddle. She’s got one hand on the wheel and the other’s holding mine and I look up into that big fat moon and I almost can’t hear Arnold screaming.