London Southbank StorySlam Live Winner 2014
The sun was high in the sky, casting short shadows of the trees across the grass of Stoborough Green. A caravan of trucks and carts arrived painted in bright colours. Koby with his sister Constance stared down from the tree at the greasy-haired gypsy children lying on the trucks’ tarpaulin covers, cadging an easy ride.
‘Look.’ Constance pointed her chubby brown arm at the crate-laden cart bringing up the rear.
‘Coconuts,’ Koby replied, and a warm feeling flooded his heart.
‘They don’t look like nuts,’ Constance said. ‘They look like brown, hairy eggs.’
It was always a wonder to Koby when his sister reacted with ignorance to something from their homeland. But she had been very young when Mr. and Mrs. Horton had found them on the streets of Discovery Bay and taken them home to England to be adopted.
There was nobody to look out for Koby and Constance that day. Mrs. Horton stood in the far corner of the green, taking down the names of gypsies, and Mr Horton was raising a little canopied stall from which later he would collect payment from visitors to the fair.
‘I want to get down,’ Constance said, her keen eye on the painted horse that had been pulled off one of the carts.
Koby knew there was no point trying to stop Constance from doing what she wanted to do. It was always fine for her to toddle in and out of everyone’s legs, squawking when she tripped, her cotton-clad limbs flaring out like the ribs of an umbrella. He wished that for once she would be the one who when she got in someone’s way was dragged screaming back to the house. Koby immediately retracted his wish.
Half way down the trunk, Constance changed her mind.
For the next hour, Koby and his sister watched the vehicles being unloaded and equipment laid out in satellite piles on the grass, each with their own placard - Carousel, Dive Bomber and Chairoplane, Park Swings and Dodgems. But Koby wasn’t so interested in the gypsies who spannered and bolted the fairground rides together. His eyes had wavered back to the cart with the coconuts, which was parked at an outcrop on the green.
‘Come on, Connie, let’s get down.’ Koby jumped from the tree and held up his arms. Constance landed into his chest with a thump.
‘I want to see Mama.’ She wriggled out of his arms and ran off.
Koby skirted the periphery of the site and came to the coconut stall. A swarthy old woman, wearing a veil, was arranging coconuts on top of tall wooden stands. She smiled.
A chill travelled up Koby’s spine, surely he recognised those chipped teeth. ‘What are you doing with those coconuts?’ he asked.
Her eyes twinkled. She pointed to her mouth and shook her head and continued with her task, weighing out each coconut in her palm, then balancing one on top of another on the stands, creating a gravity-defying display. She took the last one from the crate and pushed it into Koby’s hand, her long dirty fingernails gripping the shell.
He wanted it.
‘Koby, Koby,’ his mother called. She came running over to him, trailing Constance behind her. His mother nodded at the old woman. ‘Koby darling, give back the coconut. You’re supposed to be looking out for Connie, you can see how busy we all are.’ Mrs Horton took the coconut from Koby’s hands and put it on the table. She then placed her arm around him and guided him back towards the tree. ‘Never take anything from a gypsy,’ she whispered in his ear.
Koby and Constance were shoved down beneath the tree. Koby wished again that his sister could be dragged back to the house, out of his way. From where he sat now he couldn’t see the coconut stall. He sulked - forgetting to retract his wish.
‘I’m tired,’ Constance said.
‘Lay your head against my arm then,’ he snapped, and after a while both of them closed their eyes.
Koby woke to the sound of squealing, organ music and the hiss of steam. The air was filled with an acrid smell. He rubbed his eyes and felt something poke him in the arm. He looked up. It was the old woman, prodding him with her stick.
‘Shhh,’ she said. ‘Com- a.’
Koby hesitated and then rose to his feet. He followed the old woman through the crowds, intensely watching her waddle, yes, so much like the Obeah woman from Discovery Bay. His blood ran cold.
She took him to the stall of coconuts. But oh! oh! What had happened? The wondrous display was gone, and in its place were smashed and cleaved coconuts everywhere. All that was left was one single coconut, teetering on a stand. The old woman pointed at a metal ball on the table. Her black eyes stared at Koby.
Koby held his head and howled.
‘Koby!’ His mother came running over to him, dragging a tearful Constance behind her. As soon as Constance saw the ball on the table, she snatched her hand away from her mother.
‘What did I say not to do, Koby Horton!’ said his mother. ‘Come away from here, now.’
His mother took no notice of Constance and Koby watched in horror as his little sister picked up the ball and threw it at the one remaining coconut, teetering on the stand. The ball clacked the brown hairy shell, felling it to the ground, smashing it open. Liquid red as blood spilled onto the grass.
‘Obeah!’ Koby howled. And no-one could stop him as he grabbed his sister by the hand, dragging her screaming all the way back to the house.