Chapter Thirteen

Seven o'clock soon arrived and I found myself pulling up in the car outside Sam's house feeling unusually apprehensive and nervous. I walked up to the front door, took a deep breath and then rang the bell. Mrs Hill answered and invited me inside.

'It's Steven isn't it?' she asked as I wiped my feet on the mat and went indoors.

'That's right,' I replied. 'It's nice to see you again. How are you?'

'Oh, I'm very well thank you. I'll be glad when this weather eases though.'

I tried hard to feign my interest in yet another conversation about the weather. Even when it behaved and acted according to tradition and record, the weather seemed to be the mainstay of any conversation between strangers and, now that it was doing something which actually merited the interest in it, the topic seemed to have worked its way into every conversation that I recently heard or had been a part of.

'How's Samantha's grandmother?' I asked. I was deliberately vague as I was not sure which one of her parent's mothers was ill.

'Mom's not too bad. She'll be better when we get up there to her. Sam tells me that your parents have gone away.'

'Yes, they've gone up to Scotland. They're staying with relatives of ours up there.'

'I always think a family should stick together,' Samantha's mother said and her words struck a guilty chord within me. I knew that, as I would not be going into the office for a couple of days, I should really have made the effort to go straight up to my uncle's house.

Through a doorway I spotted Samantha's father sitting next to an open patio window and reading a newspaper which was being fluttered and blown by a gentle breeze which gusted into the house. My arrival had obviously not interested him and I thought it best that I did not disturb him. Mrs Hill continued to extol the virtues of family life and I was glad when I heard the sound of a door shutting upstairs and Samantha came bounding down the stairs towards me.

'Hi, Steve,' she said, cheerfully and I watched her as she approached. She wore a light cotton dress which swirled invitingly around her and her long blond hair cascaded down around her delicate, pretty face. She smiled as I looked at her and I felt myself melt in front of her. She breezed past me, pausing only to kiss her mother on the cheek, and went into the living-room towards where her father sat. I watched as she picked up her handbag from a table next to him and kissed him.

'Night, Dad,' she said. 'I'll see you later.'

'Don't be out late,' he snapped gruffly, without lifting his head from the paper. 'We've got a busy day tomorrow and you've got a lot of travelling ahead of you.'

Sam walked out of the room and looked first at her mother and then at me. She seemed slightly embarrassed by her ignorant father and I took his lack of communication with me as a sign that I was not welcome.

'Are you ready?' I asked, suddenly keen to leave. Sam nodded and we made our way to the car.

'See you later, Mom,' she said as her mother waited in the light of the doorway and watched us drive away.

'Is your dad always like that?' I asked, trying carefully not to offend her.

'Yes!' she replied, laughing. 'I think he's a bit like your old man - the heat's getting to him but he's too proud to say anything.'

I drove the car down the hot and quiet road and switched on the radio. Before I could hear what station was on, Sam slammed a cassette into the front of the machine.  

'I was about to do that,' I said.

'Sorry. I just couldn't stand listening to the radio. All that I've heard recently is how bad things are getting. I want to try and forget all of that for a while tonight.'

'I know. Where do you want to go?' I asked, suddenly realising that I hadn't a clue where we were heading.

'I don't know,' Sam replied, shrugging her shoulders. 'We could head into town for a little while, have a couple of drinks and then see what we feel like doing afterwards.'

'Okay,' I said and I took a turning which aimed the car towards the city centre.

For various reasons, I had hardly been out over the last few nights and the quiet of the suburbs came as something of a surprise. It was only when we drove deeper into town that we saw many other people at all. I cruised the back streets searching for somewhere to stop, but could find nowhere and so headed for the main shopping area.

As we drove down a dark, dimly lit road, the cassette finished playing in the stereo and Sam switched it off.

'This feels strange,' she said, suddenly. Although her comment had been unexpected, I knew exactly what she meant. There was an unusual, almost oppressive atmosphere in the town.

'I know. I'm not sure what it is, it's just that...'

My words were interrupted by the crashing noise which accompanied a huge road bollard being thrown with force through a shop window. I looked across the street to see the various members of a large gang scrambling through shards of broken, shattered glass and through the remains of a virtually demolished shop display. They ran back into the open and were distracted momentarily by the light and noise from my car. They turned and stared for a second before running away into the shadows of the night.

I looked across at Samantha and she returned my expression of surprise and disbelief.

'What's going on?' she asked.

I could not tell her.

'I don't know,' I replied, staring at the wreckage of the shop that the looters had left. 'There'll be police around here soon. We'd better go.'

I turned the car around in the middle of the road and drove back in the direction from which we had just come. I took another junction which led onto the main high street but stopped when I saw other cars being driven along at incredible speeds, trying to avoid missiles which were being hurled from gangs gathered on either side of the street. Although we saw only a small area of the city, and we were there for only a short time, I needed no other encouragement to drive quickly away and back towards the suburbs. I glanced over at Samantha and saw that her face was pressed hard against the window. She seemed to be having as much difficulty as I was in comprehending the sudden senseless and unexpected violence that we were seeing.

At the outskirts of the town we found relative peace again and I tried to make some sense of the anger that I had just witnessed. The news that we had heard last night had obviously frightened everyone and although most people were able to control their worries and fears, there remained some who could not. It appeared that all their frustrations had been too much to keep bottled up inside. I had expected people to react badly to the terrible news, but never to the extent that we had just seen.

For a while we sat silent in the car, both unable to think of anything to say to the other.

'Just keep driving,' Sam said eventually as we approached the area near to where she lived. 'Just keep driving until you find somewhere where we can stop and talk.'

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