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Approximately forty miles off the south-west coast of Ireland.

How do you tell a community of conservative Irish that you
plan to bring someone to their quaint little island who others
consider a curse? You don’t, if you’re like me, you hope you
have some good luck.
“We’ve had bad luck for ages,” said Hugo, yanking on the
handle of the bait box, it refused to budge. “That thing keeps
its distance.”
Quinn took a folding blade from a pocket on her wetsuit,
wedged it under the lid and it opened with a loud pop. They
recoiled with the stench.
“Get it out there,” I said, watching the fin resurface between
the foot-high waves.
Quinn reached towards the bait box, wincing with eyes
closed. “Jesus, it’s off.”
“Will ye just do it,” I said. “Sorry, love.”
Hugo held his nose dunking an arm into the slimy water and
pulled out a fist of fish guts. He shoved them into his sister’s
face—Quinn smirked without flinching—and he threw the
innards into the ocean.
“Hugo,” I yelled, seeing its shadow pass my view forty
meters out and change course back the way it came.
“It doesn’t seem interested in the bait,” he said, moping
back to get more bloody fish.
She pushed him aside. “Loser.” The motion of the boat
sent him into the bait box, and he sat in it flicking guts at her.
She preempted waves shunting the small boat and gave
him the middle finger.
“Stop messing, love,” I said. “Get more bait into the water,
He got up grumbling.
The fin went under the surface. I took the shaft and put it
to the open muzzle, my hands shook.
“Come on, uncle Donnacha, ye plank,” she said, taking a
fish tail and flinging it over my head. “Why does it have to
smell so bad?”
“Ned Murphy said it has to.” I found the groove and slid
the spear into the trigger mechanism until I heard a click.
The pin popped up like Ned had shown me.
“Why ‘uncle’ all of a sudden?” he asked, peppering the
water with fish innards.
“Since we moved in with Cara it just feels right,” she said.
“He’s not our real Dad.”
“Shush, love,” I said. My fingers fumbled trying to thread
the monofilament through the loops of the speargun. I
glanced up to see the fin scything sideways and then diving,
and I quickly threaded the line and attached it to the loop on
the shaft. “Okay.”
They leaned on the edge of the fishing boat, either side of
me and waited for it to resurface.
“See, this one is smart,” she said. “It knows we’re hunting
“Ned said you were using the wrong bait,” I said to Hugo.
“And he said the evening is the best time.” I searched the
swells trying to anticipate where it would show. “It’ll smell
the blood and come back.”
After a few minutes of nothing she sat down with her back
to the water.
“What are you doing?” he asked, flinging innards backhandedly
as far as he could. “You’re supposed to be spotting.”
“Leave her alone,” I said. “Nothing’s happening.”
“This was a stupid idea,” she said. “We’d do better alone
with the new bait. He’s jinxing it.” She glanced at me out of
the side of her eyes. “Sorry, uncle Donnacha.”
“Ah, you might be right.” I knelt down and rested the
speargun on top of the side of the boat. “Just drop the ‘uncle’
stuff, please.”
“He’s not jinxing it.” Hugo folded his arms. “We tried and
got nowhere.”
I glared at him.
Time crept on, achingly decelerated as the boat drifted away
from the blood-stained water. My knees and arms got sore
from holding the heavy lump of metal. There was no sign of
it, and no reward for our patience.
The sun drifted behind ranks and legions of angel-white
cumulus clouds that fused and blackened further out, making
the Atlantic murky. Seagulls circled overhead and dived for
the bait, or they mocked my thoughts—as all flourishes of
life seemed to nowadays. Quinn seemed to enjoy making me
feel older than forty-one too.
She played with the ends of her hair, dampening a frizzy
clump of curls with seawater. “Did you say that fella is a black
albino?” she asked, out of the blue.
Hugo frowned at her. “What fella?”
“Donnacha, I’m talking to you,” she said. “Didn’t you say
he was?”
I glanced up. “Were you listening in on my conversation
with Cara?”
“Are you going to bring him here?” She pinched the ends
of her hair with her piano-player fingers, squinting an eye.
“It’s not a good idea.” She started humming a flat version of
the Lonesome Boatman.
“He’s going to stay here for a while.” The sun had come out
from behind the clouds and I noticed the boat was drifting in
milky water. “Is that pollution?”
“Fucking capitalist,” he said, with his chin in the air.
I spotted movement fifty meters out and lifted the speargun.
“Quiet, love.”
She continued humming a little more softly.
“Shut up, Quinn,” he said, zipping up his wetsuit.
The sun caught the top of waves, blinding me momentarily.
As one rolled on, across its back—silky then distorted—I saw
a V-shaped wake glistening on the top of the water.
“It’s coming right at us,” I said as the tip of the fin slowly appeared on the surface of the water.
Quinn stood up and slipped on fish-guts, sending her
backwards. I watched in disbelief as she disappeared
into the murkiness. “Hugo,” I said, diving to gab her and
missing. “Help your sister.”
I leaned prone against the side of the boat and aimed the
speargun at the fin with one hand. A flash of orange passed by
my peripheral vision as the life-ring plonked into the ocean
with a loud slap. Quinn resurfaced a few feet away from it,
spluttering and screaming as the boat drifted away from her.
He reached out a hand. “Swim.”
I saw the shark inside an illuminated wave like it was
encased in cerulean and turquoise glass. It was the width of two obese men
and its fin was as big as the sail of a training-dingy. “Jesus
Christ, this thing is enormous. It’s a great wh…” Shivers ran up my spine.
Hugo shoved my shoulder. “Fire,” he said and edged onto
the lip of the boat, stretching his leg over the water. “Grab
my leg, Quinn.”
She flapped her arms until she reached his boot and clawed
her way along his leg. He held on but began to slip in.
“Donnacha,” he whimpered.
My finger hovered over the trigger as the great white kept its
course towards the boat, forty meters out, thirty, moving fast. I hesitated. If I
missed I wouldn’t have time to reload; closer I’d have
a better chance. A splash sounded next to me and I saw the
two of them go into the drink as one and go under.
Twenty meters out, it went fort them, its long body curving up before submerging. I held my breath, the silence was oppressive, and I squeezed the trigger. Nothing. I lunged to the other side of the boat and
blindly reached a hand into a swell.
They resurfaced together a couple of meters out.
“Swim.” I aimed at the scattered shape hulking a foot below.
“The safety, release the safety,” said Quinn, frantically
front-crawling past her younger brother.
“Stop splashing,” I said. It was near, slowing.
“Stay still.” I remembered Ned’s stories of World War 2 sailors surviving in the Pacific as I gently released the safety. It made a faint click.
Dead quiet. Quinn released a panicked breath. I took aim. “Don’t move…stay very still.” I closed one eye. “Let it pass.”

“Jesus,” she said, more huskily than normal, an almost inaudible squeak.  “Shoot the fucking thing, Donnacha.”

Wind blew directly into my ears, as loud as a gale, which drowned
out that voice that likes to gloat when I miss whenever I try anything that takes skill. I pulled the trigger. A loud thwack sounded as the mechanism released. A whooshing noise followed as the line was pulled at high speed through
the metal loops and the spear entered the water, silently, before it
punctured the shark. Immediately, it darted
“Hurry, get back in the boat.” I reached out a hand to Hugo,
who had kicked like an Olympian from the moment I fired.
Quinn just threaded water, seemingly both terrified and daring herself to overcome her fear. He lunged out of the water like a Marlin, slipped onto his
back and got up in one fluid motion. I watched her with confoundment as he leaned over the side.  ”Swim, grab my hand, Quinn.”

I watched the spool get smaller as it went deeper.
She laughed as he pulled her in, and the two of them fell onto their backs, flopping their legs down on the side of the boat. “We almost
died,” he said, gasping  as he his head to
assess her.
She blew away water streaming over her top lip, puffing her cheeks. “What a buzz.” Her hands were clasped against her forehead, elbows out wide. “Did ye kill it, Donnacha?”

”Thought it was uncle?”

“I barely scratched the fucker,” I said, staring back at the
spool uncoiling. “I don’t think I hit it in a good spot.” I took
out my pocket knife and held it under the line.
“What are you doing?” He jolted up into a sitting position
and held my wrist. “You have it hooked. Reload the speargun. Wait until it comes up and get it again man.”
“It’s too big and this boat is too small. It’ll sink us.” I cut
the line and slumped down with a disappointed sigh. “Shit.”
He sat on the opposite side. “We must have tried ten times
with that thing.” He sighed. “It’s a survivor.”
“Are you sure it’s the same one?” I asked. “You didn’t
mention it was so big.”
“We’ve only seen it below the water…it stayed away.” He
zipped open the chest flap on his wetsuit. “You don’t get
many great whites this side of the Atlantic. I’m pretty sure
it’s the same one. ”
“You had it,” she said, eyes as thin as catgut.
“Ah, fair play anyway,” he said, rising to her strange calmness given what had occurred. “You injured it at least. Good job, Donnacha.”
She groaned. “Don’t give him a big head.”
He waved his hand at her as I sucked air sharply through
my teeth. “There wasn’t much of a kick in that speargun,” I said.
“Hopefully it’ll bleed out.”
“Wonder if Ned was a whaler in a past life.” He pushed his
sister’s thigh with his foot, wiping blood from a cut on his ankle. “I’m not getting into that water again until I’m sure it’s dead.”
She sat up, squeezing out big streams of water from her thick curly hair. “I’m convinced that’s what got Wann Murphy,” she said and
got into the driver’s seat. “We should get a few boats together
and hunt it.”

She turned the boat around and took us into Monte Cristo
Bay. The bay was typically calm and there was a warm evening
breeze. Straight ahead, the sky was a deep purple and stars
were visible. I turned around on the middle seat, looking at
the dipping sun painting unique patterns of cloud and ocean
into a kaleidoscope of oranges, pinks, and baby-blues as we
passed the small, uninhabited islands. “Maybe it did take
Wann. I hadn’t entertained the idea until I saw it up close.”
Hugo peeled off the wetsuit. “So, you don’t think it was
traffickers now?”
“I don’t know, Ned doesn’t seem to think so anymore.”
I held the speargun on my lap. “I want another go at that shark.”
“Aren’t you going to Dublin in the morning to get that lad?”
she asked.

”What lad?” he asked, pressing on the bait-box, using his body-weight

to close the lid.
She looked back at us and rolled her eyes. “There are going to be a few issues about that,” she said. “When the other islanders find out he’s from Africa and… is he really an albino. An albino from Africa like.” She turned around and rested her elbow on the side of the boat. ”Jausus, that’s mad.”

“Jonah’s a Dub, and it’ll be grand,” I said, still unsure if I
was doing the right thing but needing to do something to take my thoughts of Erin.
“I actually did a bit of reading up on African albinos,” she said. ”There’s lots of superstition surrounding them, and you know what people are like here.” 

”It could stir a few pots,” he said, resting his chin on his sister’s head.

”More than a few,” she muttered.

As we passed the old wreck, with its rusting chimney stack, leaning but proudly aloft after thirteen years of the worst the Atlantic could batter it with, I saw two tiny figures marching, knees-to-chin through the swamps between the dunes and
Clippers Hook. Red and yellow raincoats and wellies, no more
than seven or eight. “Who are they?” I asked.
Hugo shrugged. “Never seen them before.”
“Do you know them, Quinn?” I asked.
She pushed the throttle to full and the engine roared.
The boat shuddered violently as it hit the sandbank and
beached, sending me forwards into a hunch, clinging to the
side. “Jesus Christ, what did ye do that for?”
“Sorry,” she said, turning her head away.
The two boys stood staring at us and came down towards the shore.
She jumped off the boat and went to the back. “I felt like
the engine was lagging. I, I need to look at it.”
Hugo hopped onto the beach and stood with his hands on hips, ruffling the salt from his golden brown curly hair, gazing at the two boys skipping his way.
I was disturbed by Quinn’s odd mood change as I joined him. “Are they from O’Dowd’s Point?” I asked.
“If I had to guess, I’d say yeah.”
I took stock of her behind us and waved at her to come
over. She shook her head and ducked down behind the engine.

”She’s acting bizarre.”

”When does she not these days?’ How’s it going?” he said, as the two little munchkins looked us with screwed faces and piercing blue eyes. “Where are you from?”

The smaller boy in red pointed east.

“O’Dowd’s Point?” he asked.
They nodded in unison. “We were only catching tadpoles,”
said the one in red.
The one in yellow kept his eyes fixed on me.
“I’m Donnacha, this is Hugo,” I said. “What’s your name?”
“I’m not supposed to talk to you,” said the red one.
I frowned at Hugo, chuckling to myself. “Me?”
“You’re the witch’s husband,” he said.
I stepped forward and Hugo grabbed my arm. “Leave it
Donnacha, they’re only kids.”
“Who told you to say that?” I said, bending until I could
see the freckles on their pug noses.
“Witches, witches, witches,” they chanted.
Hugo laughed.
“Tell whoever told you to say that they’re…fucking bastards”
“Jaysus, Donnacha, relax.”
“Hugo, it’s this kind of thing that made Erin…”
“Are you off your head? They’re kids.”
“I don’t care. Those fucking O’Dowdes…”
He chased them up the beach and into the woods, between the
dunes and the town centre. They hid behind trees, looking back at me, mmocking me with their goblin eyes, that restless O’Dowde stare, until their little shadows faded into the twilight.

Part One

Harbouring a Curse
I fished two perfectly poached eggs from the pot with a sieve
and slid them onto a plate next to triangles of toast. “You’re
supposed to say ‘someone with albinism’, not ‘albino’, it’s
a genetic disorder.” I threw the sieve into the sink and took
off Cara’s apron. “Come and take your plate, I’ve a ferry to
Quinn walked to the counter with her eyes on the screen of
her phone. “Thanks, uncle Donnacha.” She glanced at me
wide-eyed as she picked up the plate.
“I thought I told you, love.” I put on the trench coat Ned
had loaned me because it had a detective’s look to it. He’d
given me a nice bottle of single malt too—for a fair price—to
wash away the worry of going back there after all these years.
She blinked away her vacant gaze—a look I was getting
used to seeing these last few years. “You don’t have to come
over here to cook us breakfast. We can do our own now, and
Cara makes the best pancakes.”
“I like cooking breakfast for you and Hugo, I did it for
thirteen years. I miss you two around the house.” Some
part of me wilted inside as I took my satchel off the kitchen
chair and threw it over my shoulder. The full whiskey bottle
whacked against my side. “Don’t call me ‘uncle’, Donnacha
is fine.”
“You should be happy, Donnacha, now you can do all the
things we prevented you from doing.”
“I never said that, did I?” I went to the hallway.
She rolled her eyes. “You didn’t have to.”
I called Hugo.
She darted her eyes up from her phone and back. “I read
up on what they do to albinos in Africa, people with albinism
I mean. It’s sick. Is it true?”
“Yes.” I waited at the front door. “But it only goes on in
remote parts of Tanzania and other places like Malawi, not
all of Africa.”
“According to this there are over twenty countries in Africa
that hold superstitious beliefs regarding albi—people with
albinism. Albino is just easier to say, it’s a bit of mouthful.”
“Oh, poor you—Hugo!”
“It goes on in secret now, I think.” She stabbed a fork into
the yoke and watched it bleed. “The chopping off-of arms
and all that. You’d have to be rich to pay the price, I thought
Africa is poor.”
“I haven’t got time now, love. Is Hugo having a lie-in or
“He sleeps in until after 10 now. Aren’t you worried about
his family? I heard you tell Cara they’re criminals.”
“Your ears must have satellite link-up.” I went to the
bottom of the stairs. “Hugo?”
She gawked at me pacing the hall.
“Lazy git,” I said. “He’s not coming. I’m going.”
“I’ll come with you.” She put a triangle of unbuttered toast
in her mouth and pushed the plate away. “You overcooked
the eggs,” she said, shoving me outside.
“My mind was on other things.”
“You haven’t been back to Dublin in years, have you?” she
asked, slamming the front door.
“Only once since…” My voice cracked.
“Since my mam and dad were murdered?”
She followed me to the ferry, pestering me about my reasons
for going all the way to Dublin to help a complete stranger.
Why was I? The Gardaí warned me members of the gang
who killed my brother and sister-in-law were still operating
in Dublin. Maybe I missed feeling like a saviour now Quinn
was almost eighteen and Hugo had just turned seventeen
and both were beginning to see me as a sorry drunk blaming
himself for his wife’s mental problems.
“Isn’t your anxiety and depression bad enough without you
adding to your worries?” she asked, looking at the ground
and walking with her hands in the pockets of her denim
dungarees, taking long strides. “We don’t need dangerous
people coming to Treoir either.”
“I brought you here, didn’t I?
“Funny.” She rolled her eyes. “Sarcasm doesn’t suit you.”
“I think it makes me less…what was that word you made
up you to describe me?
“Yeah, less cruddly.” I stopped by the dock and rummaged
in the pockets of Ned’s coat, hoping to find some hash he
may have forgotten about. “The lad is not dangerous and I’m
not depressed anymore.”
“But his family are dangerous.”
The ferry door lowered.
She inched to the edge of the dock, lighting a cigarette,
then balancing on her toes, with her heels over the water.
“You invited your friend Wann here and look what happened
with her. You’re not a charity. What’s it got to do with you
“Don’t smoke in front of me.” I sighed and tensed my
stomach muscles to control a pang of nausea. “He’s gifted
and we need talented students at the college.”
“My smoking annoys you, and you’re not depressed when
you’re annoyed. I’m doing you a favour.” She blew smoke at
me. “Is this to do with that lecturers’ league table?”
“You really have to stop listening in on my conversations
with Cara.”
“I heard you weren’t high up. Is the plan to bring students
here who’ll”—she took a drag and blew it into the air—“back
“No, don’t be an idiot.” I straightened out creases on the
lapels of Ned’s coat. “I had to think long and hard about
helping him.” I folded my arms, staring at the cigarette she
held daintily by her face. “Being depressed feels selfish now.
It’s the right thing to do for me and for him. You’re too young
to understand.”
She cupped the cigarette in her hand and held it by her side.
“What if his family follows him here?”
“Trust me,” I said, shuffling to the edge of the dock as the
ferry’s engines fired up.
A wave of scorn broke over her nose, a gesture that disclosed
past conversations she’d eavesdropped on.
I got onto the ferry and leaned over the corroded green rail,
gazing down into the turquoise waters and breathing in the
sweet Westerly winds.
“There’s going to be trouble, I know it,” she said and
marched across the car park and climbed the dunes. She
smoked on top of the highest one until the ferry left.
My mind was elsewhere. Nowhere. Everywhere. A fifth
settled my nerves.
Gangs buzzed around the noisy entrance of Dublin’s Heuston
Station. People readers, teasing my troubles out of me
with knowing looks and prescribing a cheap deal on faulty
electronics. As I crossed the busy street I saw one light a long,
thin cigarette and laugh about me to his little gang of chainsmoking
street hustlers. They had jilting eyes warning me to
watch my back.
Once the streets weren’t too cluttered with people I took a
few swigs from the bottle of mouthwash I’d started carrying
everywhere. Benjamin Kolo’s place was in Smithfield, a few
hundred meters walk along the Liffey. I called to announce
my arrival, and he told me to bang hard on the door as he
would be mixing.
Kolo’s flat was above a shop on a high-street north of the old
Smithfield Market. It was an area that had a buzz of blackmarket
trading about it. His door was royal-blue and the
walls seemed to breathe with the slow, deep beat coming
from behind them. A smell of weed leached from the carpet
and the black mouldy wallpaper. I took a swig of whiskey
and a hit from the little canister of mouth spray I kept for
emergencies, and I hammered loudly with the back of my
He opened the door and embraced me one-handedly and
yanked me inside his cramped flat. “Brother, it’s been so
long since you’ve come to Dublin, you look old. Good to see
you again.” His lilting Dublin-Nigerian accent had a song in
it. “Your friend, Faith, is a lovely woman. She told me she
can’t meet you,” he said, smoothing out patchy facial hair on
his cheeks and jaw. “But there’s a lift waiting outside.” His
bright black eyes were the same colour as his Nigerian skin,
and his cranberry-coloured lips held a perpetual smile. His
face always put me at ease.
I went to the window and pulled back the yellow-stained
net curtains.
“Are you being careful, Donnacha?”
“Always, Kolo,” I said, taking a Martin Heidegger book
from his flea-market bookshelves and fanning the pages. I
felt too out of it to read and smelled the sweet, musty paper.
He shook his head. “I haven’t been back to Africa in years.
It hurts to think my homeland is still so superstitious.” He
made a loud tutting sound with his tongue.
“Is Ireland so far ahead?”
He cocked his head. “Ireland is a wonderful place to live.”
“It’s only a few decades since babies born out of wedlock
were seen as the seed of the devil and left to die in orphanages.”
I put the book back, folded my arms, and paced the
floor. “We put people in mental asylums and threw away the
key for masturbating, did you know that?”
He laughed.
“I’m serious, man.” I sat on a green armchair and crossed
my legs. “Irish culture championed conformity, anti-
intellectualism, and resistance-to-change up until the turn
of the millennium. You can’t change a people overnight, it’s
all still under the surface.”
“But it’s good here now.” His smile wavered. “No?”
“You’re a black man in a mostly white country. Are you
telling me you haven’t felt threatened in Ireland?”
He looked down at the tan wooden floor, studying a hole
where a notch used to be.
“Of course you have. Culturally, we’re at a point of great
instability in the world.” I sat forwards. “If we’re not
“Yes, maybe, but I understand that change takes time and
“You should talk to some of the islanders where I live,
change takes a lifetime there.”
He grinned uncomfortably. “I came to Ireland to get away
from all that superstitious bullshit and I’m very happy here.”
He took a bag of weed from a small wooden box, opened
it, and sniffed it. “A few assholes shouldn’t bother you,
I gripped the armrests.
“It’s a good thing that you’re doing this for this person,”
he said, sprinkling some weed into a jumbo Rizla.
I rubbed a sharp pain from my temple. “It is in part for my
own selfish need.” I took a deep breath and sighed. “I have
to find something to help me get past Erin.”
“Oh, right.” He skulked to his decks and lowered the music
until it was barely audible. “You should be careful with this
person’s family.” He fixed me with a worried look. “They’re
poor and he’s worth a lot of money to them.”
“He’ll be safe on the island.” I scratched the scar on my
arm. “I’m looking forward to meeting him.”
Benny, Kolo’s free-roaming pygmy mountain goat, appeared
in his small kitchen and studied me with a dignified
pity. It ate anything it wanted and went anywhere it liked,
and none of the neighbours said a word. “You still have him?”
“I missed you, Benny.” I used to wish I had Benny’s
freedom, I thought as I rubbed his head. “I wish I was Benny.”
Kolo laughed, probably at my sincerity. “Faith said this
person you are helping has a brilliant mind for science. She
thinks he might be a genius.”
“Yeah, she mentioned it.” I thought about Erin’s intelligence
as Benny butted my hand and went to the balcony and
hopped onto a fire-escape to the roofs.
Kolo sprawled out with his lanky legs over the armrests of a
tan, leather, two-seat sofa, draping one arm behind his head.
He took a letter from inside a Kafka collection of short stories
on his coffee table. “Faith left a letter.” He threw it to me,
lit his spliff, and tapped it into a green glass ashtray while I
opened it.
I quietly read the letter in Faith’s handwriting.
Dear Donnacha,
As we have discussed, Jonah is in grave danger and needs
somewhere safe for a while. Last week, he came to me and told
me he would kill himself if he doesn’t get away from his awful
family. His father is not of sound mind; he mentally tortures his
wife and is violent towards Jonah—believing he is cursed. Jonah’s
family are planning to sell him to a witch doctor in Tanzania.
He isn’t strong and needs support. The family are poor and he’s
useless to them. Now the Tanzanian government has clamped
down on the mistreatment of people with albinism, there is
a demand for his kind in rural parts of the country. It seems
inconceivable to think it, but a child’s arm can fetch from $5,000
to $10,000 and a person anywhere between $70,000 to $150,000.
Jonah’s family stand to make a small fortune from his sale.
Some people in Tanzania, including politicians and other
influential members of society, believe witch doctors when they
tell them people with albinism have magical properties that can
bring luck, riches, ward of evil and cure disease. If the sale goes
ahead, Jonah will be mutilated and killed.
He is gifted, very intelligent and has a unique brain—he has
theories on the universe that will astound you. He is also a selftaught
musician, sings beautifully, is loving and a pleasure to be
around. Jonah has nowhere else to go. Nowhere safe. I believe
Treoir is far enough away that nobody would ever think to look
there. And he will be a valuable addition to your community once
he’s settled.
I have no doubts Jonah will be sold soon, and he may carry out
his threat if he can’t get away. You have his home address. I have
left a bag of his things with Benjamin. It is with great esteem
that I ask for your help.
Warmest wishes
I got up and thanked Kolo.
He threw me a rug-sack. “Be careful. Check his phone for
apps and turn off his GPS.” He came to the door. “Make sure
nobody follows you back to Treoir.”


Outside Kolo’s flat a moped rider dressed in black flipped the
tinted visor on his helmet. “I’m Azil, Kolo asked me to take
you wherever you want to go.”
“Can you take me to Harris Street flats?”
“Can you handle it?”
I grabbed handrails and then coat as he weaved through
gaps in traffic with a sixth sense and slowed on the south
bank of the Quays, leaning into the turn and then to me to
warn me about the area I was entering.
I got off on a central plaza, a dumping ground for cheap-
Christmas gifts, broken bikes, and burst leather couches.
Women, bored crazy, leaned over balconies and lurked in windows,
anxious but looking for trouble; strung-out-dramajunkies
until the kids came home, I thought.
He flipped the visor. “I know them, you’ll be fine as long as
they’re there. Just don’t draw attention to yourself. Look.”
Controlling an adjacent balcony, too busy in their huddle
to notice us, was a gang of hooded men and boys.
“Criminals mix with desperate people, setting the bar for
all.” His eyes glazed over. “They have no choice but to be
lion or prey.”
“Thanks, I’ll be careful.” I handed him Jonah’s belonging’s
and asked him to wait.
A graffiti-covered corner of the stairway reeked of piss. I
stopped and took out the single malt. A third was gone. The
cap unscrewed without a tremble to contend with, the fire in
my chest calmed doubts about my impersonating ability. I’d
pulled the rue off back in the day as an over-zealous reporter
and I reckoned, being older and wiser, I could think better
on my feet. On the last flight of stairs I took another hit and
re-screwed the cap.
Life on the third floor was virtually non-existent. At the end
of the balcony I heard TV -sports news blaring from behind
the door of the address I’d been given.
A shout came from inside when I knocked. “Who the fuck…
? Go see.”
A yellow-and-black figure appeared through the textured
glass and stopped behind the door. I knocked again.
“Answer the fucking door, Jonah.” The accent was African
and forceful.
The latch clicked and the door opened a couple of
inches—the smell of cigarettes and something rotting hit
me. A tall white youth poked his head around the door and
met my eyes.
“Police.” I gazed at his face. Clearly he was African.
His skin was a creamy-white peel, almost translucent, and
freckled. The afro hair on his head was as white as the
overcast sky and his pink-blue eyes—carrying the misery
of his surroundings but lacking the madness—had sagging
peach bags below them.
He stared back at me without saying a word.
A man appeared behind him and yanked open the
door—wiry, black, prison tattoos, and fists. “What?”
“Who are you?” I took out a small black notebook and pen,
keeping eye contact with him.
“Get inside.” His voice left his cracked lips like bullets and
he scanned me like a CCTV camera. “Who wants to know?”
“Police. It’s about the boy.”
The teen stopped in the hallway and turned. Cigarette butts
and matted dog-hair littered the carpet. A trembling terrier
cowered under a table in front of an imposing television in the
front room. The smell was overpowering. Blood and bleach
have a distinct smell, I thought, remembering murder cases
I’d reported on for the paper.
I flashed the fake I.D. that I had laboured over for a week,
keeping my unblinking stare on him. “Are you Jonah’s
He put the door between us and shoved him into the gap,
giving him a warning glance. “Yes, I’m his father.” He made
a pitiful attempt to look upstanding. “What did he do?” His
fake concern was less convincing, but not so much as his
ability to read me and his neck tensed into the muscular roots
of a tattooed oak tree.
“We believe he’s involved in a crime. He’s been scamming
Jonah tried to scurry away and was dragged backwards by
the hood and shoved out the door.
“Are you Jonah Odjinwahlia?” I asked, pretending to write
in my notepad. I glanced at him and back at the blank page,
my arms heavy.


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