For Griff’s prose challenge… “Base your story around the cast of characters in a theatre – variety, dramatic, Greek, whatever. Story can be humour, drama, tragedy, mystery… “
So, below, a little bit of some of that …!
Tom pulled his summer jacket together and walked down the path. Not sure about this. I want to but I don’t want to. As soon as I mentioned it to Mum, she kept on and insisted that I do it and, well, parental pressure works, doesn’t it? Meet new friends, get out the house, do something I enjoy. Yeah, okay, okay, I’m going.
He walked through the estate and watched the people going about their daily business. Car washing, unloading shopping, arguing. Actually, lots of arguing. There must be something in the water around here. People are so angry all the time. They need some sort of release, a pressure valve, some creativity in their lives.
He set up the hill toward the ruins of the old outdoor theatre. The grass became less manicured and eventually turned wild with patches of heather and small rocks. It was as if he had been transported back in history. He wondered what the people of old were like, groups of them, walking the very same path that he did. What did they think about? What were their aspirations? He turned to look at the council estate with its five hundred identical homes and their cheap second-hand cars parked outside. Times had changed. This was progress.
They’d discussed these ruins in his drama college course and how people would come from all around. Actors from overseas would perform, there would be Shakespeare, a scattering of food stalls and people would be wearing bright coloured attire, drinking and being merry. Nowadays, it was dilapidated and everyone in the area was of the same demographic: working class, blue collar working drudgery. For Tom though, things would be different. He’d rise up and do something. He’d be Coventry’s answer to Billy Elliot. All he’d have to do would be to change his name, change his appearance and never come back to the area. Ever.
He went through the stone archway and looked around. Of course, he’d been here before but not in the capacity of amateur actor. The stone pews, cracked and heavy with weeds couldn’t distract him from an image he’d long since created and held in his mind: the salute of the players, the crowd cheering and the deafening rapturous applause. Bravo! Magnificent!
Tom turned to the voice and saw a small group of people sitting and lounging on the slabs.
‘What a sight, eh?’ said the man, indicating the rows of benches. He stood and walked forward. ‘Are you lost?’
The man smiled. The pause was ugly. ‘I see,’ he said. ‘And so, are you lost, Thomas?’
‘We don’t get too many visitors in here,’ said another, sat, reading a book.
‘I’m Tom, I sent you an email and you replied?’
‘An email, an email, my kingdom for an email!’ said another. He was dressed in a bright purple tunic, with white frilly bits around the neck. A black beret sat to the side of his head. ‘The dear boy has sent to you an electronic communication, Malcolm, doncha know!” He was twirling around now, moving around the speaker. ‘What say you, our marvellous and charming chief?’
Tom watched the man dancing and pirouetting, quite unable to think of a clear word to say.
‘I’m afraid I don’t read my emails too often, Thomas,’ said Malcolm.
‘And I don’t pay too much attention to the replies that I send out.’
Malcolm smiled. ‘So, in your email to me, Thomas, what did you say and what did I retort?’
‘Well,’ said Tom, clearing his throat, ‘I asked if I might come along.’
‘Come along, come along! The dear boy wants to join our merry band, doesn’t he? Doesn’t he?’ The twirling man span so furiously that he stumbled slightly, such that Tom thought he might fall. The man ended up 6 inches from Tom’s face. ‘You want to join us, do you?’ A cloud of toxic fumes pushed Tom backwards. The man had taken mustard heavy with his lunch for sure – and not without two or three generous glasses of gin.
‘Yes, well, I’d like to have a look and see how it goes.’
‘See how it goes! See how it goes!’ The man span away, landing heavy on his seat, took off his beret and scratched at his head.
‘Come and join us,’ said Malcolm. ‘Everyone!’ he announced as he led Tom over to them. ‘We have some new blood in the group. This is Thomas.’
Tom smiled. ‘Call me, Tom.’
‘Hello, Thomas,’ said the man, reading the book. He never looked up but he did smile. ‘Nice to meet you.’
‘Hello, there,’ said another, loafing next to where Tom chose to sit. The man was dressed in short white Roman robes, complete with some kind of headwear made of leaves. He wore sandals and waggled his toes. Tom noticed the toenails were yellowish and needed cutting. He must be cold. Technically it was still summer but autumn was very close.
‘Hello,’ said Tom.
The man just held his smile and continued to waggle his toes.
‘Are you doing some sort of Roman production?’
‘No, dear Thomas, whatever gave you that idea?’
‘You’re dressed like a Roman, aren’t you? Perhaps a Roman emperor?’
The man frowned and his face darkened. ‘Dressed like a Roman emperor?’
‘We’re a little more contemporary than that.’ He snapped his head away and closed his eyes. ‘Malcolm! Thomas says that I’m dressed like a Roman emperor. Tell him.’
Malcolm turned from another conversation. He looked at Tom. ‘Stop joshing around, Thomas.’
The man poked Tom with his foot. ‘So, what do you like doing in the evenings, Thomas?’ He smiled seductively. Then he winked.
Winked! That’s too much, thought Tom. ‘Please don’t touch me and please call me Tom.’
The man looked a little crestfallen and so Tom felt perhaps he had acted a bit rashly. ‘Only my mother calls me Thomas,’ he said. ‘And only if I’ve been naughty.’
‘Are you naughty often then?’ said the man, smile fully restored.
‘No,’ said Tom, facing forward, thinking that maybe this had all been a very big mistake.
Two men came through the archway, dressed in normal estate attire, being jeans, bomber jacket, short hair, snarly faces. Thankfully Tom didn’t recognise them.
‘Oi, faggots!’ said one, as they both stopped. ‘What you poofs doing?’
The speaking stopped. Tom froze. How can I hide my face? If they recognise me down on the estate, they’ll smash my face in and tell everyone that I’m gay. He tried to think of a story, a ruse to defend himself. Should he be lost? – but he’s sitting down. Delivering a package? – but there’s no package. Tell them he just got here and didn’t realise what it was? – but they just wouldn’t believe him.
‘Ooooh,’ said the Roman. ‘You’re very butch, aren’t you?’
‘Shut up, homo,’ said the ringleader. ‘You make me sick, you do.’
The Roman poked Tom with his foot again. ‘Ooooh,’ he said. ‘He’s trying to intimidate us, Thomas, don’t you think?’
The man switched his attention to Tom. ‘Who are you? You don’t look like you belong here. What sort of faggot are you?’
‘I’m not a faggot,’ said Tom. ‘I’m not.’
‘You’re sitting next to a man that’s dressed as a Roman. Course you’re a faggot, faggot! You sicken me, sicken me.’
‘I’m not a Roman!’
‘What are you then? You’re not a footballer, are you?’
‘I’m Greek,’ said the Roman, rather sheepish. ‘I’m a Greek courtier.’
The thug thought for a moment. ‘If you’re doing a Greek play, why are none of your faggoty mates dressed the same way?’
‘Because, dear brute, or shall I call you Brutus? We are all different!’
The twirling man jumped up and began his spinning routine. The thugs watching him dance around. Tom thought the overweight man looked like an out-of-breath ripened plum that might collapse at any moment, unsteady as he was. ‘We’re all a bit different and our clothes are but a mask!’ he sang. ‘Get up! Throw your hands up in the air and just dance!’ The group was transfixed and it was brought to an abrupt end as the man removed his beret and popped it on the thug’s head. ‘There!’ he said.
He’s gonna smash his head in! I’m not staying for this, thought Tom. He leapt up and ran past the startled group, through the arch, down the path and home. The new Billy Elliot would have to find some other way into the light.
The group didn’t move as Tom exited stage left.
‘Was he supposed to run away?’ said the thug.
The Roman sat up. ‘I think our auditioning methods might be a little … tough,’ he said.
The twirling man spoke plainly, watching the archway, hands on hips. ‘Slightly.’
‘He looked cute,’ said the second thug, his voice softer than would be expected of an estate stalwart.
‘Did you send him the script?’ said the twirling man, at Malcolm, accusingly. ‘Explain our methods at all?’
Malcolm screwed up his face. ‘Erm, well … I did mean to but … me and emails, well … we’re still distant friends.’