There were things that I learned to call fury as a younger. Fury was a fearsome drum, some hungry and hot temper, ill-spirit or madness that never touched us for long but followed our bodies for time. See London. This city taints its young. If you were from here you’d know, ennet. All our faces were pinched sour, even the good few I spent my early way with. We were all born into the menace from day dot.
These were the hidden violences. Day-long deaths that snuffed out our small and limited futures. Since we grew up around London towers, struggle was a standard echo in our speech, in thought, in action. But it was only after the release of that one video, clipped from a phone of a witness, that everyone else saw the truth. The image on every news channel and paper, a black boy had killed an off-duty soldier. Soldierboy we called him. The black younger had stopped soldier-boy and struck him down with a cleaver. Then he wrapped his body in a black cloth and strung him up from a road sign. Stuff was dark. Darkest because it happened in a space so familiar. In our city, on road, and in broad daylight. The sound of the black boy’s voice came next, shouting into the camera about the infidel, the sinful kuffar. It was on radio and television, an endless loop. He called himself the hand of Allah, but to us he looked as if he had just rolled out the same school gates as us. He had the same trainers we wore. Spoke the same road slang we used. The blood was not what shocked us. For us it was his face like a mirror, reflecting our own confused and frightened hearts.
Violence made this city. Those living, born and raised, grow up with it like an older brother. On that final day when flames licked the domes of our painted mosque, we were all far beyond saving. Fury was like a fever in the air. A corrupt mass of bodies pulsing together in pain and rhetoric. Muhajiroun were herding our people along August Road and had us stand on the burned earth like a testament. There was violence in our brotherhood, that much is clear, though we never knew how much of that violence came from us or the road beneath our feet.
We were London’s scowling youth. As siblings of rage, we were never meant to stray beyond the street. We might not have known it with our eyes so alight, but it was true. Our miseducation is proof, ennet. Those school corridors were like cold chambers, anyone who went to St. Mary’s would attest. Our bodies were locked for verbal assaults, our words clipped and surging with our own code and fuck anyone who disagreed yuno? Violence shadowed our language and our lines tagged the streets. They’d read us on walls, in open seams, and dim lamplight. We’d cotch on park benches and waste air, sock-mouthed and bound, stupid to our fates the entire time.
Our tongues were so soaked in our defenses, we hoped only to outlast the day. Just look at how we spoke to one another: ennet-tho, myman, and pussyo. Our friendships we called bloods and our homes we called our Ends. We reveled in throwing crafted curses at our mothers and receiving hard slaps to heads. Our combs cut lines in our hair and we scarred our eyebrows with blades. We became warrior tribes of mandem, slave-kings and palm-swiping cubs we were. Our parents knew nothing. And most others? Most others only knew us from the noise we made at the back of the buses.
Close without touch. That was the only love permitted, though it was deeply felt among our own. We smoked weed together, borrowed idioms and shopped American verses. In our caustic speech we threw out platitudes, in our guts our feisty wit. It was like we lived upon jagged teeth in the dark, in this bone-cold London city. A young nation of mongrels. Constantly measuring ourselves against what we were supposed to be, which was what? I couldn’t tell you.
For those of us who had an elsewhere in our blood, some foreign origin, we had richer colors and ancient callings to hear. Fight with, more likely, and fight for, a push-pull of ancestry and meaning. For me that meant Pakistan and its local masks, which in Neasden meant going mosque and dodging Muhajiroun. For my breddas on Estate, they were from all over. Jamaicans, Irish pikeys, Nigerians, Ghanaians, South Indians, Bengalis. Proper Commonwealth kids, ennet. Even the Arab squaddies from UAE. We’d all spy those private-school boys from Belmont and Mill Hill and we’d wonder, how would it have felt to come from the same story? To have been molded out of one thing and not of many? There was nothing more foreign to us than that. Nothing more boring and pale to imagine. Ours was a language, a dubbing of noise, while theirs was a one-note, void of new feeling and any sense of place.
Place was our own. This place. Whether we heard the whispers of our older roots never mattered. What mattered for us was the present, terse and cold, where we would make our own coarse music. This was where we found our young madnesses after all, on road, or rather between the roads we knew and the world we felt we could never hope to claim.
So it was like watching our own faces made foul when we saw that video. When that soldier-boy was butchered by a homegrown bredda. That’s when we knew we were all lost to the ruin. They called it terrorism but terrorism never felt so close. Even when we saw the madness rise, when the hijab lady was slashed in the car park in Bricky or when Michael was knifed in North, the swell only peaked after that soldierboy’s killing.
I think about why it had to be a younger that done it. Why it was that when we saw the eyes of the black boy with the dripping blade, we felt closer to him than that soldier-boy slain in the street. But now I know this city and its sickness of violence and mean living. These things come in sharp ruptures that don’t discern. It was the fury. Horror curled into horror. Violence trailing back for centuries, I heard as much in mosque and from rudeboys on road. So when the riots blew up in the Square, when the Umma came out and the Union Jack burned in the June air, the terror had become unwound and lightweight. Each of us were caught in the same swirl, all held together with our own small furies in this single mad, monstrous, and lunatic city.