northern suburbs

Driving along wide streets, alone. These are not normal streets. There are no cars parked, no cars moving other than very occasionally, the odd one, a vast four-by-four which races past, briefly casting a trace of a slanting shadow over my windscreen. Wide verges on either side are neither side-walk nor garden, but acutely manicured ‘jardinettes’. Individual, varied cacti spaced sixty-three centimetres apart exactly stand erect and pointless in front of twelve-foot high walls covered in a collage of broken red, orange and green tiles and chunks of angled glass. Architects delight in the challenge of highly secure aesthetically pleasing homes for the rich. Slim long vertical lines cut through these thick tall walls, to spy in and spy out. Electric wire leans out at forty-five degrees along the top of the wall. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Regular two-second intervals indicate a branch is interfering with the circuit, perhaps on a corner, or near the neighbour’s side where they’ve not cut back the Oak again. Railed jailed gates roll back slowly, disappearing behind the heavy wall briefly allowing a purring silver BMW Series 1 slithering space. A passing pedestrian looks nervously around, breaking into a run at the sight of a rottweiler and yellow labrador standing freely, briefly, by the open gate. She raises a hand, patting at the air in front of her, signalling to the driver, asking, just one moment, just a moment, let me pass, don’t let them come out, please. Her eyes have grown, expanded out in fear. The car rolls out, swings left, and disappears into the wide flat grey tarmac stretching away around a large corner. The railed gates clunk and roll back. The dogs are staring, watching, waiting, the pedestrian still running, panting away. On the corner, behind a wall, in a large garden, two toddlers, two boys, giggle and bounce up and down on a large black rectangle stretched across the lawn. A pale pink puffy child, and a shiny brown dungareed child. They’re holding hands and losing balance. The house is locked. Bars on every window. No adult in sight. Across the road, water sprays out, wetting another high pink wall and the tarmac road, spraying from small black metal hose-heads poking out from grey gravel every two metres. No grass. No green. Just brick wall, paved stone and gravel, and the tarmac road. A few feet out of reach of the water, a slim man wearing green army boots, green combat trousers, a green jacket with yellow stripes down each arm, a green boxed hat, sits on a plastic garden chair by the side of the road. A few feet behind him, a small garden hut stands on blocks of bricks, the door swung open. The man is staring at the ground between his feet, flicking a long twig at the small indents in the tarmac. In his pocket, his mobile phone vibrates and flashes a yellow light in rhythm, almost visible through the thick green double layer of cotton.