Respectable businessman James isn’t the type who usually ends up on a community service order, but streetwise graffiti artist Ky is more than happy to show him the ropes. Attraction blossoms over the municipal flowerbeds, but what future could there possibly be for two so very different men?
I hand James his Council issue work gloves and he looks relieved to have something to do. “We’ll plant a strip of red first, all along the top of the beds.”
James nods and goes to pick up a tray while I stroll over to the first bed. The soil’s all been prepped by Bert during the week so it’s child’s play digging into the soft loam.
James makes an impatient noise in his throat. “Can’t you go a bit faster than that?”
“What’s the rush? We’ve got all morning. May as well pace ourselves.”
“It’s not very efficient, having me sitting around waiting for you. Have you got a second trowel?”
I sit back on my haunches and stare up at him. “It’s not like you get time off for getting the job done sooner, is it? How many hours did you end up with?”
He mutters something I don’t catch, what with the rumble of traffic circling around us.
“C’mon, mate. I know you’re not here out of the goodness of your heart or nothing. You fucked up and got caught, same as I did. What was it? Thieving?”
He gives me this wounded look. “No!” Then he starts looking worried again. “Is that what you’re here for?”
“Nah, not my style. I’m an artist. You’ve probably seen some of my work around.”
“In galleries? What’s your name again?” He looks really confused now and I have to bend over to hide my smile.
“Ky Baptiste, but I don’t sign all my pieces.” I look up again and I can see him concentrating. His brow goes all furrowed and he gets this serious look in his eyes. I notice they’re a kind of greeny-grey in the sunshine, which is weird coz they looked grey in the van. I like ‘em better out here.
“I don’t think I’m familiar with your work. Sorry.”
“I’m sure you’ve seen some around the town. I don’t get into galleries—we can’t all be media tarts like Banksy, you know.”
I watch understanding dawn, and with it a trace of disdain. “Oh, so you’re a graffiti artist.” The way he pronounces the last word totally rubs me up the wrong way.
“Yeah, I’m a bloody artist, all right? Not some little hoodie going around tagging lamp posts or whatever you’re thinking.” Bingo. He gets this shifty look and I know that’s exactly what he had me down as. “I design my works. Cut all my own stencils. They’re political, making a point about this fucked-up world we live in, all right?”
“Okay, calm down. I get your point.”
I see him eyeing my trowel warily and I realise I’ve been waving it about as I’ve been speaking. I go back to digging my holes and after a minute or so he drops to his knees beside me and beds in one of the first plants.
“So, what piece aggravated the powers-that-be enough to send you here?”
I wonder if he’s trying to be funny, but he looks and sounds genuine enough. Not sure I wanna confide in him just yet, though. “I’ll tell you, but first you gotta say why you’re here working with us grunts rather than paying the fine. ‘S only fair.”
He flushes again, just those little spots of colour airbrushed over his cheekbones, but they’re a dead giveaway. “It wasn’t given as an option. I think they wanted to make an example of me.”
“Oh, yeah? Go on, what’d you do?”
All of a sudden he’s absolutely bloody fascinated by the geranium in his hands. “Nothing that terrible. I was somewhat…under the influence.”
“C’mon, you can tell me. Then I’ll tell you about the time I was so wasted I tried to snog my Mum’s boyfriend. That was seriously cringe-worthy. And painful,” I add, rubbing my jaw and remembering the punch that landed there. “At least Mum kicked him out after that. He might have been hot as hell, but he was a proper arsehole.”
James is staring at me and I realise I’ve just outed myself. Well, he must have realised, surely? I mean, I’m not wearing my Champion Cocksucker T-shirt or anything, but I ain’t exactly subtle.
He gets this determined look, like he’s bracing himself. “I insulted a police officer. It was an accident. Not the way I usually behave. I, uh, it was my birthday party and things had got pretty wild. I thought they were the stripper. I tried to help them off with their uniform and made some suggestions. Allegedly. They weren’t best pleased.”
God, we’re not still playing the pronoun game, are we? “Was he worth it?” I ask. “Was he fit?”
James eyes go all wide.
“Yeah mate, I can tell. That’s why Bert stuck you with me. Reckon he must be trying to matchmake or summat, the soppy old git. ‘Sides, I could tell by the way you checked me out. You might as well’ve hung a sign around your neck.”
His eyes crinkle up at the edges and I decide I like it when he smiles.
“Fuck you,” he says, but there’s no anger behind it.
“That a promise?” I bend over further and stick my arse in the air. Yeah, I know I’m in the middle of a bloody roundabout on a Saturday morning, but I’m just planting stuff, right? “Fancy a bit of uphill gardening, do you?”
James shakes his head and chuckles. It’s a warm sound and I want to hear it again.
“Get back to work,” he orders. “Cheeky beggar.”
“Aye aye, sir!”