They called him Striking Jonathan, which was funny, in retrospect, when they had to pull him away from a street-brawl, and tragic when they discovered that he learned to fight from his father; but at least they knew he was like them. When pressed for details from the younger kids - the ones that hadn't learned about 'couth' yet, or keeping their mouths shut - he'd just say:
"Childhood is nothing but a story to tell when you're older," which didn't disregard the fact that you are who you know; birds of a feather flock together - and they were all latchkey kids, left to their own neglect until their parents made an appearance and took over for them.
They figured, in the end, that that was why he left; took to standing on street corners instead of door-steps, until the day he got in a car and didn't return.
"D'you reckon he lost his virginity before or after he got in a car?" Beatnik - Beat Nick (their names were a part of their lives, and their lives a part of their name) - is the one to ask.
"Before, otherwise why else he would 'av left? He lost it here, an' now he's out looking for what makes him feel good." That's Tomented - say it out-loud - and that ain't no lie.
When they see him again, he's in the newspapers with a head-shot picture underneath the headline HOMELESS MAN MURDERED. There’s another picture of his crime-scene corpse inside, as if they’d deliberately been arranged as before and after photos.
"He weren't no man," Tomented snarls. "He was barely eighteen."
They mourn him, but Beatnik reckons there's a high note somewhere, even if it is doused in melancholy. It's not bright enough to burn, though, not for Tom, when Nick says, "Maybe he found what he was lookin' for."
"Bullshit," howls his friend. "Bullshit. He didn't wanna be dead. We're just kids... we don't wanna be dead."
Beatnik shrugs and scuffs his foot against the kerb. Across the road there's girls playing jump-rope and singing. They could be from anywhere with their scuffed knees and pastel-pink dresses; they're a sepia photo waiting to happen, a fresh burst of resolute childhood against a grainy tenement-building back-drop.
He knows that not one of them will ever be a model: but in a few years’ time they might get a mug-shot, or else be a chalk out-line for some new generation of girls to skip over.
Tomented briefly thinks about Striking Jonathan’s father – and then he really does think about striking Jonathan’s father. What sort of parent lets their kid get abused by other people – used, and thrown away; the fucker couldn’t even let him know that it was only right for him to hit him, and now Jonathan was fucking dead.
It’s Beatnik who throws Tomented out of his seething stupor, with: “So, who d’you reckon we’ll see in the papers next month?”
He runs, laughing and yelling, as Tomented chases him, shouting “you’re gonna live up to your name!”