4thWrite Prize 2021: Inigo Laguda, Hopscotch

Inigo was born in Bedford, raised in Stevenage and currently resides in North London. He graduated in Writing and English literature from Anglia Ruskin University. His poem, Beautiful Tasting Words was a winner in the ‘Edith Sitwell’ Challenge on The Young Poet’s Network. His essays have been published in The MetroNetflix: Bigger PictureWear Your Voice MagazineRacebaitr and Black Youth Project. Follow him at @saveinigo on Twitter and Instagram. 

Unstuck in time, A Black boy raised in a homogeneously white commuter-town hurtles between libidinal incidents that have shaped him. 

I kiss and something spills.

I’m five and we should be playing. Instead her mouth is leaving droplets of Ribena in my philtrum. I lick my lips and long for more strength. We kneel opposite each other on the dark-viridian sofa in her living room. I pick strings of brunette hair from her cheek to see her face clearer. A kaleidoscope is happening in my midriff. It feels like all the fruits I’ve ever enjoyed and all the sweets my Grandma ever encouraged me to eat. It feels like that one time mum made my Vimto a little darker than usual.

She titters before she kisses me again and something sweet radiates from my technicolour diaphragm. The bliss caramelises. A tiny fleck of shame lodges in it. This kiss feels like all the bourbons I ever snuck from the biscuit jar and all the cakes my Grandma urged me to take (even after my mum is cross-armed in the corner saying, “I think he’s had enough”). My ears prick up. I become hypersensitive to the sounds in the kitchen. Her mother drags a metal spoon through a pan of neon-red tomato sauce and alphabet spaghetti. As long as I hear stirring, I won’t be found out.

I kiss and I am older.

I’m being carried away from the classroom of my weird new school in this weird new town. I moved here over a month ago and there are still bugs stomping around my midriff. My face is nestled into a neck. These shoulders are so broad that my arms don’t fit all the way around them. This embrace is like a bank vault door ― a place that guards treasure and harbours secrets. I peel my face back and look up to my uncle.

He is not tethered to me by blood.

The parents and childminders look at us with thin, fretting glances. I am sure they find us strange.
Everything is strange because I am seven.
The degree to which white people find the optics of my uncle and I strange pales in comparison to the carousel of strangeness I experience every day as a child growing in a place where nobody looks like me, that is swamped with nonsensical logic and inconsistent rules (why are orange fruits called “oranges” but lemons aren’t called “yellows” and limes aren’t called “greens?”).

On the upside, I recently learnt the first two periods of the periodic table. Having something educational to obsess over helps quell the seasickness I have about the roaring ocean of things I do not know.
What I do know is: neon is the tenth element and the man currently strapping me into the back of his car is my uncle; a funny man whose blood-dark sofas groan when you climb on them, a firm man who shrunk Big Ben and put it in his living room, an assured man that taught me chess but never lets me win.

He also feeds my shame.

As we approach the dual carriageway, he asks me what he always asks me whenever I see him.

“How’s your girlfriend?”

I scratch my head with both my hands. Every time I hear that question it kneads the importance of romance in the playdough of my mind, yanking it from the recesses and folding it closer to the front. One of the somersaults in my stomach wants me to blurt out, “I’m a kid, and I don’t need a girlfriend.” But he is one of my cool uncles and I look up to him, so I never blurt out anything my tummy tells me to. If he thinks I should have a girlfriend, then I should probably have a girlfriend. I have yet to meet any of his. He teases me about the girl who filled my upper lip with a pool of kissed Ribena. I will never see her again and it is my first ever heartbreak.
Nobody takes it seriously because I am seven.
He chuckles as I try to talk about her so I stop talking about her. I curdle a little. As his car glides down the motorway, I talk about neon instead. It’s raining outside and we’re driving so fast that there are brooks babbling on the outside window. I pick a droplet and will a new river to pirouette along the glass. The window starts to mist and I decide to help it along.

I breathe and I am younger.

“Are you guys behaving?”

Her mother coos from the other room. I hear a scraping union of stainless steel as the metal spoon stirs through pasta sauce and drags along the bottom of the pot. Together, she and I giggle impish giggles and sing-song a fib back to the kitchen. We’re holding hands. She pecks my lips like she’s trying to drill a home in them. We titter with the knowledge that we’re causing trouble. We’re misbehaving but neither of us quite knows how or why. I feel the effervescence of mischief. The adrenaline of cheating consequence. As she pecks, looks at me. She giggles. The bliss begins to set. Sugar-glass. My lips hone in for another.

I kiss and I am older.

I am fourteen and hosting another’s tongue. It flutters in my mouth like it’s searching for the moon. I don’t ask her to slow down, instead I move to match her speed. We both wriggle frantically and I’m convinced this is the way. I must have been doing it wrong before. As our faces press together, her make-up leaves a ghost on my forehead and nose. The next time her mouth is on me, it will be lower, more embarrassing and I’ll be pretending that it’s good. I’ll be smug with the glow of freshly squeezed bragging rights. I’ll be worrying about getting home on time. I’ll be fearing my mother’s wrath.

But for now, I’m two towns south from home, in an empty cinema, on a weekday, in the middle of the night, and she’s grabbing my hand and leading it beneath her bra.

I touch and I am older.

My phone is in my hand and I am the same two towns away. It’s two years later. Night yawns into morning as I walk along the hard shoulder of a dual carriageway. I’m praying to every deity I know that my battery doesn’t die. It’s on the last bar and I’m trying to hedge my bets. My teeth chatter yet I’m sweating from the briskness of my gait. I’m heading to my best friend’s house. She lives one town away from home, and I’m hoping she’ll let me stay with her until 5:30am(ish). By then, the trains will re-alight, I’ll hop one and walk a final 45 minutes from the station to my house. When I get home, I’ll tell my parents that I left my friend’s sleepover early because he and his family are going away on a day trip to the Southend seaside. I’ve already warned them that this may be a possibility via text. I had the foresight
to lay the groundwork of the lie earlier on in the night so it won’t seem so far fetched come the morning.

The truth is, I was with a girl at her sister’s house. We lounged on her floral patterned sofa, her leg snaked around mine. I began to lust for dual certainty. I needed to know that 1) I was good to spend the night and 2) I was good to spend the night with her.
She gently slid her hand between my thighs and said, “It’s bless to stay, my sister loves me”
She answered both parts. I cringed at how foreign the Grime slang sounded as it clattered out her countryside mouth.
I kissed it anyway.
Her sister, who had stepped out to get cigarettes and kebabs, returned to a humid living room and two shirtless sixteen year-olds all over each other. All that happened was chafing.

It wasn’t bless.

I tread and I am younger.

Someone screams, “what a beautiful chocolate man!” from the cluster of kids that I just passed in the cramped hallway of my secondary school. The voice was high in pitch. The entire group laughs. In an exhibition of good sportsmanship, I look back and laugh along with them. I find it funny. The shame gains mass.

I step and I am older.

I am twenty and two towns north from home. My ex-girlfriend lives in this town. I was hopelessly in love with her. She broke up with me on my birthday. Over text. This entire garden city is a reminder of the mushroom-cloud end of our relationship and my piss-poor sense of judgement. I can barely stand to pass this place on the train, let alone step foot in it. However, a girl who’s been pursuing me sent over three nudes and invited me to her house so I’ll grit my teeth through this town-sized memorial of my heartbreak as I approach a naked girl’s house.
As I walk, I imagine what I would say if I was to bump into my ex. I think about the Valentine’s Day treasure hunt I orchestrated for her. I think about when she was curled up and lying on top of me on the train home and the solace I felt from playing in her loosely curled, afro hair.
I think about the game we always played in Tesco where we’d put groceries into random people’s shopping trolleys when they weren’t looking. We’d award each other extra points for big items, multiple items or inventive items (e.g. baby powder in an old man’s shopping basket). I think about that one obnoxious nigga who was talking loudly on the phone about “some bitch” as he gallavanted around the supermarket. I remember that the gaps between his fingers were parched and his lips were desert-cracked so she dropped an entire shelf of chapsticks into his basket whilst he was picking out steaks from the meat aisle. I thought about how I’d never laughed that much in my entire life and how I never won that game again. How I’d never win that game again.
I step out into a junction as a car swings recklessly round the corner and off into the distance. The horn blares and drags me from my day-dreamscape. This surprising reminder of my own ephemerality stops me dead in my tracks and I gingerly look around to see if anybody witnessed how embarrassing it was that I almost died.

I step back and I am younger.

It’s summer and this is my canonical first kiss. I am thirteen and these aren’t bird-pecks. She goes to the same school as the boys from my football club. Before they introduced me to her, they mischievously told me that “she’ll really like me” and I knew exactly what that meant. The implication doesn’t nauseate me yet. The novelty is baked-bread fresh. Her mouth opens and closes in tandem with mine and my nerves evaporate. My eyes are closed and I assume hers are, too. I open mine for a split second just to check. Her tongue butters mine smoothly. It moves like a film prom slow dance. This feels right. And there’s a lot less spit than I thought there would be. There is an apricot glow between us. It’s not quite fire but it feels hot enough to mould me. A sugar, sand timer. I let my tongue spiral behind her lips
one last time before I pull my face away from hers and even though she’s smiling at me and looking in my eyes, it feels like she’s peering through me.

I breathe and I am older.

I lie naked in the bed of the girl who sent me three nudes. As she pants, she fans herself with her hand, humming softly like a neon light. She rolls over, kisses my upper arm and pushes the unkempt, blonde hair out of her eyes as she turns to lie on her back. The laboriousness of her breath is my medallion. I fucked her into a state of non-verbal satisfaction. I’m trying to use nonchalance as a concealer for my cockiness. Smug bliss cascades through the hourglass of my body like sugar-sand. She chugs more air as I play Candy Crush on my phone. I’ve been stuck on this level for ages. As her breathing steadies, she rises, picks up a peach-silk dressing gown and wanders off to the bathroom. After losing a life, I get up too and shout into the hallway.
“Yo, is it cool if I smoke out the window?”
Her voice drifts back: “It’s fine”.
I close the door, lighting a menthol cigarette as my eyes peruse her bedroom.

My gaze is drawn to a vortex on the wall. A calendar opposite her bed. With the cigarette suspended at the corner of my mouth, I unhook the calendar from it’s fixture and hold it in both my hands.

Peering back at me is a shirtless, dark-skinned Black man with a closely shaved head and one hand cradled behind his neck. His brilliant white Calvin Klein boxers peek through the opening of his jeans. The bicep of his bent arm bulges and his muscles ripple off the page. His eyes are daring and luring. He looks much stronger and much more handsome than me. I turn the page to October. Another Black man, with dreadlocks held up in a bun, stands shirtless with his hands in his pockets. He pouts at the camera. His muscles ripple off the page. As I flick through the whole calendar, every month has a muscular Black man. What began as a smirk descends into a sneer. Ash falls from my cigarette and crumbles on the face of “March”. I blow the flecks away and put the calendar back on the wall. I move to the window and flick the cigarette into her neighbour’s garden. I pull on my jeans and slump on the bed, scratching my head with both my hands.
The last few grains of sugary sand falling into salt.

I squirm and I am younger.

Her tongue is lower, I’m embarrassed and there’s a lot more teeth than I thought there would be. I feign a moan of pleasure to cut the quiet of the room and pretend that it’s good. Music is playing from the other room but only the bass survives into this one. My older cousin knocks on the door and his voice seeps through the wood. “You’re going to miss your train, cus.” I feel a rush, like I can’t wait to tell my friends about this but right now, I need to avoid
the wrath of my mother. She abhors tardiness.

I rise and I am younger.

My shorts are around my ankles in front of a hostel hallway full of laughing 12-year-olds.

pants verb
pantsed; pantsing; pantses
transitive verb
UK, informal : To yank down an unsuspecting victim’s trousers to expose their underwear.
The victim is briefly embarrassed whilst the perpetrator (and their spectators) enjoy the buzz of a juvenile schadenfreude.

It is the white boy’s contemporary choice of social terrorism this year. Next year, it will be
“happy slapping”

In an unfortunate marriage of the type of shorts I’m wearing and the particularly aggressive force of the pantsing, my boxers have been torn down to my feet. I panic into frost. After an endless second standing still, I drop my open packet of Kendal’s mint cake, fall to the floor and pull my shirt over my knees. For 10 minutes I sit there, waiting for the group of fifteen children to return to their dorm rooms so I can safely pull my underwear and shorts back around my waist.

But they sit around and joke. They discuss the size of my dick. They switch conversation tracks, talking about the coming summer, the holidays they’re going on, their favourite football players. My knees are pressed to my chest with the plain white t-shirt tenting my body. I scratch my head with both my hands. Neon-red heat flushing my eyes with capacious rage. The sogginess of humiliation. The chrysalis of a soul calcifying. Sugar into salt.

As they talk through me and amongst themselves, I imagine a meteor scorching through the roof. Decimating their end of the hallway. Its heat, boiling them in a flash. Its impact crushing them into a fine pulp. My friend walks out of the room we’re sharing and sees me perched under a stretched out white t-shirt. He turns back into our dorm room sharply before re-bursting into the hallway. He holds up a curtain of a jacket so I can pull my boxers back up.
“You’re all twats!” his voice bounces off their insufferably smug faces. He walks me to our dorm.

In our room, I sob into his shoulder as the door closes behind us.

I hug and I am older.

I’m fifteen and I just scored the winning goal for interform football on the school astroturf. I’m patted on the back and cheered as I leave the astroturf and enter the P.E building. One of the girls from the Lake District hallway catches me as I reach the door to the boy’s changing rooms. She’s walking in a clique and somehow manages to seamlessly weave together the news of my sports victory and the size of my dick into a sentence that makes the rest of her group laugh. One of the girls bites her lip. I smile at her even though I feel a forming dune. Their laughter trails off into the corridor’s event horizon.

The girl from the Lake District has been talking about my dick for years now. Whenever she jokes, I go toe-to-toe with the urge to mock her acne. Even though it only seems like mild rosacea, I know it’s a sore spot for her because she wears so much make-up that it makes the collar on all her clothes look like they’ve been dusted with icing sugar. I’ve also realised that the aggressiveness of her jokes are directly proportional to the size of her audience. The bigger the crowd, the more outrageous the comment. But whenever we find ourselves alone, she doesn’t mention my dick at all. She laughs at all my jokes and blushes and stumbles awkwardly through basic conversation.

I do not know if she likes me or is scared of me.

I push and I’m the same.

I’m sitting in a park on a Friday night. It’s a few weeks later. The girl who bit her lip is burrowing into my neck like she’s trying to find a home there. In the distance, teenagers are drinking, smoking, and smashing bottles on the pavement. A few boys have gathered in a circle to drop a sixteen over grime instrumentals. She pulls the cord on the waist of my
tracksuit bottoms as we sit in the secluded sanctum of a children’s climbing frame. She reaches in, delves for a moment and gasps. She giggles. “So, it’s true,” she says.

I smirk and I am younger.

I linger in the boy’s changing room with darting eyes. The sharp sound of flesh being slapped rings from behind me, followed by a chorus of laughter. I turn around and one of the boys is sitting shirtless with a red, hand-shaped mark seared into his pale skin. He cradles his chest, hisses, and rocks too and fro.
The commotion is a perfect opening.
I quickly pull my sports shorts down, grab the trousers closest to my rucksack and feed one leg in followed by the other. The trousers seem short at the bottom and I struggle to zip them up. As I fumble, the boy whose school belongings are next to mine starts to sift through his cluttered pile of clothes. He finally turns to me and says, “I think you’re wearing my trousers.” I sigh. The thought of leaving myself exposed again terrifies me. I take off the boy’s trousers and one of the Lake District boys smells my fear. He looks at me and beckons others. Before long, there’s a mini commotion of whistles, cheers and laughs. I move to put one leg into my own pair of trousers as quickly, desperately hoping that my dick doesn’t slip down the side of my leg and out of my boxers. It doesn’t. I feel myself on the home-stretch as the boys continue to make noises behind me. As I move to slide my second leg into my trousers, with the nectar of victory feeling positively within my grasp, I realise that in my haste, I’ve put my trousers on back to front.

I sigh and I am older.

I’m pulled into the bathroom of a sixth form house party. A Kings of Lyon song gallops through the walls. The red-checkered shirt, tan chinos and Micheal Cera obsession is my “not like other Blacks” uniform and this girl with brilliant blue eyes who barely ever speaks to me when we’re in the common room starts to undo my shirt buttons.

She kisses me and I mistake her haste for passion. Her mouth fills mine with saliva that faintly tastes of mixed fruit cider.

She’s been flirting with me all night via the revolutionary method of seduction that is stealing my hat and sitting on my lap. It’s a fedora and I’m not attracted to her. But the impressed nods that’ve been broadcast to me by indie friends, all because she’s been intermittently using my thighs as her throne, make me think I should be attracted to her.

The attraction I ought to have is why I followed her to the bathroom. It compels me to watch her now, as she takes off her clothes. Over the next five minutes, it will lead me to feign excitement and pretend to climax due to the aggressiveness of her motions thinning the skin of my knees as they rub against the damp, linoleum floor.
We will return to barely speaking to each other again and I will question whether any of it
even happened.

But right now, the attraction that I ought to have tells me to watch.

I look and I am younger.

I am sixteen and sitting with a group of friends in the cafeteria. The girl who always jokes about my dick is with us. Lately, she’s been commenting on my “chocolateness”. I no longer find it funny and my patience has calcified towards her. Eventually and inevitably, she makes a joke about my dick. I roar past insulting her acne.
“You know, you talk about my dick so fucking much for someone who ain’t trying to fuck it.”
The table falls silent. I stand up, kick my chair back and reach into my pocket like I’m grabbing the hilt of a sheathed dagger. “If you want it so bad, let’s go.” She remains seated. It’s the last time she jokes about my dick

(to my face).

I storm and I am younger.

I’m eight and kicking a ball hard against a wall.

My whole world is in pockets. My home. My school. My friend’s homes. My auntie’s and uncle’s homes. My grandma and grandad’s home. And all the parks I bungee jump to from the familiar buildings I know. We’re in the park near my house. There’s a basketball hoop and a solitary, brick wall here. Since the dawn of time, this wall has stood here, with white goalposts spray-painted on it. Me and the kids from around the street rarely use the graffiti goal. We just use the wall to play fives.

Across the green, is an alley.

This alley, carved out by the fences of the nearby houses and concealed by bushes, and miniature apple trees, is a gateway to another universe. I have always been curious about it. Frightened of it. And never courageous enough to journey to it. Never out of pocket.

One of the kids from around the street kicks my ball against the wall so hard that skims along the green like a flat stone on water. The ball’s speed peters out near the alleyway. The kids from around the street look at each other and flee. I call them jerks as they cackle away.

I approach the alley’s gaping mouth. This is how Aladdin must have felt as he entered the cave of wonders. The potential bedlam of the alley feels puny in comparison to the wrath my mother will visit upon me if I return to her house without the ball she bought me. I pick it up and expect a shimmering chaos in front of me, but it’s just an alley – with the same bushes, apple trees and fences that you can see from the green. There are also two people.

A girl with gangly, ginger hair is kneeling in front of a standing boy. They’re teens. Or adolescents. Or adults. All I know is that they’re bigger than me and everybody who is bigger than me is a functional adult because I am eight. His reddening face is parallel to the sky and he sounds like he’s in discomfort. Her head bobs towards his unbuckled jeans and it looks ridiculous. I giggle and his head plummets like it’s being plucked from a make-believe land. He opens his eyes and hoists his jeans up sharply. She falls backwards and wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. She turns from me. He shouts at me. I don’t know what the word means. But I understand rage.

I leave and I am older.

I boil beneath my skin, stomping down the stairs as I put on my shirt. She hears me leaving and runs from the bathroom. Her peach-silk dressing gown flowing behind her. I can’t articulate what’s wrong. All I want to do is take the storm outside I do not know how to say that I feel bone-deep sickness from the straw that I have in my flesh and how everyone who slurps from it leaves me with a more distorted image of myself. I feel silly and I want to sneak groceries in unsuspecting baskets one more time. Why am I here? Her house’s front door is next to the staircase and she stops me on the fourth stair down as I put my shoes on. She asks me what’s wrong. She asks me like she’s hiding something my anger froths I know that she won’t understand because I don’t understand she tries to calm me down anyway I don’t know what I’m saying but we fight our voices loud enough to animate her dogs into defence mode they hop up from the comfort of the leather living room sofa and stand snarling behind the safety gate I don’t hear a single thing that she says over the boom of my heart against inside of my cheeks I need to get out or something needs to go out or someone needs to leave and I don’t know what I say but her mouth ends up on mine she lets go of the dressing
gown she presses her front on my dick like she’s trying to find a home on it I kick off the shoe that’s been halfway on my foot for the last 15 minutes pull her waist towards mine our tongues fight I bite her bottom lip and pull as if I’m trying to tear it from bone she mistakes my ire for passion I am mistaken I brandish my dick and thrust to be elsewhere to unbolt a portal from my hips and pass into a dimension where love isn’t exchanges that become sordid so fast they snatch my breath or gunpowder bursts of bliss that fizzle out or the air that hisses from overworked muscles or the compliments on the cuisine of my skin or an avenue into self discovery for others I thrust for every time I was see-through a whole me looking like puddles of syrup on beds on stairs in climbing frames on sofas in mouths I thrust
vengeance I thrust because all that matters is the destination of my thrusts I thrust because she told me her mum will be home in half an hour and my calcified parts want to yank down a fraying thread of chaos I thrust to make sense I thrust and scratch my head with both my hands I thrust and jostle a loose tear free from behind my eye I thrust because I’m great at it I thrust down a path that has never failed to sate relieve aid quell know accept heal me

I thrust and it doesn’t.

I thrust and something clicks.

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