Billy never wanted to be a rebel. He wanted a quiet life. Playing footy with his mates in the street, wandering down by the river after dark, making campfires and playing on the swing rope over the water on long summer evenings when the flies buzzed in clouds.
But his family was known in the district for generations of crime. It was a proud tradition of robbing, stealing and general thuggery. Kids at his school steered clear of Billy, scared of what might happen if they got involved in some way with his infamous family.
He was inducted early. Encouraged to pick pockets in the town. Wandering amongst shoppers at the age of eight, trying to lift purses out of open handbags. But he was no Artful Dodger.
"Oi, nipper!" Shouted one woman, after him when he slipped his hand into her bag in the newsagents. "Come back here now, thief," she shrieked, her red hair sticking out in all directions. Terrified he’d catch her, Billy dropped the purse and scarpered.
Heart thumping out of his chest, he raced down the street as fast as his wee legs would carry him, afraid he’d trip and fall, for the Polis to catch him. He didn’t know he wouldn’t get handcuffed at his age, but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t ever the life he wanted.
In secret after dark, he’d pull out his drawing book and sketch designs of things he wanted to make. It had to be kept hidden though. His brothers would think he was a right fanny if they found out he had been drawing. He’d had to nick the notepad from the art shop. He felt guilty at that, but there was no way he could ever have just bought one.
His birthday presents were always stolen goods. He hadn’t realised it at first, but living where he did, you’d generally not get the designer clothes, watches and electronics that he was given. He had to smile and say thanks though, even if he didn’t want to touch the stuff.
Coming up to his 15th birthday, grandad said it was ‘about time our Billy got properly involved in the family trade.’ His stomach sank to his boots.
"Oh no, what now," he muttered under his breath. He tried to make himself invisible, pressed against the wall and edging out of the room.
"Billy!" Grandad’s sharp voice caught him. "Where do think your goin?"
"Er, nowhere grandad, just needed a pee, that’s all." There was truth in it. He almost wet himself when he realised the day had come.
They arranged a night job. A robbery in the centre of town. Billy’s job was to keep watch. Sit in the car, with tights over his head so he couldn’t be seen, and be the lookout.
"If you see any signs of the Polis, you hit the horn," said grandad, menace in his voice.
Billy couldn’t eat all day and it was just as well as, his gut churned with anxiety. It was hard to see through the nylon mesh of the tights, too. He glanced in the mirror startled at the squashed face under American Tan which stared back at him. Black would have been better he thought. Then he realised it was his own reflection.
Suddenly flashing lights and sirens came out of nowhere and Billy forgot what he was supposed to do. He opened the door and just ran. Trainers pounding the pavement, catching an edge, sending him crashing painfully on to concrete. Before he had time to rip the tights off his head, a uniformed woman grabbed his arm and pulled it up his back. He’d never been so scared in his life.
He was cautioned, it being his first offence, but his brother and grandad were imprisoned for attempted robbery. The experience made Billy sick and he knew he couldn’t go through life feeling like this. Strangely, the tights over his head had made him think about what he really wanted to do, but had been too afraid to break away from the family provenance.
After a few weeks, he visited his grandad in prison. As he approached the visiting room, he didn’t actually feel any worse than he had the night of his crime induction.
"I’ve decided grandad. I’m going to college. I’m not cut out for a robbing life. I’m going to study fashion and textiles."
His grandad looked at him, gobsmacked. A range of expressions spread across his face, starting with fury, then stretching into what weirdly looked like a grin. His jowls shook and his gold tooth flashed through his open jaws. Billy realised he was laughing. It started like a rumble and got louder until it was a roar. The boy didn’t know how to react.
"Billy, lad. You’re the bravest of us all. I never had you cut out to be the rebel, but here you are. Going to be the first fashion designer in the family. Well, I’d never have thought it. You’ve got guts after all, son."
Grandad grasped him in a bear hug. His strong hairy arms, crushing grip and the smell of tobacco, comforting in a way. Relieved, Billy felt the scratchy fabric of the prison uniform against his face and realised he could do a lot to improve on that for a start...