"I like apples."
The kid is jittery, nervous. I stare at the wall opposite and say nothing.
My friend grins. "Oh yeah?"
"Yeah, yeah. Gimme one of those." Eyes darting, he hesitantly holds out a fist of crumpled notes, like a peace offering to a savage god. In return, he receives an apple.
There's something strange about the way it's handed over. The weight seems wrong. The green skin shines with gaudy temptation. I stare at the wall and continue to say nothing.
The kid makes the apple disappear into his hoodie and with a jerky nod, stumbles quickly from the scene, hands deep in pockets and head bent against an invisible storm.
Oh it's there alright. Even though you can't see it clearly, the problem's there.
My friend flashes me a thumbs-up. "Another successful sale!"
I finally look away from the wall. "Great. What d'you do with the money? Buy more apples? Gonna invest in an orchard some time soon?"
"Yeah, real funny." He kicks his way down the alley and bright drops of water flash from murky puddles. I lever myself up and follow, yawning and rolling my head to hear the crackle of my neck vertebrae.
The walls are daubed with vicious, spiky graffiti. Someone had begun to create a long, snaking dragon across the whole lot, but only the outline of the creature had been sprayed. Already it snared a challenge to the world. Already so angry.
"Hey, you want an apple?"
An old lady is peering nervously out at us from her front window, timid and pale as her lace curtains. My friend snarls demoniacally at her, and she vanishes so quickly she might have evaporated.
He grins again, kicks a metal dustbin and sends it rattling and flying across the street. A small breeze spins the litter in a miniature whirlwind. Everything else is still. We sit in the eye of the storm and the world falls down around us.
The cops don't come here any more. A police car strolls down the street once in a while to make it look like they're doing something, but that's about it.
"Hey," he says again, "d'you wanna crash Sara's place? Her parents are never home."
"Had enough selling apples?"
"Fuck you. Alright? Fuck you." He prowls away angrily.
I watch him leave dispassionately. There are some things you can get away with saying here, I realised. I'm treading the borderline. The borderline between looking the other way and keeping your head down, or opening your mouth and getting your head ventilated.
On the wall, someone has scrawled 'I like apples' in desperate font across the bricks. Below it, some smart arse has added 'Yeah? Well I like girls'. I laugh, or make a noise of despair, or something. I don't remember any more.
The wind lifts and drags my fringe and the smell of apples across my face. Somewhere, a scrawny kid is digging and tearing away at the flesh of a green fruit, with fingers and teeth, seeking the thing inside, which could be icing sugar, or white glitter, or powdery snow. But it isn't.
Who started it?
No one speaks, no one dares to even look another in the eye in case they face the blame.
Maybe the problem will dissipate, and go away.