‘Do you know who Pewdiepie is?’ Middle child looked up at the dad, his face intent as if he was testing him.
‘No.’ The dad didn’t look down at middle child. He knew it was a test and he didn’t have the patience this morning.
‘Do you know who KSI is?’
‘No. Wait, did he do the boxing match?’
‘Yes, but do you know who he is?’
‘Are you Ali A?’
‘You know I’m not.’
‘You might be.’
‘Don’t be silly.’ The dad had no patience this spring morning and he still wouldn’t look down at middle. The sun was low, making long shadows amongst the piles of pink and white blossom that had drifted against garden walls and in gutters, piling up against the kerbs and hiding behind trees. The dad squinted ahead, his frown parallel with his grimace. ‘Who are all these people anyway?’ he asked. The school run felt long this morning and he might have growled. He knew he probably sounded prudish and old. He probably sounded like his own dad. The boys’ grandad. He sounded like a grandad. The dad was sighing even before middle child answered.
‘YouTubers,’ he said.
‘Oh.’ The dad was instantly not interested. Whenever the family were at home he spent all of his time chasing all three boys off one screen or another. PC, to tablet, to phone, to console, and all the speakers on all screens chirping and screaming as ridiculous, screen-boxed young men clamoured for pre-teens’ millisecond attention spans.
Youngest piped up, ‘Don’t you like them?’ His face was scrunched and serious as he looked up at the dad. The dad finally looked down and thought that the youngest’s face must have looked something like a peasant faced with a heretic who had just denied the existence of God and then spat on his daughter. The dad wondered if the youngest might want to burn him for a witch.
But he didn’t care. The sight of the YouTubers squeezed onto the screens, all of them framed by their ridiculous gaming chairs as if they were all alone on a Premiere League bench. Vivid images of toxic, shiny-plastic reds, blues and greens dripped into the dad’s head. He sighed again. There was something in the air this morning that had stripped him of his patience. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Not at all,’ he added. Then, just because he felt like bad dad this morning he finished with, ‘I’d rather watch jam jars. Empty ones.’
The dad’s impatience sailed over the boys’ heads like so much fluff.
‘Woah!’ middle child shouted in a ridiculous voice that the dad had to assume was an attempt to be ‘street’. ‘Bad-man-ting! Old man’s got some swag!’ This far from school there were few mums to hear but one or two turned their heads. The dad wasn’t bothered this morning.
‘Eh?’ he said.
‘What you chattin’, fam! Gotta get a squad and know what’s Gucci, bruh.’
‘Have you been listening to your brother again? I’ve told you about listening to your brother.’ The dad knew that all ‘street’ terms came from the eldest who had had some of the restrictions on his own YouTube watching lifted. This had been on the promise of not sharing with his brothers. Promises, promises…
‘Nah, bruh. Seen it meself. It’s Gucci. I’ve told George to sip tea and skurt.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ The dad ignored youngest child’s giggles.
‘Then you’ll have to just YouTube.’
‘Hundo does what?’
‘You sure, bruh?’
‘Just YouTube. It’s lit.’
‘It’s straight fire,’ youngest added.
‘Don’t use that one,’ middle said to youngest, while the dad looked from one to the other wondering if he’d missed a swear word. He’d like to hear a swear word right now; something clear and simple, and, above all, something he could tell them off for. He felt like telling them off this morning.
‘Why?’ youngest asked.
‘That’s low key,’ middle answered, their conversation quick and easy as if the dad was not even there. ‘You’ll make the bad man salty.’
Youngest suddenly swapped expressions with the dad; now youngest was confused while the dad’s face broke into a smile. ‘I know ‘salty’!’ the dad said. ‘It means the bad man gets annoyed.’ His smile slipped. ‘Wait, am I the bad man?’ He looked accusingly at middle, who nodded and added a ‘Hundo P mad-ting,’ for confirmation.
‘No I’m not,’ the dad said, unable to keep the disappointment from his voice. He knew that they knew he was in a grumpy mood this morning, and they probably knew he was looking for an excuse to tell them off for something, and even though they’d probably given him the opportunity right here, right now, he was just too unsure whether or not they were actually insulting him. Bad man could easily mean cool, he reasoned. Michael Jackson’s version of bad was certainly cool. Although Michael Jackson’s version of everything seemed pretty bad by the end… He thought about mentioning Michael Jackson but assumed they wouldn’t know who he was, so didn’t bother; he was already on the losing side of what was swag-hot and what was swag-not.
They continued in silence for a street, the dad unable to stop a smirk at what he thought was his own clever word play as the swag-hot/swag-not phrase bounced around his head. He opened his mouth to share. He shut it again just in time. Sometimes, the dad actually knew when to shut up.
‘What about the Netflix one?’ youngest asked. ‘Do you know that?’
‘That’s low key again, bruh,’ middle snapped.
The dad stayed quiet, his smirk gone. He knew that one.
‘Can we chill?’ youngest asked. His naïve smile did what it always did: melted the dad and made the brothers sick. And not the good sick.
‘Of course we can,’ said the dad.
‘Eurgh!’ middle shouted. ‘Gross!’ A few of the school run mums – so many more of them this close to school - looked over, looked away again.
‘I know that one,’ the dad said. ‘And anyway, it’s not gross.’ He looked down to the youngest and added, ‘Movie night tonight.’
Youngest skipped a couple of steps ahead. ‘Popcorn?’ he asked over his shoulder.
‘Yep. Bad-man-ting gonna get all the flavours.’ The closest mums looked and laughed, a couple of them even smirked at middle child’s suddenly beetroot face. A parent win wasn’t something to let go without a little celebration.
Youngest disappeared amongst his friends as Middle groaned. ‘You’re so embarrassing.’
‘I’m supposed to be!’
‘You could take a break.’
‘And I thought you were a smooth criminal.’ Middle turned the corner, headed to the school gates, jogging to meet his friends.
‘Wait!’ the dad called. ‘You know Michael Jackson?’
Middle turned back. ‘Well, duh!’ Some things never changed, the dad realised as he watched middle turn away and run into the playground. His squad gathered and they ran to the edge of the playground, a ball appearing as if from nowhere and middle straight on to it, turning and bending a Gucci shot at the fence.