THE FAM IS pretty industrious. They have a little generator so they can watch TV. There’s even a small bar fridge. The other room is Mama and Papa Lads bedroom. I don’t put my head in there. I want to find out what they’re doing down here and how long they’ve been living here, but most of all—how the fuck do they keep their trainers so pristinely fucking clean?

All their TN trainers are lined up inside. Papa Lad gestures for me to sit next to him on a black cushion with a big white Nike tick on it. He nods to the youngest eshay son and he goes off rat-tail swingin’ and comes back with a blowtorch. Papa Lad takes the torch, which is like something a chef would use to crème his Broulee. He ignites it and goes to work on the pipe, cleaning off all the accumulated crap from three days of smoking. He opens a flap and the burnt-off smoke is directed outwards. There’s real artistry to Papa Lad’s movements. He’s exceptionally graceful, with slinky rolls of the wrist to control the flame and direction of the smoke. The old man with tricks up his sleeve. Mama Lad crawls, (everyone has to crawl) to the bar fridge and gets out five cans of coke and hands them out. Every tribe has their own ritual. I’m part and parcel in theirs.

The rock Papa Lad drops in the pipe is the size of a smartie. It takes almost a minute of direct heat to puddle down. Shard is their religion and this is their ceremony. I’m last to receive the goods. The pipe goes around twice and it’s better than anything I’ve ever puffed. I feel my brain being well and truly cooked. It occurs to me that I’ve been awake for nearly three days and that this whole situation might not even be real. Imagined nightmares playing out in the depths of a frazzled mind.

I ask the youngest lad why they live down here. He does me the courtesy of keeping the pigeon to a minimum.

‘Up top ackjays will get us so we keep the fam tight down here. We earn all day then come home.’

The other son interjects. His brightly lit eyeballs punch through the atmosphere.

‘Fuck oath okeblay. The Fam got warrants from here ta Tassie and back. Hunt in pairs, sticky fingers. Adlays rep the loop.’

The brothers nod simultaneously and their rat-tails bop. Mama Lad jumps in on the convo.

‘Life is easier down here for the Fam. Up there we’re treated like atrays. Yeah we ackray up a storm but from the get go the Fam didn’t have much choice. Thievin is all we otgay and livin below the city is how we stay alive.’

I have to ask about their trainer upkeep.

‘I couldn’t help noticing how clean your trainers are. It’s mad filthy out there. How do you keep em so white?’

The Fam laugh and Papa Lad takes the floor.

‘That fast running water in the hole in the concrete has many uses for the Fam. TN cleaning is number one on the istlay adlay.’

They tell me how they have a special entrance to their spot and nobody can find them. And I panic. I look around at the scarred faces and see how dead their eyes are. I can’t imagine them in the sunlight. I’m welcomed, but I wonder how long it will take till they turn on me. But why would they? I brought the pipe and we share rack skills. The tent seems to be getting smaller. My throat is dry. I do a quick round the tent eye contact. The deadness isn’t there anymore. Where did it go? Mama Lad looks at me, raises her painted eyebrows and pats me on the arm.

‘You alright young’un? Here, av another burn.’