35p

In the little dogshit park outside the youth-club kids are playing football.
My boss Kevin gives them thirty minutes (then back inside to talk, play pool or help make fruit-skewers).
Football: one of the kids, A., a boy about fourteen with cropped red hair and a tough smiling face, plays good, he scores.
A.’s got something attached to his belt, a phone or iThing or similar: he scores then reaches down to the phone-thing, checks it, celebrates the goal.
It’s a close match, A.’s good but so are a lot of them, he doesn’t particularly stand out. But his phone does.
A. makes a run, he checks his phone.
A. tries for a tackle, he checks his phone.
A. gets another goal, he checks his phone.
Thirty minutes: then me and another youth-worker, Tom, shepherd the cool little fuckers back to our youth-club.
Today’s the most humid day of a longhot summer, everyone’s exhausted. A. checks his phone. It’s not a phone.
“…?”
“It’s something the hospital gave him. An ECG, digital green numbers. “I get heart palpitations, pains, occasionally I pass out.”
I mutter “Shit!” or something equally profound.
Inside: a bunch of us sit at a table, small-talk: “Looks like it’s gonna rain.” “Those houses that got burned down got burned down by Callum and the silly fucker got caught!” “No swearing!” “But he is a silly fucker.”
A. pulls a drink out of his pocket, a shimmerycan energy-drink with a ™-name like “BEAST” or “REVV” or “MOUNTAINTOP.”
“Wait,” me and Emma simultaneously say, “aren’t those things banned from here?” Kevin has a Zero Tolerance policy on drugs including legal ones: no “energy-drinks” in the youth-club.
But Kevin’s in the kitchen: our other boss Barbara tells A., “Go on then, just this once.”
He glugs but he won’t escape from me lecture-free: “Kev’s right though: these things are really bad for you.”
He nods, he already knows this: “Caffeine’s a stimulant.”
Tom heads over from the pool-table where he’s been keeping the peace: “Yeah and it’s got loads of side-effects. Go on the Internet and check out caffeine’s side-effects.”
Barbara joins in: “Not just physical effects either, it effects your mind, it can make you anxious and irritable and…”
A. nods, he already knows this: “It gives me heart palpitations.”
“But… That’s…” I gesture hollowly at the machine pinned to his waist.
He nods, he already knows this. “I can’t stop drinking it.”
“It’s addictive,” Emma says shaking her head. “It’s an addictive stimulant drug.”
He nods, he already knows this: “We did that at school,” he glugs again. “Our teacher told us quitting this stuff is as hard as quitting cigarettes.”
“Have you tried?”
“Yeah. I was drinking a litre-bottle every morning for a while, I think the shops aren’t supposed to sell it to us but they do. I managed to cut down though, I don’t drink more than one of these little cans a day now.”
“It’s poison, it’s not even just the caffeine.”
He nods, he already knows this: “There’s taurine and loads of chemicals.”
“Plus all the sugar. When did you start drinking it?”
“Can’t remember,” he lifts the can to his mouth, drains the last drops. “I hated the taste the first time someone gave me some. Then I tried again a few weeks later and I hated it still.” He pulls out a second can from another pocket, opens it. “But then I tried again and it was alright,” he drinks. “And it was really cheap so why not?”
“They sell the stuff cheap to get you hooked.”
He nods, he already knows this: “It’s a gateway drug. That’s what drug-dealers do.”
I gesture mutely at the can in his hand. He nods, he knows.

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