Extracts

Read an extract from Fire Rush by Jacqueline Crooks

Dive into Fire Rush by Jacqueline Crooks, an electrifying state-of-the-nation novel and an unforgettable portrait of Black womanhood that begins in 1970s London.

Jacqueline Crooks
Fire Rush by Jacqueline Crooks


Love changes everything in Fire Rush, the unforgettable novel about Black womanhood from Jacqueline Crooks, chosen as a top 10 debut novel in 2023 by the Observer.

Main character Yamaye lives for the weekend, when she can go raving with her friends at The Crypt. In the dance-hall darkness, dub is the music of her soul, her friendships, her ancestry.

Everything changes when she meets Moose, the man she falls deeply in love with, and who offers her the chance of freedom and escape.

When their relationship is brutally cut short, Yamaye goes on a dramatic journey of transformation, where past and present collide with explosive consequences.

Below, read an extract from Fire Rush.

Chapter One

One o’clock in the morning. Hotfoot, all three of us. Stepping where we had no business.

Tombstone Estate gyals – Caribbean, Irish. No one expects better. We ain’t IT. But we sure ain’t shit. All we need is a likkle bit of riddim. So we go inna it, deep, into the dance-hall Crypt.

‘Come, nuh,’ Asase calls. Pushing her way down the stairs. High- priestess glow. Red Ankara cloth wound round her hair like a towering inferno.

Asase is the oldest, twenty-five, a year older than me and Rumer. Rumer is nothing like her red-haired Irish family. My gyal is dance-taut, tall with a rubber-ribbed belly – androgynous. Blonde, she dyes her hair Obsidian Black, stuffs it underneath a knitted red-gold-green Rasta cap.

We squeeze past chirpsing men. Stand in front of the arched wooden door. Suck in the last of the O2.

I follow Asase inside. My gyal follows the smoke. Beneath barrel- vaulted arches. Dance-hall darkness. Pile-up bodies. Ganja clouds. We lean against flesh-eating limestone walls near two coffin-sized speaker boxes that vibrate us into the underworld.

Runnings: the scene goes the usual way; a Rasta pulls Rumer which is good because that’s the only kinda man she’ll dance with.

‘They’re respectful, they’re my bredren,’ she says. A sweet bwoy pulls Asase.

Testing, testing: one, two, three. Lights go on for a few seconds.

Only one type of man left for me.

A tall, light-skinned man, face the colour of wet sand, stalked green eyes, standing in his silence. Man pulls me with not so much as a ‘What’s up. Wanna dance?’ Nuth’n.

Watchya: there’re only three kinda man-pulls – usually from behind.

Pull 1: grip above elbow; pull-back-bend-ram-hard-rubbing. Options: forget it!

Pull 2: hand-grip-spin-face-to-face-body-check-ram-rub. Options: none. Best give up your body for one tune – at the very least.

Pull 3: soft bwoy tap on shoulder. Options: nuff.

This man’s trouble. I can tell by his use of Pull 1 and the size of his belt and the way he jooks himself into my centre of gravity. His body’s not tuned for riddims; it’s flexed for the war zones of history, the battles of the streets.

I tip my arse, inch my pubic bone away from his hard-on.

He puts his mouth to my ear, warm breath: ‘Simmer down.’ Flattens his palms against my batty, pulls me back in.

Version after B-side instrumental version, he grips me. Wordless. We’re in a crypt in the thick of duppy dust; lost rivers, streams and sewers bubbling beneath us.

Smoke’s taken over, thickening, choking me. And I wonder why I attract these kinda men, who are just like my father. Men who strike fear in people just by the way they stand. Skewering the silence with their stares.

Four dances in before I make my soft-gyal excuse, mouth ‘Gotta go. Toilet.’

*

Someone takes my hand. Eases me around.

I wipe sweat from my eyes, look up. Dim lights from the decks flash on and off and I make out a face that’s a smile resting on rocks. He’s looking down at me as if he’s known me from beyond time, cables of blue smoke twisting above his head.

He puts his mouth to my ear, says his name is Moose.

‘OK for this dance?’ he asks.

I see a wide-bridged nose, thick lips scrunched like he’s chewing his thoughts. Yeah, he’s one of dem men whose beauty is a throwback from the past.

‘I’m Yamaye,’ I say and give him the nod.

He positions a thigh between my legs. Puts his arms on my shoulders, keeps his crotch a polite distance away from my pubic bone. Electric guitars riffing. Groaning vocals. We dance, rub-a- dub-squatting, and his cheek grazes mine. Drifting scents of vanilla, cocoa beans and pine trees waft off his neck. I tremble as we sway under the limewashed roof.

With my body pressed against his, I feel the ancient songs vibrating beneath his ribs: Tambu, Sa Leone, Jawbone. This man’s different. From the electricity running through me, I feel like my ending is gonna be charged inna his fate.

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