All the other kids are playing football outside on the green, I wish I could go down and play with them. Mum won’t let me out, she says it’s too dangerous out there, I might get taken away by a bad man. I don’t want to get taken away by a bad man but I do want to go outside and play football with the other kids. How come there aren’t any bad men that take them away? It isn’t fair, but she never listens to me! Dad just says you need to do what your mother tells you, he never sticks up for me. All I do is go to school and look out the window.
I watch all the people outside, I know them all but they don’t know me. The man that goes to the shop every evening and comes back with loads of bottles in a bag, the old man that walks his dog every night at five o’clock, the strange looking man that looks like he’s a bit crazy, his hair is all funny and he can’t walk properly. The kids laugh at him when he walks past but he doesn’t even look at them, maybe he’s scared, I’d be scared too, I’m glad that I don’t look crazy. I wonder if he has any friends? He might be like me but at least he can go out for a walk.
I can see into the window of the building across from our flat. There’s a woman cooking dinner, she keeps turning and shouting at someone, then she goes to the window and shouts down to one of the kids on the green. The kid looks up and then runs towards the door of the building. He looks like he’s pissed off, he shouldn’t be, he should know how lucky he is. The other kids carry on playing. I imagine myself down there playing with them but then I stop because it makes me feel sad because it isn’t real.
The crazy man walks back past the kids but they don’t look at him this time. He is wearing the same clothes he always wears: a red jumper and black tracksuit bottoms, he holds a hat in his hand but he never wears it. I don’t know where he goes, I don’t think he has anywhere important to go to. He stops and looks up at the window. I bend down so he can’t see me, why is he looking up at me? I’m too scared to have another look. I wait for five minutes and look again. He’s gone but the red cap is lying on the floor, one of the kids kicks it as they make their way home for dinner.
Should I go down and get it? Why should I go down and get it? I don’t even know who he is or where he lives. He’s crazy too, what if I go and get it and then he finds out and tries to find me? I can’t go and get it anyway, mum won’t let me out downstairs on my own. What if I sneaked out the door? Just for five minutes? She might hear me and then I would never ever be allowed out on my own. I want the red cap, I want to give it back to the man. There has to be a way I can get downstairs.
“John! I’m going out for 10 minutes, I need to get something from the shop, don’t answer the door to anyone.”
“Mum, my friend dropped a red hat downstairs on the way to school, can you pick it up for me so I can give it to him tomorrow?”
“What friend? What’s his name? Why can’t he go and pick it up himself? How do you know it’s his?”
“I saw him drop it.”
“He can pick it up himself, I’m not picking up things from the floor. I’ll be back in 10 minutes.”
The front door slams closed. 10 minutes. I can get downstairs and back again in 10 minutes. I open the door quietly to see if she has gone down in the lift. She’s not there. I don’t have a key though. Nobody will come in five minutes. I pull the door until it’s almost closed, I hope it doesn’t open again. I struggle down the stairs, going as quickly as I can, 10 flights, at the bottom I peer out the door to make sure she isn’t there. She’s gone. I can see the cap, I move towards it, stopping just in front. Looking up at my window it seems so far away, the building seems so big, I feel tiny.
I rush back to the door and up the stairs with the cap in my hand. If she’s back she’ll kill me. The door is still open, I move into my room and put the cap under my bed. Two minutes later I hear her come in the door. Please, please don’t let her have seen me! She goes to the kitchen, she can’t have seen me. The door bangs again, dad is home. Mum shouts at him, she says he is late and she had to go down to the shop on her own to buy some vegetables. Dad agrees with her and says sorry. Why is he so scared of her?
One more look out the window before dinner. I feel guilty, if the man comes back for his cap he won’t find it. Why do I even want it? What if he dropped it on purpose because he knew I saw him looking up at me? Why would he do that? I’m not even going to be able to give it to him. If I throw it out the window to him the other kids will see and then they’ll tell the kids at school that I’m friends with a crazy man. They tease me all the time anyway. I can’t go downstairs and give it to him because mum will kill me, he might kill me too.
I can’t believe I’ve lost it. How could I not even have noticed that it wasn’t in my hand? I must be really going crazy, all these years of people saying I was crazy and now I really am. It’s not on the floor, I’d have seen it, I don’t think anyone would have picked it up, why would they want my tatty old hat? Fuck! I promised her that I would always keep hold of that hat, I’ve let her down. I always used to let her down and now even when she’s gone I’ve let her down. I’m useless, completely useless, they’re all right.
This has been taken from my book The Unwashed which is available on Amazon Kindle below