The lights in the building below shine brightly. People walk around their flats, ushering children into bedrooms, cooking dinners, watching television. A boyfriend and girlfriend share a kiss, oblivious to the man high above watching them. He sighs deeply to himself, looking back to make sure the dog is still there. The dog is always there, he doesn’t need to check. Socrates is his girlfriend, mother, father, wife all rolled into one. When he’s sad he talks to him, when he’s lonely he sleeps next to the dog, when there’s trouble the dog is ready to defend him. He wipes a tear from his eye, angry at himself for thinking it of his loyal companion, but there should be more to it all than this.
Yesterday he explored the building, opening up the doors to the abandoned flats. Some were empty, others still held remnants of the previous occupants. In one he found a children’s magazine, he sat down and read it. He used to read the same magazine when he was a boy, about a kid who wanted to become a superstar football player. The problem was the kid wasn’t very good until one day he found a pair of magic boots which turned him into Maradona.
He remembers one day after reading the magazine asking his dad if he could have a pair of football boots. His father agreed and off they went to the sports shop. Tony choose a black pair with white stripes, he wanted plain ones because the ones the kid in the magazine had were plain. He took them home and tried them on, standing in front of the mirror admiring himself, he’d be the envy of all his friends. He ran over to the park to join his friends who were kicking a ball about and immediately fell over. He chuckles to himself, life certainly isn’t a comic.
In one of the flats below a kid is sitting on a sofa watching television, a woman appears in front of him and appears to shout at him. The kid gets up from the sofa, a light in the room next door comes on, the kid throws himself onto his bed before the mother comes in and draws the curtains. He feels as envious as he did when he saw the couple kissing. He’s still a kid. He rubs an old teapot which is on the window sill. If he could go back to a Friday night ten years ago, his mother shouting at him because he did something naughty, he’d take it. Unfortunately, there are no genies, and time only moves forward.
Tony picks up the dog’s lead, watching as he jumps up excitedly. A dog who spends most of the walking still excited to do some more walking. He puts the hood up on his jacket and covers his mouth with a scarf. They descend the stairs and escape through a hole in the wooden barriers. Out onto the streets and back into the real world, here he isn’t a kid.
Pat wakes with a dry mouth and a sore head. He picks up the bottle of vodka and holds it to his lips, a drop falls onto his tongue and he shivers. Nothing more than a drop. He closes his eyes and tries to go back to sleep, it’s a hopeful attempt, he never sleeps when he needs a drink. Behind his closed eyes, colours flash, images of Tommy and his mother appear and disappear. He rolls over and holds his head in both hands, trying to make them go away but they reappear, more vivid this time. He opens his eyes and pushes himself upright. He needs to have a drink.
Fumbling in his pocket as he walks down the road he finds enough money to get himself two cans of strong beer. Beer bought he sits down on the park bench, opens a can, savours the smell and then drinks half of it one go. The warmness washes over him instantly. He closes his eyes, he can see trees and flowers, the images of before gone to the back of his mind. He finishes the can in the next gulp and then throws the can in the dustbin, he always throws his rubbish away.
A woman approaches the bench and sits down next to him. Pat ignores her, someone sitting next to him, especially in this dishevelled state, is not normal. Finally he turns to look at her, she’s grinning at him.
‘I’m sorry to bother you but I make documentaries.’
‘I’m in search of a homeless person who I can follow around, see what life is like.’
‘Do I get money for it?’
‘Yes, you would be recompensed.’
‘So I get money?’
‘What do I have to do?’
‘Nothing, just live as you usually do. I might ask you questions and ask you to speak to the camera from time to time but that’s about it.’
‘Can I have some money now?’ She thinks about it.
‘If I give you twenty pounds now, will you definitely be here tomorrow morning?’
‘If you give me twenty pounds I’ll do anything you want.’
She takes the note from her pocket and hands it to Pat. He holds it up to the sunlight to make sure it’s real, the woman looks offended.
‘You never know. I’ll be here tomorrow. Will I be famous?’
‘I don’t think you’ll be famous but who knows what will happen. You’ll definitely be on television.’
‘I don’t have a television.’
‘Please be here tomorrow at nine.’ She leaves him, walking off to join a group of people who are standing around, she points over to him and they all nod their heads. Pat thinks to himself she’s lucky it was him she spoke to, anyone else would have taken the money and not turned up the next day. He will though, he’s got a new purpose now. He opens the second can of beer and offers up a toast of thanks to no one in particular, a passing jogger almost stumbling over as she looks at the madman on the bench saluting no one.
The pub still hasn’t opened, she thinks to herself she probably looks like an alcoholic desperate for a drink. She checks her watch again, still no sign of Frank. A mother passes by with her child in a pushchair, Jennifer smiles at her, trying to say she’s not really waiting for the pub to open. The woman gives her a funny look and crosses the road. Frank appears from around the corner, he looks happier, his step looks lighter, as though some burden has left him.
‘Sorry I’m late, I had to go and buy a few things this morning.’
‘That’s okay. So, where do we start?’ Frank puffs out his cheeks, he’s not really thought about it, the only idea he has is to ask the local homeless people if there might be a place local someone would hide. If Tony wanted to hide, he probably wouldn’t be local. The closer it got to the weekend the more Frank regretted agreeing to help, he knew their search would be futile and he didn’t want to see Jennifer’s despair when that became apparent.
‘We’ll ask about and see.’
‘I think we should try the train station, the kid who took me to that abandoned flat hung around there.’ Frank shrugs his shoulders in agreement.
A couple of men are outside the train station, one of them is trying to sell tickets he’s been handed by departing commuters. Frank doesn’t like the look of him but Jennifer wants to talk to him and he feels he should be the one to initiate the conversation given it was his suggestion, and he doesn’t want his manliness questioned either.
‘Excuse me, mate. Do you know a kid called Tommy?’
‘Yeah, I know Tommy. Quiet kid with the dog.’ Jennifer’s face lights up, it might be easier than Frank thought.
‘Do you know where he is?’
‘When did you last see him?’
‘Look this lady, she’s his mother and she’s trying to find him.’ The man looks at Jennifer.
‘Yeah, I know, she was here the other day. I don’t know where he is. Sorry.’ He thrusts a ticket in front of a woman entering the train station, she ignores him, he mutters under his breath.
‘If you wanted no one to find you, where would you go?’
‘Australia.’ The man is pleased with himself for that answer, he gives Frank a toothless grin. Frank sees all the people whose doors he’s been knocking on for the last however many years. He grabs the man by his coat and throws him to the wall. Jennifer puts her hand on his back to try to stop him.
‘Listen, son! Don’t fuck me about, if there was somewhere around here you could go and hide, where would you go?’
The man’s mate is walking off towards another group of men who Frank hadn’t seen. The man gives him another grin. Frank lets go.
‘You know what? I’m a kind person. I heard a rumour that old Pat was noseying about in that tower block they’re going to knock down next to the canal. The only person Tommy spoke to was Pat and Pat was either in the park or in that other place they called home so there had to be a reason he was in the block. Have a look in there. I doubt you’ll find him but I can’t deprive a kid of his mother.’ He gives Jennifer a grin this time. She turns away from him and marches off down the road, Frank running after her.
If you’ve just started reading you can find the whole story from beginning to this part on this page.