Memories and a Stroke of Luck (Story Part 8)

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.

‘Hello!’

‘Hello.’

‘I’m sorry to bother you but I make documentaries.’

‘Okay…’

‘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?’

‘Yes!’

‘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?’

‘No idea.’

‘When did you last see him?’

‘Can’t remember.’

‘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

 

 

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Are You Special?

Follow the Fox (Part 3)

At home, Albert is picking at his dinner, his father is watching him.

‘What’s the matter, Albert?’

‘Nothing.’

He chews a piece of chicken but is finding it hard to swallow, he’s not hungry, all he can think about is whether the girl, Anna, made it home safely. He asks if he can leave the table, his father nods his head and he retreats to his room. He picks up a small ball, bouncing it against the wall, trying to take his mind elsewhere. It’s not working, he can only think of the girl and what lies on the other side of the fence. His father knocks on the door and comes into his room.

‘You want to go outside and play football? I don’t have work tomorrow so we can spend some time together.’

‘Okay.’

They stand in the park kicking the ball back forwards to each other. Albert doesn’t have his usual enthusiasm, but his father will wait, he always lets him know what’s on his mind in the end.

‘Dad?’

‘Yes?’

‘Why are the people over there poor?’ He points in the direction of the border.

‘It’s complicated, Albert. They’re no different to us, they just ended up on the wrong side of the fence. It could have been us who were poor.’

‘Why can’t we go over there?’

‘It’s dangerous. The people there don’t know as much as we do, they think we’re bad people and want to hurt them. When you go to school they teach you about all the countries in the world, they teach you history and you can write stories when you learn English. They only learn about their leader and how good he is and how bad the rest of the world is.’

‘What would happen if I went over the fence?’

‘They’d probably kill you.’ His father can think of any other way to answer, it can’t be sugar-coated.

‘Oh! I won’t go over then.’

‘There are some things we can’t do anything about, Albert. Maybe one day the fence won’t be there and you can go and have a look. Come on, we’ll go and get some ice cream.’

Albert thinks he understands but he’s not quite sure. It seems as though the people there might be a little bit stupid. If they’re so poor why don’t they change something? Anna didn’t seem stupid though, maybe she’s special. He licks the ice cream as they walk slowly home. He’ll go back to the fence tomorrow and ask her if she’s special.

 

Anna’s grandfather had risen early that morning and disappeared with a man she hadn’t seen before. She was frightened, when someone goes away with men who arrive at the house unexpectedly they usually don’t come back, even she knew that. Her grandmother reassured her Cyril would be back in a couple of days. Something had come up and he had to go to the city to tend to it. Strangely, there were two potatoes and a dried fish on the table. She was told she didn’t need to collect any weeds today and she could do as she pleased if she didn’t wander too far.

She is going to meet Albert on the other side of the fence later but until then she decides to walk among the small wooded area not far from her house. She skips among the trees, forgetting where she is for a blissful couple of hours. Tired she lies down against a tree, closes her eyes and drifts off to sleep.

Suddenly she is awoken by some movement close to her, she pushes herself up against the tree and stays silent, scared to breathe. A large figure comes into view and squats down between two trees only metres in front of her. It’s a soldier, she watches as he lights a cigarette and then blows out the smoke. He hasn’t seen her yet, she could just sneak away or she could just wait, she’s not doing anything wrong being in the woods. He turns his head slightly, their eyes meet, Anna’s body is frozen.

He raises his hand slightly and gives a wave, then a smile. Anna is not sure if it’s a trap. He stands up and walks over to her, he becomes bigger the closer he gets.

‘Hello, little girl. What are you doing here?’

‘Playing.’

‘It’s okay, I shouldn’t be here. I won’t hurt you.’

‘Oh!’

‘What’s your name?’ Anna hesitates, she doesn’t want to give him her name but he could easily find it out. If anyone asks she’ll say she was playing and she got lost. Then her mood changes to one of defiance, she’s not doing anything wrong!

‘My name is Anna, and I’m only playing, I haven’t done anything wrong!’

‘I know you haven’t done anything wrong, Anna. I have though, so don’t tell anyone you saw me.’

‘What did you do wrong?’

‘I should be watching some grain which was delivered today but I was bored so I came for a walk.’

‘What if they see you’re not there?’

‘They won’t be back for a few hours.’

‘Your voice is funny.’

‘Ha! I’m not from here, I came from near the sea.’

‘Really? What is the sea like?’

‘I wish I was by the sea now, I could go for a swim! I have a sister just like you, in the summer we would go to the water and swim for hours.’

‘Where is your sister?’

‘She is at home.’

‘I’m eight years old, is your sister eight too?’

‘She’s ten.’

‘Oh! Can she read? My grandfather is teaching me to read.’

‘Yes, she can read, better than me.’

‘Maybe you can bring her here one day and we can play together.’

The soldier smiles a sad smile.

‘Maybe one day.’ He reaches into his pocket and takes two small round objects from his pocket, both of them are a deep red colour, he puts them in Anna’s hand. ‘Eat them before you get home, and don’t tell anyone you met me.’ He throws his cigarette to the ground and disappears into the woods.

Anna puts one of the boiled sweets into her mouth, it is unlike anything she has ever tasted, she savours it for a few seconds before taking it back out of her mouth and holding it in her hand. She wants to make them last as long as possible.

 

Albert waits patiently in the bushes near the fence. He watches the soldiers as they pass every ten minutes or so. He wonders why they don’t cross the fence, nobody would stop them. He has brought a pencil with him, he wants to give it to Anna, he has had an idea. If he can’t see for himself what it is like, he can ask her to draw it for him. He doesn’t think she has any pencils because she’s poor so he’ll give her one.

He looks at his watch, his mother will be expecting him home for tea soon. Maybe she isn’t going to come, he’s disappointed. He stands up and brushes dust from his shorts, he hears the shaking of the fence and then sees Anna running towards the bush. She stops and lies down, exhausted. He doesn’t know what to do so he sits down again and waits until she lifts herself from the floor.

‘I’m sorry I am late.’

‘It’s okay, but I have to go soon, I have to eat my lunch.’

‘Oh! What will you have for lunch?’

‘Usually some sandwiches with chicken and if I’ve been good mum will give me an ice lolly too.’

‘What’s an ice lolly?’

‘You don’t know what an ice lolly is?’

She looks embarrassed.

‘It’s like a sweet but it’s cold.’

‘Oh, I’ve never had one of them.’

‘You don’t have ice lollies?’

‘No, but tonight we’ll eat potatoes.’

‘We always have potatoes, I wish sometimes we could have something different.’

‘I wish we could have potatoes every night.’

Albert looks at her in surprise, wondering how anyone could possibly want to eat potatoes every day. Sometimes he puts them on the floor for the dog when his parents aren’t looking.

‘I brought you something.’ He takes out the pencil and hands it to her, she holds it tightly in her hand not sure what to say. ‘I thought maybe you could draw me a picture of where you live.’ Anna nods her head, she doesn’t want to tell him she has nothing to draw on.

‘You should go, I have to go home.’

‘One day you can come back with me, just for an hour then you can go home again.’

‘No, I can’t, my dad said they will kill me.’

‘They won’t see you, I promise.’

‘I can’t.’

‘Will you come tomorrow?’

‘Yes. Anna, are you special?

Anna looks down at herself, her tattered dress and bare feet and then back at Albert, her stomach rumbles.

‘I don’t think so.’

 

Cyril is walking the streets of the city, accompanied by his minder to make sure he doesn’t go missing. Why they think he would go missing he doesn’t know. He’d have nowhere to go. The minder has barely said a word to him, he did buy them both some food though. They approach a building, the man ushers him inside and up some stairs into a small office where a stern faced woman is sitting surrounded by paperwork, each piece of paper has a small photograph attached to the top.

The man hands her his own piece of paperwork and she begins to search, she stops, checking the name at the top and then slams it down in front of Cyril. He looks at the man and nods his head. The woman takes the paper and writes something at the top of it and stamps it before putting it into a filing cabinet behind her. She looks up at them again, her eyes asking why they were still there, they leave.

‘The grave?’

‘There is no grave. You would have made it difficult if you knew it was just paperwork.’

‘Why bring me to see the paperwork?’

‘Questions are not yours to ask, nor are they mine. I’m told to do things and I do them.’

Cyril is confused, they’ve brought him all this way to confirm the death of his son. He knows of families in the village who have had relatives die far away and all they have received is a letter. The potatoes and fish too. They get onto a bus back to the train station, Cyril suspicious. Passing a small toy shop he thinks of Anna, she’d love to see a toy shop. Poor Anna, her father is dead and her grandfather hasn’t the courage to tell her.

 

As she slips under the fence she looks both ways, there’s nobody there. She runs as fast as she can towards the trees and bushes and throws herself to the ground. She lies there resting for a few seconds and then takes the sweet she was sucking on earlier and puts it back in her mouth. She feels her a hand on her shoulder, it grasps her tightly as she tries to get up and run. They’ve caught her.

Continued tomorrow…

Part 1

Part 2

 

 

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Follow The Fox (Part 2)

Anna’s grandfather barely raises as a smile when she returns home. She places the weeds on the table and her grandmother begins to sort through them, tutting each time she finds one that has to be thrown away. The newspaper in front of her grandfather looks untouched. She sits on her bed, waiting for him to call her over but today it seems he has other things on his mind. She leans backwards slowly, trying to see if she can catch a glimpse of the ball under the bed. There’s nothing, he must have taken it away somewhere.

They sit at the table, a bowl in front of them, hot water filled with green leaves. Anna sips the tasteless liquid, watching her grandparents over the spoon, looking for a hint of what is wrong. Both of their faces are expressionless. Apart from occasionally scolding her or praising her when she reads, neither give off much emotion. Not like her father who would hug her each time he came home, or would toss her in the air outside, catching her and then swinging her around. She missed that. She knows they love her, but just a hug or a stroke of her hair would be nice.

When they have finished her grandfather motions for her grandmother to follow him outside, Anna stands up to join them but he waves her away with his hand, he gives her a weak smile in apology.

‘Read the newspaper, Anna. We will be back soon.’

She places the newspaper on the bed and tries to decipher the squiggly lines. On the front page is a man she knows well. The one who they all have to thank for their lives. She curses him in her head, looking around the room to make sure some unknown presence isn’t watching her, aware of her thoughts and ready to take her away.

‘More Food For The People!’, she says out loud. She wonders where that food is, there’s none here for her and her grandparents. She closes the newspaper and puts it back on her grandfather’s table, returning to her bed, covering herself in a light blanket and closing her eyes. She can hear them whispering outside, something must have happened, they don’t take to each other much. Finally the whispering stops and the come back inside, her grandfather opening up his newspaper, her grandmother sitting by the window and watching the road.

Cyril was a simple man, he wanted to live his last few years free from worry, but in a land where food is scarce and thoughts themselves create trouble, this was not an easy task. When his son had left him in charge of his granddaughter he vowed to make sure she at least made it to a woman. Not all of them make it to adulthood but his granddaughter would. He loved to teach her to read, he held the hope that one day this would all collapse and she wouldn’t have to read the meaningless words of the government propaganda.

He worried about her, she was going to get herself in trouble. The ball she had taken home may have been a simple thing but it had come from over the border. A soldier or an official would take great delight in accusing her of collaborating with the enemy. They have little regard for age, as soon as you are born you are their property and obedience is the only way to survive. He used a knife to burst the ball, hiding it under his coat. Far enough away from the house he buried it. He hopes it’s not found, they’ll count out the steps to the nearest house and it will be they who will take the blame. Someone always takes the blame, nothing is innocent.

Not a day goes by where he doesn’t curse them to himself. Survival has replaced all which was pure and innocent. He looks at the child lying on her bed, if she was ignorant, foolish even stupid it would be easier. She wouldn’t ask questions and he wouldn’t have to worry so much. He shakes his head, annoyed at himself for thinking such things, a nuisance she may be, but she reminds him of himself when he was a child. Tomorrow he has to go to the village, there’s a message which has been left at the house of the cadre. He is dreading going, not only is the cadre a horrible man, messages are never good. One never receives good news.

Anna is planning her little escape. She promises herself it will only be for a few minutes. When the soldier has passed she’ll run for the fence and squeeze under, stand on the other side and then she’ll come back. She doesn’t want to leave her grandparents and she could never leave without seeing her father again. Maybe the boy will be there on the other side. She fidgets in her bed, excitement too much for her to sleep.

 

The soldier is being lazy today, he keeps stopping and squatting down. Only twenty metres in front of her he is squatting and smoking. They give the soldiers cigarettes when they have no money to pay them. He puts the cigarette out on the ground, stands up straight, looks around and begins to move along the fence. Anna’s heart is beating fast, she’s stuck to the ground unable to move, this is her chance but she’s frightened, the enormity of what she is doing suddenly hitting her. She pushes herself up from the ground and runs to the fence, her eyes closed, waiting to hear the sound of a bang.

She opens her eyes and there in front of her is the fence. She pushes a finger through, a tiny part of her now on the other side. She looks left and right, no soldiers are there, she bends down putting her head through the hole which the fox departed from. Her head through she tries to squeeze the rest of her body but it’s stuck, her dress rips as she struggles. She reaches out to pull herself with a clump of grass but it comes away from the ground. She has failed. Energy drained her face falls into the mud. In that moment all she can see is her father, she won’t be able to see him again. Her grandparents too, her grandfather will be shamed, shunned or even worse.

 

Cyril stands before the cadre, he holds his cap in his hand, looking down at the floor. He hates himself for doing it, he does not want to show this man any respect. He had grown up with him, as a boy the cadre was hated, he would run and tell tales to his mother, the other boys would then receive the wooden spoon from their parents for something which they had never done. During the war he played both sides, telling tales and receiving money. Now he was the most important man in town, your life depended on him and his whims.

‘You know why you are here?’

‘You have a message for me.’

‘Yes. Yesterday we received word your son has been in accident. Unfortunately, he will not be coming home. The state, with their ever-caring hand, have paid for all costs relating to his burial. If you wish to see his grave I give you permission to go but only for two days.’

‘When did he die?’

‘Four months ago.’

‘Why am I only finding out now?’ The cadre looks up at Cyril, such insolence in asking a question. He will forgive him this once, his son has died, he wont forget though, he never forgets.

‘You may go. Tomorrow a man will arrive at eight in the morning and accompany you to the city. The man will not leave your side so please don’t try to do anything stupid. The consequences will be grave.’

‘Please pass on my thanks to the state.’ The cadre twists his lip, he knows Cyril is mocking him.

‘Before you go, Cyril, I must bring up an issue with you. Your granddaughter, she is too curious. You should take better care of her.’

Outside the grandiose concrete building which is surrounded by ramshackle houses, Cyril sits down next to a woman who is handing out newspapers. He allows a tear to escape, wipes it away, takes a newspaper and starts the walk home. Anna mustn’t know, he knows it’s wrong but the news would destroy all innocence in her. He can’t take away the hope she has.

 

Anna feels a hand on her head, she resigns herself to her fate. The hand taps her face, she looks up, remembering her head is on the other side. It’s the boy, he grabs her hands and pulls her, her body escapes the clutches of the fence, her dress ripped and torn. He takes her hand and pulls her towards a group of bushes, pushing her down to the ground. They wait in silence, five minutes pass before the soldier comes along. She holds her breathe as he passes the hole, in Anna’s mind it doesn’t look like a small hole anymore, it seems to be huge, a great big gaping hole shouting out for the soldier to investigate. He walks past it.

‘What are you doing?’

‘I just wanted to see what it’s like here.’

‘You shouldn’t come here, they’ll kill you. You must go back.’

‘Can I be your friend?’

The boy looks at her quizzically, the girl is skinny, skinnier than anyone he has ever seen before.

‘Yes, you can be my friend but you must go home, he will be back soon.’

‘What is your name?’

The boys eyes keep darting to the fence.

‘My name is Albert.’

‘I am Anna. Tomorrow I will come again, will you come to meet me?’

‘You mustn’t come again, it’s dangerous.’

‘I will come, at the same time.’ Before Albert can reply, Anna hugs him and runs back to the fence, this time she slips under it with ease. She doesn’t turn back, running into the cover on the other side. Albert stands there blushing, heart pounding.

Continued tomorrow…..

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The first part of this story can be read here

I’ve had to delay the release of my next book because I want to change some of it. If you follow this blog you will get the book for free whatever happens. Sorry for the delay, I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with work the last couple of weeks but I promise it will be out soon. If you’ve not read the first chapter you can read it here. Follow the blog or like my Facebook page and you’ll be able to download it for free for three days. 

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A Fallen Angel (Story Part 7)

‘Why did you follow me Pat? I’m not anyone to you, you’ve got not horse in this race! Did she give you money to find me?’

‘NO! No one give me money.’

‘Why have you followed me then? I don’t want to be found!’

‘That woman, she was upset Tommy. I ain’t done all that much good in my life, mate. I just thought I’d make someone happy.’

Pat’s upset. Tony blows out and hands him the rest of the wine he didn’t finish.

‘Have this. I’m sorry mate, but I don’t want that woman to find. You wouldn’t understand.’

‘Who is she, Tommy?’

‘My mother.’

‘Why wouldn’t I understand?’

‘You just wouldn’t understand, Pat.’

‘Wouldn’t understand because I’ve been out here for thirty years? I used to have a home you know, I had a girlfriend, a mother and a father. I lost them all because I did stupid things. Now I have fucking nothing, don’t tell me I don’t understand.’

Tommy’s never seen him get angry before. He’s shaking, holding the bottle, the dog is on edge watching Pat. He slumps back on the sofa and takes a swig from the bottle.

‘You know what Tommy? I don’t have nothing. I’m an old man, there ain’t no hope of my mother ever coming to find me, she’ll be dead. You think you have nothing but you do, you’ve got a chance that I never had. Take it mate. Look at this place, it ain’t a home is it? When they come and throw you out you’ll have to find somewhere new, then you’ll do it all again. It ain’t no life, mate. It don’t matter what’s happened in the past, this your chance to do something with your life.’

‘Can I ask you a question Pat? It’s going to sound horrible, but I don’t mean it that way, I just want to know.’

‘Ask me anything you want, son.’

‘Why are you still out here? I mean, like I said, it sounds horrible, but why don’t you just top yourself?’

Pat is unmoved, it’s not the first time he’s considered the question.

‘I’ve thought about it. People on the streets look down on me, even you lot look down on me as well, you just see this old man whose brain is broken, drinking himself stupid every night. I get up each morning and each morning I tell myself I’m going to be lucky, something good is going to happen. I might find a lottery ticket on the floor or one of them passing people might be my girlfriend from all those years ago and she’ll take pity on me and take me in. If I topped myself I ain’t going to have those dreams am I Tommy. When I do go at least I’ll know I tried, at least I didn’t give up when things got difficult.

‘God can have the thirty years of me living out here, he can have the thirty years of eating out of dustbins and begging people for money. He can even have the time those kids beat me up just because they thought it was funny and knew I wouldn’t fight back. He can fucking have the lot if for just one more day of my life I’m able to live in comfort. He might not give it me, but if I stop fighting, it means I’ve stopped sticking my finger up at him. He’ll give at some point and give me a day, he might take pity and give me more of that.’

There’s tears coming from Pat’s eyes. You rarely see the side he’s seeing now of the people he knows, they all have stories but those stories are all locked away, the key has long been thrown in the river and emotion is just a weakness that can be preyed upon. Tommy takes Pat’s hand and holds it, Pat turns and nods his head at him, taking another mouthful of wine.

‘Any more of this?’ Emotion gone.

 

Frank is at home alone as usual. He’s looking through his paperwork and figures and targets but none of it is penetrating his brain. He throws down his pen onto the desk, swearing to himself as he goes to the fridge to see if there’s anything for him to eat. It’s empty. He was meant to go shopping after work but his encounter with Jennifer has left his mind wandering elsewhere. He’s doubting her story even though he knows he shouldn’t. Surely the kid wouldn’t have just got up and run away just because he was being bullied?

Whatever happened between them, he’s promised her he’s going to help her find him, so he can’t let her down. He shuts the fridge door, puts on his jacket and leaves the flat. Outside it’s cold, how could anyone live out here in this weather? He remembers the kid he gave the scratch card to, he had a dog. It might have been him! Unlikely. He stops at the supermarket and buys himself a pizza and something to drink.

Back at home he munches away on his pizza and sips a can of Coke. He’s not happy, not because of what has happened today with Jennifer, he’s just come to realisation that he really isn’t happy. He knew it but he ignored it. He’s spending his days fixated on a man who he knows hardly anything about, and he’s fixated on him because he’s doing better in life than Frank. What can he do though? He’s a washed up forty year old man who knocks on people’s doors to sell them insurance. Not like he can make a sudden career change.

He’s finding himself sympathising with the kid. He’s ran away because he couldn’t cope with life, running away is what Frank wants to do himself but he’d never have the balls to do it. He wouldn’t know where to start or where he could go. At least he’d have some money with him, he could go where ever he wanted to. Maybe he should buy himself a tent and some hiking boots and just take off into the wild. He hates the job, he’s finding himself hating more and more people, what’s the point in staying?

He closes his eyes and fantasises of packing his bags in the morning and just walking away from it all. He can’t do it tomorrow, he said he’d help Jennifer, he’s not going to let her down. A voice in his head tells him he’s mad for helping a woman he doesn’t know find a kid who might not even be finable. He holds his hands out in the air and shrugs to himself. A few more days and he’ll be gone, no more doors, no more Jeremey and no more hating the world.

 

Jennifer is back walking the streets again. She can’t sleep and sitting at home only makes her feel worse. She knows she’s walking back towards the flat she found the drunken old man in, what she hopes to find there she doesn’t know. Maybe the man went looking for Tony and found him. You cling to the most ridiculous of hopes when you don’t have much left to go on. Reaching the flat she looks down the stairwell, the door looks to be shut, she doesn’t want to go in there in the middle of the night.

A figure is approaching the gateway, she hurries to leave but sees it’s the old man. He smiles weakly at her, still embarrassed from his earlier foolishness.

‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have got angry with you.’

‘It’s okay, love. I understand.’

‘You know Tony…Tommy? He’s my son.’

‘I guessed that.’

‘I need to find him.’

Pat looks at her, her eyes are desperate.

‘I’m sorry, I tried to find him but I couldn’t.’

She puts her hand on his shoulder and then walks off into the night. He’s just broken her heart. Tommy gave him a tenner and he bought a bottle of cheap of vodka with it. The kid said he didn’t want to go home, even after all he’d said. He’d tried but he didn’t want to go. He made Pat promise not to tell the woman where he was. He’ll probably be gone now anyway. He doesn’t understand why he wants to waste a chance like that. He puts the bottle to his lips and takes a large mouthful. He opens up the door and sits down on his sheets.

He thinks of what he said to Tommy. He was happy all them years ago. Then he went and done something stupid. He can’t even bear to think about it. He won’t think about it. He takes another large mouthful of vodka, the warmth washing over him. There, it’s gone, he won’t have to think about it. He’s failed in his purpose and now he’ll have to find a new one. He laughs to himself, if he wasn’t living on the streets, some might say he was an angel.

 

Continued tomorrow….

Part 1 What You Saying About My Wife?

Part 2 Cliched Movies

Part 3 Socrates Listens Too

Part 4 It’s Better to Run Away

Part 5 Pat’s Purpose

Part 6 Tony and Socrates Find a New Home

 

 

 

A Long Journey Photos (Part 2)

These photos are to accompany the posts which start here: A Long Journey The first set of photos are here

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The coast of Vietnam, somewhere between Hanoi and Danang. Train trip is well worth doing and much better than the sleeper bus.

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I think this was taken in Can Tho, Vietnam, not far from the Cambodian border. I travelled along the Mekong river from Vietnam all the way up to Phnom Penh

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Nha Trang, Central Vietnam. 

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Somewhere in Northern Laos, possibly Luang Prabang.

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Photo taken from Mandalay Hill, Mandalay, Myanmar

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Mandalay Hill

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Me and a friend’s dog in the mountains of Sichuan, China. I miss you Socrates! (If you’re reading one of my short stories, the dog is dedicated to this one).

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Osaka, Japan

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Cherry blossoms in Osaka, Japan. 

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Bangkok, Thailand

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Back home in London. I wish I had this photo in a higher resolution!

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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Colombo, Sri Lanka just before a massive storm

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Wild elephant and a wild peacock in front of him in Sri Lanka

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Sunset in the Andaman Sea, somewhere close to Koh Lipe, Thailand.

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And finally, me back home last summer, a million miles from the passport photo which I posted in the first post. 

Follow The Fox

Anna strains her eyes, each day she mistakes the bush in the distance for a person, her mind playing tricks on her. She vows to herself to go and cut it down but she knows she will find something else which she can mistake for her father coming back along the dusty path. She picks up the ball the boy had thrown over the fence to her and throws it in the air, letting it bounce once and then catching it. The ball isn’t as interesting as she thought it would be, not when you have no one else to play with. She puts it on the floor and sits on it, carrying on her patient watch for the figure of a man to appear at the end of the road.

Her father is a good man, doing what was best for her. He lived his life to provide for Anna and his parents. He had left last year, just before the summer, in search of work, food and money. It had been almost a year since she had seen him, not one evening had gone by where she hadn’t waited outside their little house. Her grandparents would scold her, telling her she’d catch a cold or someone would come along and take her away.

Last year a little boy had been taken away. She had played with the boy once, he had gotten lost and wandered past their house. They sat together and threw stones at a tree, she tried to talk to him but he wouldn’t answer, content to just have someone to throw stones with. Her grandparents said the boy had something wrong with his head. She didn’t understand what they meant. One day a soldier came looking for the boy, asking if he had been seen. Her grandparents ushered her into the house as they do every time the soldiers pass.

She heard no more of the boy until one day when she went to the village to find something to eat. A man was being paraded through the square, people kicked and shouted at him, the soldiers threw him onto the ground in front of a crowd and shot him. They left his body there for weeks as a warning to others. That evening she heard her grandparents talking in whispers, the man had been hungry they said, that is why he took the boy. She wondered why the man didn’t just pick the weeds and make soup like they did.

When her father comes back they will be able to eat more than the soup. She dreams of him appearing on the road, arms filled with bags of vegetables, maybe even a chicken. She ate chicken once, she’ll never forget the taste. She’ll never forget how full she felt after eating it either. The sky above her begins to darken, she picks up the ball and opens the door to the house. Her grandfather is sitting on a stool reading a newspaper which is given to them each day. Her grandmother is looking out of the window in her own silent watch.

Her grandfather smiles and pats his knee, indicating for her to come and join him. She skips over to him and its down his knee. Each night when she comes inside he teaches her to read. She had gone to school but the teacher had become sick and now there was no one to teach them. She had liked it when she went to school because she could see the other children. She hoped they would find a new teacher soon. She follows her grandfathers finger as he runs underneath each word, saying it out loud. She repeats after him.

‘We do it for our nation!’

‘We do it for our nation!’

‘The struggle will never end!’

‘The struggle will never end!’

‘Grandpa?’

‘Yes?’

‘I went to the fence today to pick some weeds.’

He looks troubled.

‘I told you, you should stay away from there. Those soldiers are not good people.’ He looks towards the window as he speaks, a sudden fear someone will be listening.

‘What’s on the other side?’

Her grandmother becomes alert, she’s not looking at them but she’s listening.

‘Over there is a different world, my love. We were born on this side of the fence, those people over there hate us and want no good for us. You must stay away from there.’

‘A boy gave me a ball.’

‘Which boy?’

‘From the other side.’

‘Where is the ball?’

‘It’s outside.’

Her grandfather looks panicked, he stands up quickly and opens the door. He sees the ball lying just outside the door, grabbing it before anyone can see it. If they see the ball they’ll ask questions. ‘Where did the girl get the ball from?’, ‘Who gave her the ball?’. He puts it under his bed, hiding it before he can think of a way to get rid of it.

‘Anna, you can not go to the fence again, if you do you will bring trouble to us.’

‘I won’t. I thought you would be pleased.’

‘There are somethings you are too young to understand yet. One day you will know why.’

She looks at him, his eyes are sad. ‘Our struggle will never end!’, she says softly before climbing onto her bed on the far side of the room. Her grandparents exchange a knowing look, she’s far too clever and being clever brings nothing but trouble in this side of the fence.

Anna closes her eyes and listens to the crickets outside. She wonders if there are crickets on the other side. Does the boy who threw the ball over to her listen to them at night? She wonders what he’s doing now, if he will be able to go to school in the morning. She doesn’t really know why the fence is there, just that it’s always been there and you can’t go to the other side. If you go to the other side the soldiers will shoot you. Sometimes at night you hear loud bangs as someone fails to make it across.

Her father had told her a story once. When his parents, her grandparents were children there was no fence. The people all lived together. Then a war had come, after the war they built a fence and no one could cross it. A man in the village could no longer see his sister who now lived in another country. One day the man could bear it no more and tried to climb over, the soldiers caught him but instead of killing him they took him to the village and made him beg on his knees for forgiveness. He refused so they tied him to a tree. The next day the man was gone, no one knows what happened to him. Some think he escaped.

She falls asleep with the sound of the crickets still chirping. Her grandparents still sit in their seats, her grandmother gazing out the window. She’s given up hope that her son will come home, he’s been gone too long and there’s not even been a letter. She worries for the girl, she’s too curious, she wants know how things work and why they happen. Here in this land, there is no ‘why?’. You don’t question, you only do. Her husband puts down his newspaper and sighs, she knows he doesn’t read it, he just stares at it, remembering times long ago when all was better.

Anna is back hiding in the bushes next to the fence. The boy isn’t there playing on the other side today. She can see houses not far from the fence, people moving about, they look happy. How can a simple thing like a fence make people on one side happy and those on the others unhappy? She picks a flower from the floor and twirls it around with her fingers. A soldier passes by, not far from the bush she is hiding in but he can’t see her. She imagines herself on the other side, taunting him, he couldn’t do anything she was on the other side.

The soldier gone, a fox darts from the bushes and stops at the fence, he pushes his head under the fence and squeezes through to the other side. Clear of the fence he carries on running until he his hidden from view by some trees. The fox can cross but she can’t. Animals don’t have countries, everywhere is their land. An idea comes into her head, if the fox can get under then why can’t she? She’s only small, it would take seconds. She could come back too, it wouldn’t have to be forever.

She’s excited now, pleased with her idea, the naivety of youth preventing her from acknowledging the stupidity and danger of her thoughts. She picks up her bag of weeds, making sure there are no soldiers about she turns and heads for home. Tomorrow she’ll do it, just for half an hour. She has to see what it’s like over there.

Continued tomorrow…

This short story was inspired by a post I wrote yesterday The Border.

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Tony and Socrates Find a New Home (Short Story Part 6)

Tony and Socrates look up at the tower which is going to be their new hideaway. Until they demolish it. The entrances have been boarded up, most of the windows on the lower floors have been smashed through. Tony pulls back a piece of wood and ushers the reluctant dog inside, he squeezes through himself, emerging in a hallway. There are four doorways each leading to a flat but he decides staying on the bottom floor wouldn’t be a good idea, he won’t be the only person who would entertain the idea of living here and he wants to avoid other people as much as he can.

They climb the stairs together, the dog stopping to sniff things which have been left on the floor. He picks up a teddy bear which has been discarded on the stairwell, holding it in his mouth as they climb higher and higher. On the twelfth floor they stop and peers into the landing area, like the bottom floor there are four doors, all of them are boarded up but don’t look as if they would be too much of a problem to break into.

‘What do you think of this floor, mate?’

The dog lies down on the floor, the teddy bear still in his mouth, he doesn’t want to climb anymore stairs. Tony leaves him to rest as he tries each of the doors to see which one would be easiest to break down. He pulls the boarding on the first one and it comes away without any effort. Behind the board is a red door, unchanged since the previous occupant was obliged to leave. He pushes the door, it’s not lock or on the latch and opens. He walks inside, straight ahead of him is a living room, to his surprise it’s still furnished with a dusty sofa and an old dining table.

On the floor there are some duvet covers which are dusty too but would be easily shaken out. He calls Socrates who comes bounding into the room, puts his new toy on the floor and sniffs around his new home. Tony takes one of the duvet covers and puts in the corner for the dog to sleep on, he takes the other one and pulls it on top of himself as he lies down on the sofa. He quickly falls asleep, comfortable surroundings can do that to a man who has known little comfort.

 

Jennifer is still angry at the silly old drunk for not attempting to stop her son. She’s wondering the streets aimlessly; her last glimmer of hope has been extinguished. She was so close to at least being able to speak to him and now she’ll never find him. She needs someone to talk to but who? She has no one, years of isolation have left her friendless. It’s all built up and now she just needs to let it out, tell someone how she feels. She sits down on a park bench, puts her head in her hands and begins to cry. People pass her by, none stop, a woman crying in the middle of a park can only be crazy.

 

The bald man with spectacles is precariously close to signing himself up for some dental insurance he doesn’t need. Frank is excited, he doesn’t like the man. You might get the impression that Frank doesn’t like anyone but he’s just weary. He does like some of the people he’s selling too, in fact, half of his problem is that if he does like them he stops trying so hard because he feels guilty. The bald man isn’t a nice person though, he’s spent most of their time on the doorstep bemoaning ‘the bloody foreigners’ who live next door to him. The man signs the paper, Frank thanks him and makes his departure.

He folds the paper and puts it into his briefcase, he’s met his targets for today and now he can take it easy. He’s feeling good, so good he has images of himself dancing around the pole the following morning, that would really show Jeremey! Maybe he shouldn’t take it easy, perhaps he should go mad and break all selling records. Amazing what a bit of confidence can do. He sits down outside the block of flats he’s just triumphantly walked out of and lights a cigarette. He’s not supposed to smoke when he’s working but winners don’t follow rules and today he’s not just a winner, he’s a champion.

He blows the smoke high into the air, sending smoke signals to the world: Frank is back in town and all you door to door sales people had better be worried because he’s coming to take your crowns. He finishes his cigarette and takes a moment to compose himself, suddenly aware he is getting to far ahead of himself and some modesty is in order. He’s unaware of the person walking towards him, still unaware until she sits down next to him.

‘Hello, Frank.’

‘Hello, Jennifer. I can’t take you back you know? If you’ve changed your mind, I’ve already phoned into the office.’

‘I haven’t changed my mind.’

‘Oh, okay.’ Frank’s confused, even a little bit scared, not sure what this woman’s motive for returning to find him is.

‘Frank, I know you don’t know me, and I know I let you down earlier today but I really need someone to talk to. I don’t have any friends, and well, such is my life that you are the only person I could think of.’

He notices her eyes are red, she’s been crying. He looks at his watch, it’s just gone three o’clock, he’s met his targets for the day but he’ll have to forgo his dreams of dancing around the poll. He can’t refuse her, if he refused her he’d spend weeks feeling guilty.

‘I know a coffee shop just down the road, we can go there if you like.’

‘To be honest I could do with a drink.’

‘Even better, I know a quiet little pub.’

 

Tony awakes to darkness, momentarily forgetting his new surroundings. He reaches out for Socrates but he’s not there. He calls, hearing the dog stretching and yawning before ambling over to lick his hand.

‘We’re going to have to get some candles from somewhere mate.’ He remembers he’s relatively rich having raised nearly thirty pounds earlier. He jumps up from the sofa and calls Socrates.

‘Come on son, we’ll eat well tonight.’

Downstairs the cross the road and enter the supermarket. The owner looks at the dog and then at Tony but says nothing. Tony grabs some dog food before putting it back on the shelf, he has a better idea. He picks up some plastic knives and forks and some candles, then stops next to the alcohol, he picks up a cheap bottle of wine. He rarely drinks but tonight is cause for celebration, they have a new home, even if it is just temporary. In the chip shop next door he buys two portions of fish and chips, one for him and one for Socrates. He’s been extravagant but when was the last time he could be extravagant?

His mother is out of his mind. In his new little home there is no chance she’ll find him, he’s not as disappointed now he wasn’t able to leave for pastures new. Him and Socrates will stay here until they finally knock the building down. He puts the plastic knife and fork down on the dining table, the room is illuminated with the candles and he’s feeling warm already with the little bit of wine he’s drank. He puts Socrates’ fish and chips on the floor and watches as the dog devours it in a under a minute, satisfied he takes his place back on the duvet in the corner of the room.

Tony picks up the knife and fork and starts to eat his own meal. Just for that moment he feels normal, he’s doing normal things. The flat hasn’t been abandoned, it’s his. He finishes off his food and lays back on the sofa with his bottle of wine.

‘We’re going to be okay, son. Everything will be fine.’

 

Jennifer sips on her second brandy, she still hasn’t said anything of substance to Frank and he’s starting to look a bit worried.

‘Sorry, Frank. You’re a good person for sitting here with me.’

‘What’s the matter Jennifer? I can see you’ve been crying.’

‘Ten years ago, my son ran away. He was only fifteen. Yesterday I gave a homeless man some money and I’m sure it was him. Another homeless man took me to an abandoned flat where yet another homeless man described Tony. Tony’s my son. Today, he left on a coach for somewhere and I don’t know where, I came so close to finding him and now he’s gone again.’

Frank looks at her not knowing what to say. He’d only met this woman yesterday and this morning he was supposed to be mentoring her and now they’re sat in a pub as she tells him her son has been missing for years.

‘Wow! I don’t know what to say Jennifer.’

‘There’s nothing you can say, I just wanted to tell someone.’

‘You’ve no idea where he went?’

‘No, him and his dog got on a coach and off they went.’

‘How do you know that?’

‘There was a drunken, old homeless man in the abandoned flat and he said he was doing me a favour by following Tony but he didn’t stop him getting on the bus.’

‘He wouldn’t have been able to get on the bus?’

‘Why not?’

‘Dogs aren’t allowed on those coaches, unless he left the dog behind.’

‘He could have got the train.’

‘Maybe. You’ve no idea where he might go?’

‘I’ve not seen him for ten years Frank.’

‘Sorry.’

‘Even if he didn’t get on the coach, I’ve no chance of finding him. He doesn’t want to be found. I failed.’

‘Why did he run away?’

‘We think he was being bullied at school but he didn’t tell us, he must have had enough and just decided to run away. I guess he’s been to ashamed to come back.’

The woman in front of him looks defeated. He can see there’s little fight left in her. He wants to help her but he agrees with her that there’s little chance of finding him. He probably left the city by other means. He wants to give her some hope, you can’t let a person live without hope.

‘Are you free on Saturday?’

‘I just wanted to have a drink so I could speak to someone, Frank. Sorry.’

‘No, I’m not offering to take you out. We’ll go and see if we can find him, we probably won’t be able to but at least you’ll know you tried. The dog not being able to get on the coach is a small thing but you can’t give up. I can only go with you on a Saturday though because I’m not working.’

She sighs and then stares at the glass she’s holding. She throws it back in one go.

‘What time?’

‘Ten, we’ll meet outside here.’

‘I’ll be here.’

‘We’re probably not going to find him Jennifer but we can try.’

‘Thanks Frank, you’re a good man.’

 

Tony awakes with a start. There’s a figure standing over him, the candles have all burnt out so he can’t see who it is, he jumps up and grabs the man around the neck, the man puts up no fight so Tony pushes him onto the sofa. Socrates, however is quiet, not barking as he usually would when he senses danger.

‘It’s me Tommy, Pat!’

‘What the fuck are you doing here Pat?’

‘I followed you, had a look around some of the flats myself, might take one if you want a neighbour.’

‘Why’d you follow me?’

‘That woman. She wants to find you Tommy, you need to speak to her.’

Tony slumps down on the sofa next to Pat, he thought he’d made an escape but someone always finds you.

Part 1: What You Saying About My Wife?

Part 2: Socrates Listens Too

Part 3: Cliched Movies

Part 4: It’s Better to Run Away

Part 5: Pat’s Purpose

Continued tomorrow…

I’ll try and put all the parts into one post tomorrow as it’s getting a bit messy. Remember to give a share if you like the story. Thanks! Seán

The Border

The boy picks up his ball and throws it in the air again, he lets it drop to the ground before kicking it as hard as he can. He chases after it, as only a happy child can do. Young, innocent and free of worry. As he reaches the ball he throws himself to the floor theatrically, copying those football players he sees on the television. He rolls around on the floor laughing to himself, he’s not self-conscious because no one is watching. It’s just him, a patch of grass and his ball. There’s a high, barbed wired fence too but he takes no notice of it, it’s always been there, you pay little attention to things you’re used to.

On the other side of the fence, unseen by the boy, a girl sits among some bushes. She watches as he rolls around. She allows herself a smile, she wishes she could do as he is doing but she owns no ball and time is better spent in more productive ways; her grandmother had sent her out to pick some weeds to make a soup for their evening meal. Her stomach rumbles with hunger reminding her of her task, admonishing her for taking some time for herself. The smile leaves her face, she envies him, there’s no innocence on this side of the fence.

Tired of rolling around the boy lies on the grass and looks up at the blue sky. His father has promised to take him to buy a new ball tomorrow, after they’ll go for something to eat. He loves it when his father takes him for something to eat, he’ll tell him stories about when he was just a boy and the adventures he used to get up to. He’ll tell him a secret too, not a big secret, just a small one, something he shouldn’t tell his mother, they’ll share a knowing wink or smile over dinner. He already has butterflies in his stomach thinking about their day out together.

Her bag is almost full. Despite her stomach rumbling she has not much desire to eat it. The soup is better, the hunger comes back within an hour. Each evening she sits outside their small house, watching the dusty road, hoping to see the tall figure of her father appearing in the distance. He’d gone one day to find work, that was months ago and still there was no sign of him. She has it all planned, as soon as she sees him she’ll run, jumping straight into his arms and this time she won’t let go. She’d wanted to go with him but he said it was too dangerous, besides she has to look after her grandparents. Only eight years of age and already she carries the heavy weight of responsibility.

The boy sits up, something behind the fence catches his eye. There’s a figure moving about among the bushes. All he knows about the other side is that they’re poor. In school the teacher tells them the people there are simple, they don’t have much in their lives and they should pity them. He can see the figure is a girl, she keeps bending down to pick something up and then puts it into a bag. He wants to go closer to the fence but there is a soldier on the other side. The gun the tall man holds in his hands frightens him, he waits to see if he’ll walk away.

She knows the soldier is watching her. It’s her act of defiance. She’s close to the fence but not too close, if you get to close they’ll stop you and then they’ll tell that horrible man in the village and he will cause problems for her family. She looks up at him, the gun doesn’t frighten her, when you have little to lose there’s not much to be frightened of. His face is expressionless, his eyes moving as she moves. He turns and marches off, a final glance towards her, daring her to approach the fence.

He watches as the soldier walks away. He wants to walk up to the fence but he’s scared, what if the soldier comes back again? He waits for a minute; the soldier is out of sight. He walks up to the fence and peers through the wire mesh. The girl is staring at him. He feels his face go red as she starts to walk towards the barrier. Reaching the fence she smiles at him, he smiles back but says nothing, they just stand there looking at each other, look into different worlds neither understand. She places her hand on the fence, he puts her hand on hers, she smiles again and lets go.

Turning away from the fence she ties the bag, preparing to go back home. Behind her she can hear the boy running, his feet against the dry ground. She hears a sound, he’s rattling the fence. She holds her hand up to tell him to stop, frightened the solider will hear it. In his hand is his ball, he draws his hand back and throws it up and over the fence. He waves at her before running off, leaving her there with the ball. She picks it up and puts it under her arm, walking home with her bag of weeds and new ball. She can play with the ball tonight while she waits outside for her father to appear.

 

A Long Journey (Final Part)

A Long Journey (Final Part)

London is the place I was born and grew up in. It’s influenced both my life and what I write. For a good number of years I avoided it, only making occasional trips back to the city. It brought up too many memories for me. Even when I was there I never went home, home being Kilburn in North West London. My heart is in North London, I get dizzy when I cross the bridge over into South London but it was the place which held and still holds most of my memories. Even the simple memories.

Walking home from school as a kid and stopping in the corner shop to buy sweets, walking up the High Road on Christmas Eve as people go mad trying to do their last bits of shopping. Playing football with friends on summer’s nights until ten o’clock and then sitting on a wall and just laughing and joking about. They are the small things which stay with you forever.

You also have the bad memories, the times I’d have to wait until the shop opened to stop myself from feel sick, the times I ended up in hospital being detoxed. Memories of friends who are no longer here, wondering what you could have all done differently. Confronting those memories was one of the hardest things I’ve done and it took me many years to do it. Last year I went back home on my own and walked those streets. I wrote the following, which describes that trip better than anything I could write currently:

Getting off the tube today at Queen’s Park felt like I was going home. Even though I have no home to go to there, my legs were taking me where I wanted to go; back along the streets and across the roads I know so well. It’s taken me nine years to go back on my own, the feelings and emotions of being in the place I grew up a suppressed fear; the good memories and the bad ones too, all coming back as I walked.

Walking through Queen’s Park, a kid again, being with my dad as we strolled from Kilburn Park through the back roads to go and play pitch and putt. Crossing the small park next to where I lived for years I could see myself playing football. The cold, rainy days kicking a ball around the park, the long and hot summer nights playing headers and volleys until it got dark and then sitting on the wall and chatting shit with friends, laughing, joking.

The flat that holds so many memories. Nights spent with good friends, drinking, getting stoned. It was all innocent then, there weren’t any consequences yet. Staying up all night and then climbing up onto the roof of the flat to watch the sun rise above London. No cares, no thoughts as to what the future held, just enjoying that summer, a summer I’ll never forget, one I’d love to live again. There were bad times too, but today wasn’t about that. The bad times have had their moment, they’re not going to spoil my memories anymore.

Past Brondesbury station and that smell hit me. When I used to reach the platform, a wide eyed kid, the smell of the old trains meant I was going somewhere exotic, some place far away on the train. Back then Richmond and Kew were exotic, going to see the deer or those big, hot houses with all the plants in it. Peering out the window of the train trying to catch a glimpse of an unkown part of the city that you’d seen on the map, another world to a young child.

Down the High Road, the old Sainsbury’s, the butchers next to it that had sawdust on the floor. The walk up to school every morning, the clock that has now gone telling you how much time you had left until the bell rang. Sunday afternoons leaving the church, 45 minutes that had seemed like a life time, the smell of the Sunday papers, the high street deserted, the shops closed, men in suits sneaking into the pubs for a quick pint before Sunday dinner.

The homeless man that used to sit outside The Old Bell, his old black dog. The Old Bell, the pub that people spoke about with a whisper and a tut. Mum giving the homeless man money to buy the dog some food. Me wondering how he ended up like that, where had he come from? When he dissappeared where did he go?

Past Kilburn Park station and looking up at the flat I spent my earliest years in, I can see myself looking down out of the window. Watching the buses, wondering where all the mysterious places on the front of them were, what was there? One of the old red buses passing, number 31, the conductor looking out from the opening at the back. Is World’s End really the end of the world? Saturday mornings, watching waiting excitedly for my dad to appear, off to the Rec to play football.

Sunday evening, summer of 1990; my dad buys me a Coca Cola ball, the World Cup final about to start. Walking up to the Drum and Monkey in St John’s Wood, imagining I am Maradona with my new, small, red ball. The old man that was always there. Slowly drinking his pint, nodding at people as they came through the door. The walk back home to Kilburn Park, still warm, West Germany world champions, me tired from excitement.

The pub has gone now, a lot of the places I remembered as a child aren’t there anymore, but walking that route today I was a kid again. It’s been an emotional few days; old friends, old places, memories that will stay with me forever. Goodbye London, I’ll be back soon; the only city in the world where my heart rests easy.

I published The Unwashed in 2016, I had no idea how it was going to do and I still had a safety net of being able to go back to China in the event it only sold a couple of copies. To this date it’s sold over 5,000 and the other books I’ve published have sold another 1,000 copies. If I actually knew how to market, I’d probably be a millionaire already!

I wrote The Unwashed because I’ve always felt there are sections of society who are often ignored and I thought the book would give them a voice. Some said it was depressing, that was the point though, those who are ignored don’t have the most inspiring of stories but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to them.

When I was spending time researching how to self published I found most of the advice out there was pretty useless. Most forums on the internet dedicated to writers are generally filled with insufferable egos, people who are all to eager to point out what is wrong with someone’s work. My advice for people who want to write is write what you know about. You can’t build up emotion and feeling for something you don’t know about. Forums on the internet will tell you to look at what is selling most and write about that. If that’s what you’re doing you’re chasing the money and not doing what you do for the love of it.

When you use Amazon to self-publish you have a little chart which shows you how many books you’ve sold each day for the last month and it gets updated as each book is sold. I refresh it regularly, hoping to see a massive spike in sales. It hasn’t come yet but I know it will, you have to believe in what you’re doing or you’re just setting yourself up for failure. The day that spike does come I’ll probably cry!

In 2017 I went back to China for three months, I realised I had missed it. There’s a sense of freedom you get living abroad and when I’m back home I find it hard to settle back in. In China I’d eat out every night, I could watch the football at a mate’s bar, life was good but I knew if I really wanted to achieve the dream of being a successful author I had to go home and completely dedicate myself to it. It’s too easy to be distracted when you’re abroad, you tell yourself it’ll be no problem sitting down and writing for a few hours a day but instead you end up sitting on the beach and being lazy.

I spent a couple of weeks in Thailand before I came home. I found an island in the Andaman Sea called Koh Phratong which is one of the few places left in Thailand which isn’t completely consumed by tourism. There is miles of deserted beach, the internet doesn’t work very well and everywhere is powered by solar panels. The lights only came on for a few hours at night. It was nice to be cut off from the world for a period of time.

I also went to Japan for a few days, Japan has been a place I’ve wanted to go to since I was a kid and it was another place I could tick off the list. After Japan, I went back to China and then finally back home. I was lost when I got home, I knew there wasn’t going to be another trip for a good while, I also knew I would be living somewhere I didn’t know many people and it would be lonely but I was prepared to make the sacrifice to get where I wanted to be.

Sometimes I sit here in front of my laptop and thinks to myself ‘what have you done?’. I could have chosen an easier path than this, if I’d wanted to I could have stayed in China and taught, done something I didn’t enjoy but earned good money. It wasn’t something I wanted to do though. I’d always wanted to write and there is no way I will accept failure.

I set out to write this because I wanted to give myself some perspective, put down into words how far I had actually come in life. Sometimes you forget. On the 8th February I’ll have been clean for eleven years, eleven years ago to this day I was trying to struggle through another month before I could get myself detoxed and then into treatment. Since then, I’ve been to thirty countries, lived in India and China, learned new languages, published books and met amazing people along the way.

I hate saying if I can do it anyone can because it implies you faced harder struggles than anyone else. I didn’t, there are people out there who were worse than I was, also there are people who won’t have the opportunity to set their life straight like I did. That’s not downplaying my own troubles with addiction. I was given two years to live at only twenty one year’s of age and came so close to death at twenty three the doctor told my mother I might not make it while I was lying in intensive care.

I don’t regret the path I’ve taken, not even the years of madness and addiction. It was what has shaped my life and allowed me to become the person I am today. I appreciate life and I appreciate the opportunity to do the things I’m doing. Who knows what way life would have gone if I had never gone through it all? It probably wouldn’t have been as exciting and as colourful as it has been.

The last year hasn’t been the easiest, I came out of a long-term relationship, I’m living somewhere which is quite lonely, most people’s social lives revolve around going out to the pub which I have no interest in doing anymore. What I can accept though is that these were all decisions I made, and decisions I knew would be best for me in the long term. I’ll keep writing and I’ll keep publishing and I know that I’ll be back on the road before long. Travelling and writing are my calling in life, it took a long journey to realise that but I managed to reach it in the end.

Thank you for reading, I hope all I have wrote over the last week shows what motivates me as an author and I hope you have enjoyed reading.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

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The People We Meet: The Artist

‘Stupid’, ‘idiot’, ‘not very bright’ are all insults which are thrown around all to liberally. We look at what we see there in front of us, we’re superficial, too quick to make judgements on people we know little about. We prefer people to fit into the norms of society which we conform to rather than reach out and see how it is for those who don’t want to. Societies across the world have different norms and values but shunning those who don’t follow them is a universal trait. As liberal and as open minded a person can claim to be, there will still be a time when they’ve looked down on a person.

While teaching English in China I was teaching a class of middle school kids in a private school. Most of these kids were well off and this particular class was mostly well behaved. There was one kid who stood out, not because he was obviously intelligent but because the other kids would make fun of him. He wasn’t naughty either, he just sat at his desk each lesson, put his head down and did what I thought was homework. I didn’t mind them doing homework, when you teach sixty kids in one class, if they’re doing their homework they’re not causing trouble.

Occasionally I would ask him a question and he would just shrug his shoulders. He would smile while he was doing it and he didn’t take it as me picking on him. The other kids would just laugh and shout out ‘crazy’. I’m not sure if they learned that word for him but it wouldn’t surprise me. I saw him once after school and he was travelling home on the bus by himself, ignored by the other kids and they laughed and joked about as kids do when they finish school for day. I couldn’t speak more than a few words of Chinese at the time so I had no way of communicating with him but he smiled when he got off the bus.

The next time I took the class he waved me down at the end of the lesson and opened his notebook up and it was filled with the most incredible drawings which he’d done with just a Biro. He kept pointing at himself and saying ‘me! me!’ to make sure I realised it was him who had drawn the pictures. The kid had serious talent. The sad thing was that it would never be recognised. Academic achievement is the only thing which matters in China and most other Asian countries. There wouldn’t have been any teachers who would have encourage him to keep up what he was doing, as far as I am aware I don’t think they did art as a subject at that school.

The child who was ridiculed and seen as different by all the other kids had a talent which none of those who ridiculed him would come close to competing with. He would be about 20 now, when I think back to the time I spent teaching in that school I wonder what became of him. Being in the school he was his parents would have had money, so he wouldn’t have gone without. I also wonder if his parents appreciated the talent their child had.

We’re often to quick to dismiss people because they don’t have obvious ability, it wouldn’t hurt if sometimes we looked a bit deeper.

If anyone else would like to get involved in this feel free. Just write your own post on someone you’ve met who’s had an influence on your life. Add a link to this page in the post and it’ll link back to the comments here so people who see this one will also see yours. If anyone has come from Facebook I’m happy to put it up on my blog and credit you with it so just write one and send me a message.