It’s a cold morning, and you’d like to cook breakfast. Porridge, scrambled eggs and toast and coffee, his favourite. This morning he asks for toast and coffee. You can hear him showering. It seems only a few years ago you scrubbed his back and covered his eyes with a flannel before washing his brown hair. And one evening, he said, ‘I can bathe myself now mum’ ~ the first turning point.
He always worked hard at school. Every result hard-won, never the top, but near enough: it doesn’t matter. It all worked out in the end. You can see his bloody nose ‘what’s happened?’ He said nothing because he didn’t want you to worry. Later you discovered he’d refused to give way to a school bully. He’d lost, but it didn’t matter: he was the hero of that day. Even though you worried about the fight, his courage filled your heart with pride. Goodness knows how he’d become so brave.
Not all ran smoothly. During life everyone falls in with the wrong crowd at some time. There are worries and fears aplenty. Drink, cigarettes and suspicion of drugs, difficult times. Perhaps it was divine intervention the night he stayed home. A stolen car, a police chase ending in flames. Friends lost, but a determination to follow a new and better way evolved.
A guitar became his companion. Strum a few chords. Follow the words of a song. Unimaginable noise: mind’s edge on the limit. Years went by, and one day he could play, not perfection: but very good and no, not a great voice accompanying the songs, but there is something of a dark angel in the way it sounds. And his songs are too dark and sorrowful for your taste. In truth the voice reminds you of his father.
Without a father, it was tough. How many times have you gone ‘without’ to feed and clothe this man who is now in your kitchen, sipping his coffee, saying nothing? You remember that for months before Christmas you saved to buy the £140 trainers. Although the purchase could not be a secret: both of you visited the sports store: so the trainers were an excellent fit: this is the way of poverty: there are no surprises: no room for error.
The assistant said:
‘How can I help?’
‘I’d like a pair of XYZ size 42 please.’
You looked at him: surely he wanted ABC’s?
‘Mum £50 is more than enough to spend on trainers’
He knew: he knew the whole story.
Once he asked about his father. And you gave him the address and phone number. Later he said he’d gone over to ‘The Dreamland’ bar and watched his father. ‘Not the man for me mum: a stranger I don’t need to know’, and he never spoke of him again.
‘He’ll succeed in any degree he chooses Mrs B’ said the teacher.
Rennie broke his heart and cost him his best friend. Rennie will hurt many men with her stunning looks and inherent selfishness. He sees the truth: the lesson is not for lost love: it is betrayal that cuts the heart in two. You saw her last week. ‘How is he, Mrs B?’ she knows her loss.
Long nights studying and four grade A+ A levels: all three university applications resulted in being offered places. Everyone was over the moon. Grandmother wept with pride. I’m considering medicine, mum. A dream once thought impossible: and yet there he was at the threshold of a beautiful career. And then:
‘Mum, I’m not taking my university place’, A lightning bolt shock splitting the tree of hope and security. ‘I do not want to work in a job I cannot be sure I love. I want to be free and without constraints’ Constraints? Where did that come from?
And because you love him the decision is accepted.
‘No, Mum. I’ll have to go soon.’
So few possessions: money saved from his supermarket sweeping and garage kiosk weekends. He is always paying his way: never asking for excess. But his silence can be uncomfortable: after all these years: there is still dark recesses of his mind never to know. Is that the particular ‘something’ that is part of his popularity? No one could call him good-looking or a fashion god. He’d blend into every crowd, unseen, making his way without complaining.
Money is not worshipped: and yet he is careful with his account. Never played sports or followed a team. His only valuable possession a three years old iPhone. And no, he’s not a hermit: there were thirty people at the barbecue last Sunday. No one wanted to leave: a magical day.
‘Time to go Mum’
He picks up the navy duffle sack owned for years. You know it contains two pairs of rolled-up jeans, teeshirts, a pea-green jumper, socks and pants. Apart from the duffel sack, the guitar case. God knows what the future holds. A low paid job in a media studio is the idea. Sweeping floors, making tea and coffee. He has enough money saved for three months of rent, bills and food.
How could anyone give up a place at medical school? Leave home with all one’s savings and possessions to find a new life? There was no point in arguing or opposing the decision. He knows there will always be a home here.
A hug: some tears: and he’s gone.
Two months later: A recorded letter:
Thanks for the texts and Sunday morning calls. Sorry I have been so secretive. I have an evening job in the music studio, and I’m busking three days a week! I have my pitch, and you’d be surprised how good life is: Keep my room tidy: Here is the rent.
See you for my birthday barbecue.
Enclosed are ten fifty pounds notes.