Naya

  As the only survivor, fear drove me to make the long journey to safety.

 Settled in the new place I had lost that fear of attack. It was peaceful here. The cubs wrestled safely in the small clearing by the den. August had returned with breakfast. He’d left early. His space outside was empty when I’d checked before the dawn. They licked around his mouth encouraging regurgitation. There was a furore of feeding as they attempted to conquer too large lumps of fur and fresh meat. My heart warmed at the determined but not savage swing of his snout to separate them when it was becoming more ferocious than necessary.  

            Shards of the morning sunlight struck between the trees warming the cool earth of the late spring. I wandered down to the pool. The soft warm soil was a comfort to my front paw. The injury from the long trek here was slow to heal. Refreshed I sauntered back enjoying the space and sounds of the woods.  

I had barely returned to the den when they, having finished their food, scrambled back in after me, pestering to suckle. Habit, but suckling days were over. I was dry now. They bunched and bumped behind and around me as I returned to the pool with them. Fed and watered they rolled and tumbled back bursting with energy before flaking into a sleepy bundle in the back of den.

August lay resting in his usual position, out of the shadow of the trees, gaining the optimum benefit from the sun. Disturbing him, I nuzzled him, tasted him, licking the remnants of breakfast that his tongue had been unable to reach. I stretched and his head moved under me his nose snuffling my belly. He settled back down and closed his eyes again. I left him to his sleep.

            A spear of heat pierced my neck as I reached the entrance to the den.  A taste of iron flooded my mouth as my throat burned.  My head was swimming. I crumpled gaining stability from being on the ground. The cubs flustered around me. The warmth was draining from my body.  I could feel the innocents taking advantage of my weakness tugging at my withered teats.

Drawn up, a bloodied image lay below, a wreath of red around my neck, seeping further down my body staining my grey fur. The cubs oblivious continued to shuffle around. The desire to care pulled me back down. In those moments I looked across the clearing.

Yes, a movement in the nearest trees, a silent signal, just enough to let me know he was still there. I saw his head, his pained eyes glistened gazing into mine. Turning away, he stretched his head back a silhouette against the sun. The piercing sound of his howling pain at this injustice brought an unendurable tearing in my heart. I fought to stay awake as  I watched August’s final backward glance before he disappeared forever into the deeper wood.

Motivated by the story of Naja the first wolf to be sighted in Belguim for over one hundred years.            

What lies behind the fireplace

It was the summer of 1976. The dust and soot were slowly clouding the room and clogging up my nostrils. Putting down the hammer and chisel I opened the living room window to try and clear the air. The old fireplace was being stubborn, refusing to leave the wall. Another attempt and it gave a little, the thin gap widened to finger thick, light crept in. I noticed a piece of paper that was in the space.

            I unfolded it. It was a betting slip. Five pounds on Manchester City to beat Birmingham City in the 1956 F.A. Cup Final. I put it in my back pocket ready to begin again but was stopped before I started.

“How you getting on Tom “?

“Hi  Harry.”

“Joyce is just making a cuppa if you fancy a break?”

“Aw, this fireplace has a mind of its own, I’m having a hell of a job getting it off the wall. A cuppa sounds good to me” My future in laws lived a few doors further along the street.

            Small Heath. Industrial remnants. Old red bricked back to back houses. The narrow rear garden a suntrap. Runner beans and tomatoes flourished against the outer kitchen wall. Joyce’s pride and joy. We three sat out at the garden table, in the warmth, but in the shadow of the corner by the back door. The tea refreshed washing the dust from my mouth. I was renovating the house before my wedding.

“I’ll come down and give you a hand with that fire for while after the this if you like?” Harry offered.

 I remembered the betting slip.

“I found this behind the fireplace,” I said pulling the paper from my pocket and handing it to Harry. “It’s a betting slip from the 1956 F.A. Cup Final.”   

“Manchester City, they beat us. I was at the match,” he replied, taking the slip from me. He looked at it and passed it to Joyce. The atmosphere changed our cosy chat was interrupted by a lengthy silence that followed their knowing glances.

“I think you need to tell him,” Joyce said.

I was intrigued.

Harry took a drink then leaning forward he began.

“I think you may have found a vital piece of information about the tragedy that happened the day after that Cup Final in 1956.  The Dawson family lived at 28 Maxsted Street, your house.  Three of them. Maude Dawson, she worked down the Hotpoint with Joyce. She lost her husband John in the war, Dunkirk I…….

“Get on with it Harry, Tom doesn’t need to know this all this stuff,” urged Joyce

  He continued, his thunder slightly stolen, the opportunity to embellish confiscated by Joyce’s reprimand.

              “Okay Joyce. Terry and Derek, the twins, were my class in…”

               “Harry! “

               “Okay Joyce, but I need to give Tom a bit of background info. They were both twentysix.”

               Joyce shook her head in dismay, I smiled.

               “Terry supported the Villa and Derek the Blues. They went to Wembley for the cup final together. They had a heavy night of drinking after the match. Terry got up first the next morning looking for his betting slip which he was determined he’d left on the mantelpiece before going up to bed. Still semi – drunk he stormed back up the stairs and began shouting at Derek accusing him of taking the slip. Then the tragedy happened.

In court the evidence was that Mrs Dawson had appeared from her bedroom to see what all the noise was about, by which time Terry was pulling Derek out of bed. She told them to grow up.  They used to fight like cat and….”

                    “Harry! “Joyce interjected

                       Harry continued, “Still raging, Terry attempted to push past his mother to go back downstairs but only managed to make her over balance and tumble down in front of him. Derek was behind him by this time. The betting slip forgotten they rushed down to their mother. She was dead, broken neck.”

                      “The police came” he quickly added, “I remember Sandy Pritchard, a policeman who went to school with me, guarding the front door. “He glanced over to Joyce, no response, embellishment allowed.

                      “It got sadder, Terry  somehow managed to give Sandy the slip and just disappeared. They found his body in the canal basin by The Watering Hole three days later. You know Bill’s the grocer’s shop on the corner that used to be Frankie Bernardi’s the bookie. The police checked with him and Terry had made a five pound bet on the Saturday of the match for Manchester City to win. But it had not been claimed. There would not have been a chance to until the Monday anyway. Derek had no offence to answer, but he was a broken man and left Birmingham after the funerals.”

                    “There was only a small gap behind the fireplace,” I said “I can’t see how that betting slip could have got down there unless it was pushed down. Do you think.?

                      “Don’t go there Tom “Harry replied, softly. “I’m not a betting man.” 

Go Your Own Way

It was his room, not theirs’! Mum slept in with my sister. Except when he needed her, but she didn’t stay all night. Sometimes you heard the muffled conversations in there. A there that was now empty of him, it had become a dingy, depressing room, stale, an ill place, the curtains seldom open. A dangerous silence, a creepy sense, a feeling of not knowing what you may find. The certainty that there would be the one visit that you’ve been dreading but also wishing for closure. We never knew if he was ready.

That visit had been and gone.

I picked at the paint on the door frame that was chipped when the coffin caught it as they carried him out. I stood on the threshold tense about crossing. Done, it was physically painless.  

Death seems to be all around, September 5th ,1972, the Munich Olympics, the massacre. I am twelve. The bedding lies ugly, untidy, unmade, the blankets latterly too heavy for his emaciated torso and fragile twigged limbs are now bundled at the base.

He was always his own man. Did things his own way. Selfish? If he were different could we have had more time? A better time? Alcohol, self- medication he called it. That was his wish. It worked for him.

     He is gone now yet he remains. The Richmond tipped, used twenty packs. A Gideons bible. Help or hinderance? A bottle of Old Spice aftershave and a half empty Johnny Walker Red label sit mirrored on the dressing table. Once again, I remember the instinct, the yearning to tidy, to make it nice for him, and that experience has taught not to. To accept that was not what he wished. Respecting was hard.

            A copy of the Racing Post, an unexpected catalyst, lies on the nightclub sticky carpet by his bedside. I have been robbed. The morning ritual right up until yesterday. It only took five minutes. Five precious minutes. I would read the form, the odds. Write his bet. Drop it off at his bookies at lunchtime, call back hopefully to collect at the end of school. It was ours, just ours. He always soothed us both quoting from Kipling’s If –

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch and toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss

A frivolity he attached to all his world.

She disturbs me, my mother as she pulls the curtains wide, sunlight invades the room, warming. The dust speckles amongst it rays. Opening, the window creaks, breeze brushing the curtains and a robin’s chirping echoes outside. She is tight, stiff , mechanically she clears the sheets, blankets, pillowcases, a pile in the small hallway at the stair top.

            She returns. Standing by the bed, with empty cradled arms, she swings them gently  towards the window. The sun catches the damp of her eyes. My older sister joins us and I smell her shampoo. He loved her golden long hair.  She comes closer to me, grasps my hand it feels comfortable. It feels right.

My mother drops her arms her shoulders relax, she turns to us, we hug she whispers.

“ His spirit has flown.”

Don Russell                                01/04/2019

Reconciliation

“They were great, Blues were, weren’t they Dad? Specially the second goal.”

“It’s the best I’ve seen them play all season.”

“Do you think they’ll get us some more in the second half.”

“If they don’t hurry up with the pies we wouldn’t get to see any of the second half.”

“Here, give me your hand until we get through this crowd. It’s frozen boy we need to get you some gloves for next time. “

“That was great Dad. They were even better in the second half. You were right you said at half time they would be. Best game of the season Dad.“

“Sounds like you enjoyed it son. Fancy the next home game?”

“That would be great!”

“We’ll arrange it with your mother when I drop you back.”

“Oh! I can’t come, I just remembered it’s Brian’s daughter’s birthday and Mum and I have been invited to her party. Ah, do you think I could ask Mum if I could come with you instead?”

“Don’t worry son, they’ll be other matches. I’ll wait here in the car until you’re in the house.”

“See you Dad. Thanks.”

“I enjoyed it Billy. See you soon.”

————————-

“John, what is it.?”

“There’s no problem Jane everything’s fine. I’d just reached the corner and I noticed Billy had left his programme in the car.”

“Come in John, come in. I’m glad you came to the door, I was going to ring you later. It’s okay Brian’s out but it doesn’t matter to me if he’s in or out anymore we need to move on.”

“Are you sure?”

            “Yeh, yeh. I’ve been thinking. I watched Billy tearing up the path. He came in full of it. The match, how you nearly missed the second half waiting for your pies. The great goals, how you both thought it was the best game of the season. He loves going with you. He said you asked him to the next home game. “

“Sorry should have checked with you first.”

            “Nah. Eleven trying to be eighteen, he told me he’d explained to you he has a busy social life and wouldn’t be able to make it because of the party. I could see by his face what he would have preferred.  I think he was worried about putting me out. I felt bad. I told him he could have gone to the match if wanted. That seemed to confuse him more and he trudged off up the stairs. I think we need to …”

“I know. Listen, I’m happy to take him to every home match but ….”

“I’ve been awkward at times.”

“So have I Jane. He’s more important than us.”

“I’ll give him a shout.”

“Billy son, your Dad’s here. Can you come down a minute?”

“You’d left your programme in the car I was bringing it in.”

“Billy, I was just saying to your Dad, they’ll probably be mostly girls at Molly’s birthday party. You’d be as well going to the footie with your Dad if you prefer. “

“If you didn’t mind Mum?”

“Billy you’re important to your Dad and me and we still both want what’s best for you even although we’re not together anymore. So, are we sorted then? I’ll go to the party and you and your Dad go to the match.”

“Ye!!!!”

“Oh Billy, I nearly forgot. Your programme that’s why I came back.”

Dad winked. Billy blushed.

“See you in two weeks son.”

Don Russell         18/03/2019

The Cycle

Tuesdays I saw him. He picked me up from school, his baggy blue dungarees wash faded and work stained from the garage and worn powdered blue at the knees.  The scent of diesel from them as I hugged his thigh. On sunny Tuesdays we sauntered neglectful of time along the canal path. When there was no else about he’d throw stones across the width of the canal. Once he hit a woman on a bike at the other side. We never told anyone.

The bibbed pocket at the front of his dungarees held his cigarettes and a silver Colibri lighter. When he smoked, half the tip seemed to slide through his lips, the smoke would be lost then it would float back out around the bottom of his nostrils. He also kept his spectacles, one of the arms was stuck with Elastoplast and there on Tuesdays Blackjacks.

It was a ritual, Tuesday. We never went into his house first we went into the back garden. My school bag and his lunch box were left on the door step.

We stopped at the pear tree, the muscles on his arms, his fore-arms steeled, as he lifted me high to grab those ready for picking before we headed to the greenhouse.

The standpipe in the greenhouse was too tight for me, he’d lean to help. The smell of his cigarettes and beer mixed with the aroma of tomatoes hung in here. Watering cans sat in the corner. The large galvanised one dwarfed the shiny brass one which had my name painted in white upon it.

After the plants in and out of the greenhouse had been watered we’d walk in silence round the vegetable plot. Sometimes he’d hold my hand , the veins on the back of his raised, or we’d  pull a bit of dead growth or newly sprouted weeds from here or there.  When the garden tasks were finished we’d get our things from the doorstep and go into the kitchen.

I usually had eight blackjacks, four for a penny, old money. He’d remove them  with everything else  from the pocket of his dungaree bib before slipping the shoulder straps allowing him to  take of his shirt.  He left his white singlet vest on and a had wash in the kitchen sink. On the top of his right shoulder there was a tattoo. Not a cross, but a crucifix, Christ was upon it. He was a noisy washer. Each handful of water hitting his face was accompanied by shooshing from his mouth, a sound like one may make coming in from the wind and rain. Finished,dried ,he’d go and change. He mostly wore a maroon woollen waistcoat fawn at the edges that my mother had knitted. I would eat my Blackjacks while he was doing all this.

My thoughts were interrupted by a small voice and a tug on my sleeve.

“ Grandad its empty“

I took the little old  brass watering can he offered me and replenished and returned it to him.

“Thank you Grandad. Grandad why do the veins on the back of your hands stick out ?

Don Russell                             30/01/2019

This is a true one. I hope it helps somebody.

 

After listening to actor David Harewood on the BBC this morning I remember how:

In the mid 1990’s I found myself in such a place. Overwhelmed by all around, unable to concentrate on work, full of irrational worries, physically and mentally exhausted but unable to sleep, short tempered unpredictable behaviours towards my family and finally morbid thoughts about ending it all. I stood looking at rafters where I could hang myself, realised what I was thinking was perhaps not so horrid then as quickly that it was hideous.

The thing that prevented it all ending was taking that first step of telling someone. In this case my wife. I was fortunate to have a loving family around who cared about me and good professionals who understood my situation. I needed it because an acceptance of mental illness, in my case clinical depression added another pressure for me at that time internally as viewing myself as a failure. Weak, unable to cope.

I could reflect on all the things that happened since then, but I just want to say.

Don’t be afraid to tell someone you are afraid, they can see if your leg is broken …………………but not your brain.

 

Don Russell   14/05/2018

Crofton Court

 

The move to the agency last year from the security of a permanent job had been a success. No more sleepless nights worrying about things over which he had no control. The mortgage was paid, Ann was gone. An amicable divorce emotionally and financially.  At 55, single again, comfortably solvent he decided his health came first. Work with the agency was steady and optional. His stress levels had dropped. Gordon was enjoying life again.

His phone pinged!  Text from the agency.

Sleepover, Crofton Court residential drug rehab, this evening at eight. Double time. Sort out the paperwork in the week. Interested?

Sunday evening, he imagined coming home early Monday settling for a lazy day whilst the world was careering into a new week. It appealed yes, he was interested. The money would also be handy.

The building appeared generally uncared for. In the soft evening breeze, the last of sun on the lofty perimeter wall highlighted areas where mortar had long disappeared. Heavily rusted hinges held thick wooden gates, their bottom quarters covered in grass and weeds suggesting they’d long been unable to serve their purpose. Above the front door of the substantial building the faded wooden sign, that creaked as it swung, confirmed this was Crofton Court.

The doorbell button felt loose and broken, he was therefore surprised by the sudden response. The  appearance of the woman that contradicted his opinion about the bell. A tight jeaned figure in a baggy jumper, possibly mid-thirties, strong black hair pulled back in a pony tail and friendly blue eyes.

“Can I help you?” A hint of an Irish lilt.

“Hi, I’m Gordon, I’m from the agency, for the sleepover.”

“Oh yes come in. I’m Mary, by the way,” she replied, proffering her hand.

 

Over a coffee Mary explained that the unit had been open for ten years. Built in the 1890’s originally as a large family home it was bequeathed to an order of nuns for use as a convent in the 1920’s. When TB was rife many of the nuns trained to be nurses and it was turned into Crofton Hospital for children smitten with the illness. The nuns also provided spiritual and emotional support to the families as well as the medical support to their patients. There were lots of concerns about how contagious TB was at the time, so diagnosis sadily often meant little or no further contact with families for the children. The nuns became like surrogate parents to the poor souls as they spent their final days otherwise isolated. The place closed in the 1950’s.

“That’s the past, it was empty for many years before we bought it and we’ve done up the top two floors. We still have work to do on the ground floor where the staff quarters are. There were ten individual rooms, five on each of the two floors. We turned them into 8 en-suites. We only finished the final one a couple of months ago and we’re due to start work on the ground floor soon.”

“Usually this is when I’d introduce you to the residents but they’re on the way back from a weekend in Cornwall and I’ve just had word to say the van has broken down. Gordon you’ve struck lucky, a quiet night I would imagine,” she smiled teasing.

“It’s after nine now so if you fancy another coffee to keep me company a while that would be helpful.  As you’re on a sleeping nightshift the night’s your own unless there is any crisis which is unlikely. So you’ll be undisturbed. The sleeping room is number two, bottom of the corridor on the right. Oh! And you need to be up for seven to help me set up breakfast assuming the residents get home.

Feeling obliged, Gordon participated in a drink before going to bed.

Just after ten he closed the door, the room was hushed, an oasis of peace after the bombardment of information from a friendly but very chatty Mary. The room had a monastic feel, intricate bulky cornice surrounded the high brown stained and white ceiling. What he imagined to be the original dark wooden panels from the floor upwards encased the room and tweaked his mild tendency to claustrophobia. In the far corner there was a chunky old-fashioned sink with grotesque taps. However, the water warmed quickly, and he felt refreshed as he washed his face. The towel smelt stale, returning it to the rail by the sink he used his own from the bag on the bed.

He slipped of his shoes, experience had taught him, that no matter how unexpected, situations did arise, so he remained dressed in his joggers and sweater. Pillows tucked behind him he to settled into his book. He was distracted from it becoming aware of the large white, possibly marble, crucifix looming high on the wall facing his bed end. A stark feature against the dark unrenovated panelling. He found himself drawn by it, staring up trying to ascertain how specific the facial features of the Christ upon were.

Immersed by an atmosphere of lethargy emanating from his surroundings, a gentle intoxication encouraging a slow, silent undressing from the world, a yearning to be never again disturbed. The quilt took on a luxurious comforting aura of physical softness, withdrawing any inclination to pull it back even if he had strength to remove it, he drifted to sleep.

Something gently brushed his brow. He raised his hand only to have it grasped by a child’s. A voice breathed across his face.

“I love you George I’m going to miss you so much, don’t be afraid because I am taking you to good place son, God is waiting to take you in his arms.”

Initially confused by the intensity of his dream he found himself intoxicated again by the same earlier atmosphere and settled to sleep.

A warm breath caressed his cheek, it felt like a small child’s head nestled between his throat and shoulder. It whispered a weak message.

“I don’t want to go, it’s not my time yet, save me, save me,” a boy’s voice pleaded, fading with each repetition.

Startled by the vividness, his hand searched. Nothing. All was peaceful apart from occasional distant aged creaks from old floors. Sleep returned.

This time his hand was being pulled urgently, “hold me, hold me don’t let her take me “a child’s soft sob, wet lips spread saliva on his neck, the pleading voice now but a faint utterance. All went quiet and his hand was released, he put on the light he, the action ensuring to him he was awake. But then the light went out.

In the darkness there was weight on his chest pinning him to the bed. A piercing light beamed from the crucifix, the figure of a nun astride him forcing her hand over his mouth. It smelt of incense. He twisted and pushed frantically as his breath began to drain.  His heart was thumping as he fought for his life and then.

His phone alarm woke him. It was six thirty. It was Monday and the birds were warming their throats for the dawn chorus. He felt like someone had taken his brain out slapped it around and put in back in whilst it was still shaking. He struggled to get his bearings.

Mary was already up, he could smell coffee.

“Gordon, you look terrible.” she continued as she poured him a coffee. “I’m going to take a guess that something unsavoury happened during the night.”

Gordon began to explain. Mary stopped him.

“Listen, room two was the death room when this was the TB hospital. It meant patients didn’t have to be carried downstairs when dead in sight of others. Most of the staff sleep in there and are completely unaffected. A couple myself being one have experienced what I think you may be going to tell me.

“Grab your coffee, we’ve a little time before breakfast, come along to the office with me. When we were refurbishing we found a small hidden closet in each of the rooms. All but one was empty and in that one we found a chest with the belongings for a Sister Vincent. John the other member who had the experience have named her perhaps a little cruelly the Sister of Death.”

Mary lifted the small chest from the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet, opened it and removed a black leather diary. Then read the following entry for 13th October 1933.

George Patience aged seven was moved to room two late in the afternoon. George is deteriorating rapidly. Father God there was so much pain in that room, the child was clinging to what? There was no future here, time for him to give up his space to end his struggle to come to you. I softly smothered him with his pillow, so little fight. A glorious rest for him. I will tell the parents in the morning it was a peaceful death and that he passed in his sleep. Father forgive me, I know he like many has gone before their time, rebuke me not for him for arriving early.

“That is the last entry in the diary, we found it with earlier diaries also containing numerous entries recording similar acts. Other personal things, a ring, a crucifix, rosary beads, birth certificate and a death certificate dated 14th Oct 1933. Age at death 72, the cause of death was given as exhaustion. It seems unlikely that anyone ever read the entries or if they did decide to slip them away in the closet. Cover up in today’s terminology

“We think the room hold’s unsettled spirits gone before God planned that they will never be at peace and a repentant Sister Vincent still wrestles to comfort them as a justification of her sins.  George would appear to have been the last of the line and perhaps comes back to speak for all the lost souls.

“Does that kind of explain what was happening to you in the night?”

Gordon nodded his head whilst re-assuring himself this was the first and last sleepover at Crofton Court.

 

Don Russell     1/5/2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost Love

 

The cold was creeping into my knees, tugging my great coat over them I shuddered contently at the returning warmth. Not too long now. I washed the last mouthful of my chicken Balti pie down with the remains of the Bovril.

A pie and Bovril sat waiting in Row J seat 29, hopefully, but inevitably hopelessly. It was more a symbol of respect and remembrance of all the rowdy Saturdays that went before. In the early days cold didn’t matter, pre match no pies but piling into pints in the Garrison Tavern. The slight inconvenience of battling through the crowded Spion Kop before the match had reached half time to relieve our selves.

The crowd roared as the action began. A young boy in the  row in front was struggling to see even after swapping seats with his father. I knew J29 would not be needed today and tapped the man on the shoulder. I cleared the seat and the boy smiled gratefully as he took the place. A much better view and an unexpected pie and Bovril.

Goal!!!

I stood hollow. Johnny, Johnny Brown I miss the spontaneous moments of unembarrassed hugs of joy we shared. For some stupid reason a small voice reminded me it would have been his turn to buy the pies.

Don Russell    07/03/2018

 

The Long and the Short when we were not so Tall !

Brian MacLeod, suddenly at Winchester on 16th Feb 2018, aged 63. Loving husband of Carrie, father to Mary and Graham. Brother to Peter and Kevin. Originally from Bruar. Funeral arrangements to follow.

Most Fridays I read the Bruar Courier on line, particularly the death notifications. Almost half a century has passed since this place, where I was born, was my home. Despite the years names of the deceased occasionally bring back thoughts of my childhood and teens there. Brian Macleod was one that resonated strongly with my past. The mention of brothers Peter and Kevin confirmed it was the right Brian. Sometimes a name remains entangled in your memory for life.

Brian Macleod and me. The summer of 1965. Holidays. We were eleven, our days were spent playing football with others on the rough ground behind our houses. At the start of the holidays we’d cut the bushes back expanding the size of the pitch and for the next eight weeks most days we’d play from early morning til dusk apart from going in for dinner.

A few of us had left primary school at the end of the term. It was a strange feeling that final day, the first time I remember something having a last time. After the holidays we would be moving to secondary schools. Some were going to the one on the west of the river, others like Brian and I were headed east across the river to the Academy. Normally the move to secondary school was accompanied with the replacement of short school trousers for long ones. A rite of passage.

Brian had been an acquaintance, we were in the same class and sometimes we’d walk home from school together, but you couldn’t say we were mates. He lived in the block further down the road and during summer we’d play one block against the other or mixed teams. I gradually got to know him. One evening after the rest had gone and following a game of one against one we sat on the grass.  Our backs were against the two large boulders found in the undergrowth and dragged into place as goalposts at the beginning of summer. Suddenly he asked?

“Are you wearing long trousers to the Academy?”

“Nah, my father says I can have them when I’m twelve, so I’ll have to wait til November. “

“Either am I,” he continued. “My sister said you get hit across the back of your legs with rulers and people say you’re in the wrong school that the primary school is further up the road if you go in short trousers.”

I wasn’t too upset for Brian, just relieved to be honest that I suddenly realised I wasn’t going to be the sole wearer of shorts on my first day. But we kind of shared our worry without saying so.

In those moments we became friends, an allegiance cemented in facing a similar adversity. We hatched a plan to see if we could get our parents to change their minds. Brian came to my house and told my mother that his mother had just been out and bought him long trousers. Then we went to his house and I told his mother that my mother had just bought long trousers for me.

Later that evening my mother had weakened a little and mentioned to my father about Brian’s visit.  He was immovable, I would get them in November when I was twelve. I sensed that Brian’s visit had converted my mam, but my father was being harder work.

Tuesdays my mother went to town, this was the last Tuesday of the holidays, school started on the Thursday. As she reached the door I gave it a last shot, reminding her of Brian’s visit. She didn’t say no. Hope prevailed. The bus was early and with me holding her up at the door she missed it and had to wait half an hour for the next one. It was now in the lap of the God’s. I went and played football.

She’d returned by the time I came in for dinner. I looked around for any evidence of the trousers. Nothing to be seen.  I asked the question.

She answered.

“I was speaking to Mrs Macleod when I got to the bus stop. She told me her Brian is going to the Academy in shorts, so you wouldn’t be on your own. She also told about your visit to her. A bit like Brian’s visit to me, “she smiled knowingly.

Caught and devastated I accepted defeat but initially I felt fate had played its hand. Would it have been different if she hadn’t met Brian’s mother at the bus stop? If she hadn’t missed the earlier bus? Had I caused my own downfall?

Thursday morning arrived. Dressed in a new blazer, shirt, tie and short trousers I left the house. I felt there was a huge gap between my shorts and socks. Reaching the bus stop my heart sank and hit my stomach. Brian bloody Macleod was standing there wearing long trousers.

Forgiven.

RIP Brian.

Don Russell    17/3/2018