by Andrew Foote
"I'm going out this morning, stuff I need to do, so if there's nothing you need me for, I'll get off."
"Want me to come with you Ed?"
"No, but thanks anyway, this is something I want to do by myself."
"Okay but keep your phone with you."
"Yeah I've got it. Shouldn't be that long, I'll probably be back by around lunchtime."
"Are you sure you don't want me to tag along? If it's like private stuff, I won't go asking questions?"
"Look Callum? I need to get back to Solihull, there's stuff there I need, and yes, okay I'd love you to come with me, but I've only got enough money for my rail fare."
"Then I'm deffo coming with you. Safety in numbers, remember? And anyway, I've got enough cash to cover my own costs.
Let me go grab my coat and I'll go and tell Pip where we're going just in case of trouble."
It was Christmas Eve and all the last-minute shoppers meant the city centre was fast becoming busy, but as we were heading out of town rather than into town, our train was almost empty and we could sit for the entire journey.
I had wondered about being recognised, but then my hair had grown out considerably and with a beanie pulled down almost obscuring my vision, I was as well disguised as I could be, and anyway, what did it matter if I was?
I did notice a couple of kids from my old school waiting at Solihull station, but they didn't appear to notice me making the walk back to the house uneventful.
We crouched park side of the fence at the bottom of the garden and checked for movement at both my next door neighbour's houses, but all was quiet and with both sets of curtains drawn, I guessed both families were away for the duration so we scooted through the garden to the back door and let ourselves in.
"I know you said it was sort of a private trip, but what exactly did you come back for?"
"Presents for the kids mainly.
Up in the attic there are loads of old games and stuff, all perfectly okay and probably not best suited to our lot given their ages, but then I got to thinking. When you've got nothing, to have at least something has to be a bonus, it's kicking about and it's free, so why not?"
"Yeah well, I'm sure they'll appreciate it.
Lead the way then!"
Passing what I thought were the most suitable items down to Callum, he packed them into suitcases before we took a break for coffee.
"That case is pretty much full. Is there much more up there?"
"No more games, but there's boxes of my old clothes that are too small for me so I thought we'd take some of the better things, and if any of the kids want them, they can have them."
"Jesus Ed? You'd never have managed to get this lot back by yourself? Fucking good job I came with you!"
"Yeah, and actually, I wish now I'd asked Pip as well 'cos I'm not done yet."
"I'll give him a shout, shall I? He could be here in about half an hour?"
"Yes okay. Do it, but tell him to put his skates on, we've still got that Tesco thing to do later on."
We finished packing and while Callum was busy brewing more coffee and waiting for Pip to show up, I went to see if I could find the one thing I had really come for.
I had wanted to buy something special for Callum but with cash not exactly being my biggest asset, I decided to take something from home and fortunately, I managed to find what I was looking for with relative ease so stuffing it in my pocket, I took one more look around my mother's bedroom before being drawn to her wardrobe and an overwhelming urge to look inside took hold.
Dresses, blouses, skirts and shoes. Loads of bloody shoes, and as the majority of this gear was bought while my folks were still together, I can only imagine that much of this stuff was on the high end in a scale of one to ten in the quality stakes and the thought crossed my mind, 'Ebay it!' but no way of getting on line meant that was a non-starter.
I went to close the door when a shoe fell off the top shelf and clouted me on the forehead.
I stuffed it back from whence it came which caused two more to fall to the floor, but this time I left them there and again I went to close the door, but then saw something else, something I'd thought I'd lost for ever.
It was my old cashbox.
I grabbed it and gave it a shake.
No rattle of coins but there was definitely something inside so I ran to the top of the stairs and shouted for Callum.
"Here, catch this and I'll be down in a minute!"
I closed up, and taking one more look around, I chased down the stairs just as Pip wandered in.
"What-ho guys! Is that coffee I smell?"
He then took a look around the kitchen, and seeing the cases said,
"Jesus you blokes, what on earth is in those cases!"
"Later. First I need to open this sodding box!"
I found my keys and fingered through them before finding the right one and with my hands trembling with anticipation, I unlocked the box and threw open the lid.
Vocal as always, Callum was the first to speak.
"Fucking-hell Ed? How much dosh is in there?"
"God knows, a lot by the looks of things!
Let's count it."
"Eleven sixty, eleven eighty, twelve hundred. Twelve hundred quid!!! Exactly the amount that arsehole nicked from my bank account!
Come on, let's get out of here!"
We left by the front door with three large, heavy cases, three table lamps, a supply of bulbs and my pockets stuffed with twenty pound notes.
A well productive morning!
We got to the station just as our train pulled in and once we were seated, Pip asked the inevitable question.
"If he nicked your money, why didn't he spend it?"
"Search me. Maybe it wasn't him after all, maybe it was my mother who took it, hid it from him so keeping it somewhere safe for me.
Maybe I've misjudged her, who knows but at least I've got it back."
"What do you plan on doing with it? Bank it or spend it?"
"First off, bank it.
I can get to one of those credit point machines before we hit Tesco's and then I can get shot of it, change my access code then think about stuff, but what I might well do is buy a serviceable laptop so I can get online."
"Yeah but why the need to get online Ed?"
"You've both seen my house? It's banged full of stuff, quality stuff I'll never use so I intend to flog it, make some money off the back of it.
I reckon I'm owed."
"Flog it from where though? Can't hardly do it from our place?"
"Do it from the house.
Stick the stuff on auction and if we get any takers, which we will, then we go back to Solihull and do the business there. Problem sorted!"
"Yes we !
I'll tell you something else. I'll be giving both of you my new access code 'cos if anything happens to me, I want both of you to be able to get your mitts on my money."
"Do you trust us enough Ed? I mean we could always do a runner!"
"Sure, you could, but I know you too well.
I love Callum, he loves me and you Pip, are my best mate, so?"
"Okay! You're right of course, of course we wouldn't go touching it, but do you wanna know what is touching?
Your faith in us, that's what!"
Our luck held good at Tesco's.
Callum was all for stealing stuff out of the bins but I had a different idea, and once I'd managed to get Pip onside, we made our way through front entrance of the store to the Customer Service desk and asked if we could speak to the store manager.
He met us but I don't think he was best impressed.
"So, what do you lot want?"
"I was going to say a sympathetic ear, but that isn't right because that's a step too far. What we're hoping for is your permission to help ourselves to some perishables that would otherwise go to waste."
"What makes you think that there will be any? Our stock control means that we minimise wastage."
"I know that you try your best, but then neither do you want to run short of anything as that wouldn't show off your brand very well. Everyone understands there has to be a degree of wastage and all we're asking for is to be allowed to take some of it."
"Why did you come to me? Most people just steal it."
"Try, we want to be honest? We're street children, we don't have much money, but then neither are we bad people. Sure, we nick stuff when we have no other choice, and okay, rough we may be, but our hearts are in the right place."
"You, young man, sound as if you've received an education. Odd for a street kid wouldn't you say?"
"Hatton Grammar School, that is until my family disintegrated."
"What house were you in?"
"What is so special about Warwick House?"
"Nothing. They're a bunch of idiots, their heads planted so far up their arses that they think they're a cut above the rest."
"Right answer. I was in Stratford when I was there!
Go out the way you came and I'll get someone to meet you at the rear of the store in a few minutes."
Three trolley loads later, and said trollies returned to the store, we took an inventory of everything we'd been given.
Turkey breasts aplenty, stuffing balls, vegetables, stock cubes, potatoes, a number of damaged Christmas puddings, tins of soup (bent of course), Sausages, bacon, eggs, bread, butter, three cases of Coca-Cola and two of lemonade, milk by the gallon, biscuits, cheese and two huge tins of sweets.
"Fucking-hell. Where are we going to keep this stuff!"
"Get as much of the meat as you can into the fridge together with the cheese and butter. The milk we can dunk in the canal, that'll keep it cool enough and the containers are tough enough to stop the rats from getting to it.
Put all the cans of drink by the Christmas tree together with the sweets, I dunno what we do with the bread, I'll think of summat later, the rest can live in the cupboard as it seems rat-free."
"Yeah but I'm worried about the fucking bread Ed?"
Empty the smaller of the suitcases, find somewhere to plug in the table lamps, shove the spare bulbs in the cupboard and what clothing there is, we sleep on top of, the bread can live in the suitcase for now."
Do you want me to fire up the genny?"
"Yes please Callum, but let's not light the tree until everyone's back."
I think it was gone seven in the evening before everyone was home. The conversation was the usual talk of the day's activities like scamming this and thieving that, but no one seemed in anyway excited by the fact that it was Christmas Eve, in fact the opposite was the case. Miserable faces, down-beat over the prospect that nowhere would be open so no point in getting out of bed come the morning.
I voiced my feelings in a chat with Pip and Callum who didn't appear to share my concerns.
"What you've got to remember is, none of them can probably remember a Christmas where they felt secure. They live from hand to mouth and Christmas is the one time of the year there isn't a hand to feed the mouth."
"I hear you, but I just know there's going to be this attitude of 'so what the fuck' when we turn on the lights, all that effort for what? Disinterest? All those grand illuminations all around the city and then ours? A pathetic attempt to get into the spirit of things.
I've got this horrible feeling it's going to fall flat on its face."
"Bollocks! Have some faith Ed!
I'm fed up of waiting so I'm going to take it upon myself and announce the tree ceremony so get over there and be ready to switch the lights on when I say"
"Listen up people! Who can tell me what day it is today?"
One lone voice in amongst the mutterings.
"Christmas-fucking-Eve. So what!"
"Yeah…… Christmas-fucking-Eve, but what if things could be better?"
Another voice spoke up.
"It sort of already is. At least we're all together, but Christmas is still so much shit."
"Yeah, we're all together and if that wasn't special enough? Hit the lights Ed!"
The tree lit up and with the little CD fans reflecting their rainbows around the room, the place fell silent. Seriously, you could've heard a pin drop, and after what seemed like forever, Bobby got to his feet and began to sing.
'Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright.
'Round yon virgin Mother and child.
Holy infant so tender and mild.
Sleep in heavenly peace…
Sleep in heavenly peace.'
Bobby's pitch-perfect soprano voice echoed around the room and just as soon as he'd finished, another voice began to sing the same verse and slowly the entire room was singing.
Twice this happened then a round of applause and the room settled down.
I wiped the tears from my eyes and to break the impasse, stood up and made my own announcement.
"Holy shit Bobby? I don't think I've ever felt so moved, not ever. Thank you for bringing a little bit of the spirit of Christmas into this place."
"No worries Ed.
I know that I'm probably the only one here who believes, but try to look at it like this.
That kid Jesus was born to unmarried parents.
Not a good start!
They were poor, and he was born in a barn surrounded by animals far away from home, and yet he went on to be the saviour of all mankind.
He got himself murdered, but before that happened, he did things, good things that made a difference, and the way I see it, if he can do it, so can we. I mean we ain't so different from him, are we?
We're poor, we live in a barn…… sort of, so think about it."
"Cheers Bobby. Well spoken, and while we on the subject of being poor? Tonight we're rich!
Under the tree you'll find cans of pop and tins of sweets so go help yourselves BUT, one word of caution.
Don't go getting greedy!
This lot has to last us tonight and tomorrow, and if I find ANYONE hording stuff, I'll fucking slay them. Take what you need, and if you want to come back for more later on then fine, but please be considerate, okay?"
Tiny was quick-witted and no mistake!
"I take you mean slay as in kill, not sleigh as in Father Christmas? If that old bastard tried to come down our chimney, he'd fry his arse!"
On the subject of food, we have enough gear to do a passable job on tomorrows Christmas lunch but we'll need your help.
It makes no odds if you're crap at cooking, washing up and preparing stuff is just as important, so it'd be good if everyone could lend a hand."
I handed over to Callum.
"You heard the man? Ed has a new book, so go and grab yourself something and we can get settled down for the evening and…… Happy Christmas!"
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