Andrew

by The Composer

Chapter 7

I was used to walking the streets. I had done it often enough before, and I kept on walking and walking, turning into street after street. But this time, I had got myself completely lost. I paused for breath, and looked round. I had no idea where I was. There was a man in a garden nearby, and he came out, and looked me up and down, then said, "Can I help you?" It was more of a "What are you doing here?" At least I wasn't as scruffy as before. Those fancy new clothes which Charles had bought me at least meant that he hadn't rung the police.

"I'm lost," I told him.

"You do look a bit lost," he said, and there was just a hint of amusement in his voice. "Where are you looking for?"

"I'm not," I told him. He looked at me slightly quizzically. "Well, let me put it this way. I'm new to the area and I went out for a walk, and I didn't pay any attention to where I was going."

"You were striding along quite vigorously there."

I decided to be honest. "I had an argument with my uncle."

He shrugged. "That's what uncles are for." I couldn't help grinning at him. "And you want find your way back?" I nodded. "Who is your uncle?"

"Charles Forsyth."

He shook his head. "Address?" I told him. He thought about that for a couple of moments, and then said, "You have come a long way."

"Is there an easy way back?"

He considered that. He wasn't young – I guess he was retired – and I thought it was rather enjoying this diversion from his boring life. "Just wait there," he said, holding up a finger. He went back into his house, and I stood there like an idiot. He came back out again holding something, which he unfolded. It was a great big map. "They don't make them like this anymore," he said, and I wasn't surprised. But he pointed his finger to where we were, then moved it across to the address I had given him. "If you have come from there" – he jabbed a finger – "you probably came this way. The quickest way back" – he traced his finger across the map – "is along here." He moved his finger along the map again.

"Okay," I said slowly. I looked at that map.

"Here," he said, and suddenly thrust the map at me. "Keep it."

"I can't do that," I protested.

"It's no use to me anymore."

"I don't know. You may get more lost boys down this road."

"Do you promise to bring it back?"

I looked at him. "Are you serious? Are you going to give it to me?"

"Well," and he looked at me, "are you trustworthy? Will you bring it back?"

I looked at the map, and turning it over, I saw he had written his name and address on the front. "If I don't bring it back tomorrow, you can hunt me down and shoot me." He looked at me, slightly bewildered. "May I shake your hand, sir?"

"Well, if you like – but why?"

"Because you are the first person around here, in this whole entire place, who has not treated me as being either a threat or mentally deficient."

"You looked lost," he protested. "I was just trying to help."

"And I'm very grateful." I looked at him. He had that look of someone who had retired and for whom life was very dull. "You live here?" He nodded. "I'll bring this back tomorrow. Is that okay?" He nodded. I studied the map.

"We are here," he said, jabbing a finger at the map. "And where you want to be is here." He jabbed his finger again.

"Okay," and I reached out to shake his hand. He looked at me, slightly baffled. "I'll be back tomorrow," and I began walking down that road. I held the map in front of me, working out where I was going. Whoever he was, he had sorted me out. I turned down the roads he suggested, and found myself to a place I recognised. I knew where I was.

Did I want to go back to that house? I had called it 'home'. Was it home? I wasn't quite sure. Charles lived there. Did that make it home for me? I didn't know. Where else was home? I didn't have a home. I was living with him in a house which was not mine. I was wearing clothes which were not mine. They were clothes which he had bought for me. I knew that if I were walking round here dressed as I was usually dressed, then that man would not have given me that map. To him, I was someone respectable. I was not a thief. I was not a whore. Why was I accepting all these clothes and that food and that house, if I was not a whore? Was Charles some sort of sugar daddy, who would get tired of me?

Then I thought of that school. He was trying to turn me into something that I was not. And that woman was taking me on at the school for pity's sake. Look at the little orphan boy! Look at the token black boy! See what he had been through. We've got to be kind to him, haven't we? I stopped. I wasn't back there yet. I could see the drive in the distance, where you turned in and went to his house. Did I want to go back to that house? What other alternative did I have?

Then I saw him. He was standing in the road, looking up and down. He saw me. I didn't know whether to turn and run or not. I could see that he was equally unsure. We stared at each other, fifty yards apart. Did I want to walk up towards him? But it didn't matter. He was already walking, almost jogging, towards me. He stopped a yard or two away. I knew that he wanted to get hold of me, but he wouldn't do it out here. He stared at me, and neither of us said anything.

He looked down. "I'm sorry," he whispered. I said nothing. "Will you come back with me?"

I wasn't sure. Then: "Would you do something for me? Something you once promised me?"

"Anything."

"Then go and get the car, and drive me to Gosport."

He gaped at me for a moment, then asked, "Is that what you want?"

"For now. Take me there."

He nodded, and then said, "Stay here. Give me a minute or two. I'll collect you."

I don't know where I had got the idea of going back to Gosport, but I knew I didn't want to go back to that house, with all that weight of expectation on my shoulders. I wanted to go back to an older, simpler time, when I had no responsibilities. I knew I had said to Charles that if I ever wanted to go back there, and he told he would take me whenever I asked, and I knew he would honour that promise.

He was quite a long time, and I stood there staring sightlessly down the road. Finally his car appeared, and he pulled in alongside me, and I opened the door, and climbed in. We drove away in silence. Eventually we arrived at Gosport, and he parked the car.

"Have you eaten?" he asked me.

The question came as a surprise. "No."

"There's the fish and chip shop." I looked across at him. He shrugged. "It's as good as anywhere. And I like fish and chips, particularly with a lot of salt and vinegar."

"It's not good for you," I said automatically.

He shrugged. "Whatever."

We got out of the car, and started walking out of the car park. The fish and chip shop was quite close, and he ordered for both of us. We went to sit at a table. Still neither of us said anything. After a few minutes, the food was put in front of us. I suddenly realised that I was ravenous, and attacked the food. I could see that he was steadily making his way through his plate full. Eventually my plate was empty, and I put down my knife and fork. I watched him finish. He looked back up at me. "Do you want to go to the boat?"

I nodded. Somehow, I felt as though I were about twelve years old. He didn't argue, just stood up and paid the bill, and I followed him out. We walked down to the marina and through the gate and to the boat. He climbed on board, unlocked the hatch, and pushed it open, and disappeared down below. I followed him. "What you want to do?" I shrugged. It was almost dark now. "You want to go to bed? Sleep in the front cabin?" I didn't know what I wanted to do. I slowly fell forward against him.

"Hold me," I whispered. I felt his arms around me, and I relaxed into him. I felt his hand caress the back of my neck. Neither of us said anything, or did anything, for a long long time. Eventually, he whispered, "Will you sleep with me? I mean, just sleep?"

I nodded. I didn't know what else to say. There was no way I was going to go into that front cabin and sleep alone by myself. He was right; I wanted to sleep with him, but just sleep. I stood there, numb, while he moved around me and got ready for bed. He ran his hand across the top of my head. He was dressed in boxers and T-shirt just as he had been that first time. "When you're ready," he whispered to me. Slowly I began undressing and went to wash. I was familiar with this place, I knew it, I was comfortable with it. When I was ready, I went into the back cabin, and slid under the duvet. He was waiting for me, and pulled me towards him, and hugged me, and I melted into him. "Hold me," I asked. His arms were around me, and they held me tight. I could ask for no more, and drifted off into sleep.

I must have slept for ever. When I drifted to the surface Charles was still there, not holding me, but fast asleep, sprawled out on the bunk. I slid past him and went out for a pee. It was almost light now, and I looked round that cabin with which I was so familiar. But this was not my home. This was a yacht belonging to Charles. He had said that anything of his was mine. I almost fancied chasing him up on that. Would he give me this yacht as a place to live? Seriously?

I knew that when I had been living here I had been relying on the money he gave to me to buy food. What if he didn't give me any more money? What would I do then?

Whatever I had been thinking about was interrupted. Charles came out of the cabin, and saw me, and relaxed. "Are you okay?" I nodded. He went into the heads to relieve himself. He came out and we looked at each other. "You're going to stay?" I nodded. "Will you come back into the cabin? I can't sleep without you next to me."

"Seriously?" I asked.

"Seriously," he said. He looked at me. "It's got so that I can't sleep unless you are there. Will you come with me?"

How could I deny him? "Of course." I followed him back into that cabin, and we wrapped ourselves around each other. I didn't want to have sex. I don't think he did. I just wanted to be with him, to hold him, and to have him hold me. That was enough, and we lay there as the light of the new day slowly dawned. Even then, we got out of bed slowly, and he washed and dressed, and I washed and dressed. We looked at each other. What now?

"Charles?" I asked. He was looking at me carefully. "Can we go home?"

"Home?" He said with a slight smile.

"Home," I told him.

We were in no rush. We had breakfast, tidied things up and locked the boat. As we got into the car, I picked up the map which was lying on the front seat, the map I had used to find my way back. "We have to go somewhere else first," I told him.

"Where's that?" I gave him the address written on the front of the map, and he nodded. We pulled up outside the house, and I got out and walked down the drive and rang the doorbell. A woman answered – someone I hadn't seen before. I looked down at the map. There was a name. "Does Ian Pendlebury live here?"

"Yes, he's my husband. Would you like to speak to him?" She had one of those rather refined, cultured voices.

"Yes, please."

"I'll just go and fetch him."

He came to the door and I held out the map to him. "I said I would bring it back today."

He smiled. "To be honest, I thought that would be the last I would see of it. But my faith in human nature has been restored."

"I'm very grateful."

He hesitated, and then asked, "Would you like to come in for a moment?"

"I'm with my uncle," and I pointed to the car.

"The one you argued with?"

"Yes."

He smiled. "That's no problem. Go and ask him in."

"Are you sure?"

He nodded. I walked back down the drive and round to the driver's door. Charles wound the window down, and looked at me quizzically. "We've been invited in."

"Really?" He looked towards the front of the house, where the old man was watching us. "We better be polite then, hadn't we?"

We walked back to the house, and he ushered us in. He held out a hand to Charles. "I'm Ian Pendlebury." His wife was hovering nearby, and he gestured towards her. "My wife Eleanor."

Charles smiled and held out his hand. "Charles Forsyth. And this is my nephew, James."

"Come in through," said Eleanor. "Tea's made."

"That's very kind," said Charles. Then: "I gather you met my nephew yesterday."

"I was just out in the front garden, and he was striding along, and then he stopped. He obviously had no idea where he was, so I went up and spoke to him, and he told me where he lived. He seemed in a bit of a state."

"I was," I told him. I looked at Charles. "We had just had a row."

"Ah. That might explain it. So I lent him the map to get home again. And now he's restored my faith in human nature."

"Really?" said Charles, rather dryly.

"He said he would bring it back, but I didn't expect to see it again. But here it is."

"James never fails to amaze me. And to make me ashamed at times."

"He seems a fine young man to me," said Eleanor.

Charles looked at me. "He certainly can be."

The conversation shifted onto more generalities, and then Mr Pendlebury started talking about his garden. I knew nothing about gardens. Charles, however, listened and nodded. "The trouble is," said Mr Pendlebury, "is that I can't do the work anymore. My back and my knees are giving up."

"What do you need doing?"

"I'll show you," and he got to his feet rather stiffly. We followed him out into the garden, and he led us to a big flowerbed surrounded by small brick walls. "In the past, I've dug this up each year and put fresh plants in. I don't think I'm going to be able to do that anymore. But I'm not sure what to do with it. Grass it over? Put gravel over it? Pave it over?"

"It would be a shame to do that," said Charles. "You could get some low growing shrubs, and some ground cover plants."

Pendlebury considered that. "Not a bad idea. I'll have to find someone to dig it over, though."

"What," I asked, "pay someone, you mean?" He nodded. "I can do that," I told him.

He turned and looked at me. "What do you mean?"

I gestured at the flowerbed. "You want it dug up?" He nodded. "I can do that. Just tell me what you want doing, and I'll do it."

The three of them looked at me. "Look," I said. "You want it done, I'll do it."

"You mean that, young man?"

"The trouble with James," said Charles rather dryly, "is that if he says he will do something, he will. You had better get your spade and fork ready."

"I can come round tomorrow, in the afternoon. Two o'clock?" They looked at me, and I said, slightly defensively, "Is there a problem?"

"It's really very kind of you, dear," began Eleanor, and I knew what she was going to say.

"Do you want me to do it or not?"

"James," began Charles, "are you happy doing this?"

"If I wasn't, I wouldn't have volunteered."

Charles turned to the Pendleburys. "I think you've just got yourself a new gardener."

As we drove back home, he asked me again: "Are you happy doing this?"

"Why not? He was nice to me. They both were."

"Fair enough."

He pulled into the drive. "You'll have to open the door," I told him, "because I left my keys inside."

He smiled. "Not a problem."

When we got inside, we looked at each other. "Hug me," I whispered. I felt his arms go around me. "Take me upstairs," I whispered in his ear. We both knew what that meant.

The next morning, we got up relatively early – relatively early for us, that is. After breakfast, Charles suddenly had an idea, and took me out to the garage. There, hanging from the wall, was a bicycle. He pulled it down. "I haven't ridden this in years, but there is no reason why it shouldn't work." He felt the tyres, then pulled down a pump, attached it to the tyres, and told me to start pumping. "Yes, Massa, tote them bales," I muttered. I pumped up those tyres until he was satisfied.

He stood there looking pleased with himself. "This will get you there this afternoon without any trouble."

I hated to prick his bubble, burst his balloon. "There is one major snag which you have ignored."

He turned to me. "What's that?"

"I can't ride it."

He stared at me. "What you mean?"

I shrugged. "I've never learnt to ride a bike. I've never had one."

"Really?"

"Really."

"Hm. Trying to teach you in a couple of hours is a little ambitious, given that you're going to be riding on the main roads. I'll drive you, instead."

He wouldn't take no for an answer. After lunch, we got in the car, and he dropped me off at the Pendleburys. "Ring me when you want collecting."

"Can't I just walk back?"

He grinned. "If you do a proper job this afternoon, you'll be too tired to walk back."

"Funny," I snarled, and got out and slammed the door.

I rang the bell, and the old man let me in. "You should be wearing old clothes for this," he told me.

"I haven't got any old clothes."

"Really?"

"It's a long story."

He took me out and explained what needed doing. "All these plants are annuals, which means they die off at the end of each year. Normally I dig them in, and plant new ones in the spring. But I can't do it anymore. Putting in shrubs and things like your uncle suggested is a good idea." He gave me a garden fork. "What you need to do is to turn over the soil, and make sure all the old plants are buried. There's a board here for you to stand on, so you can start at one end and work backwards."

It wasn't that difficult. Digging up and turning over the soil was hard work, but I kept at it, whilst he pottered around in the garden. I stopped for a breather, and took off my T-shirt and hung it over a bush. I was getting hot and sweaty. After an hour or two more, I thought I was done. All the old plants were dug into the soil. His wife came from out of the house and looked at what I done.

"My, you have worked hard here."

I shrugged. "It isn't that difficult."

"No, but it needed some hard work. Now, come and have a cup of tea and a biscuit."

When we were sitting down inside, he said, "We'll give it a week or two for the soil to settle, and then rake it over. Then I suppose we'll have to go to the garden centre and spend some money."

"Would you like me to come with you to carry things?"

"Would you?" she asked. "That would be really very kind of you."

I was awkward. "No, it's you who have been kind to me. Yesterday, you gave me that map and showed me the way home. Not everyone would have been as generous to a boy like me. When people round here to see someone looking like me walking around, they get suspicious."

"You seem quite respectable to us. And so was your uncle."

"Not everyone takes to a black face."

"That's just silly," she said.

I shrugged. "It happens often enough."

"People like that should be ashamed of themselves."

"Nice of you to say so. But thanks for the tea and for the map. I'd better ring my uncle so he can come and collect me."

Charles was there in a few minutes, but instead of taking me home, he insisted on looking at the work I had done.

"I can see why you would have wanted to plant annuals there each year, but some small shrubs and ground cover plants would work nicely there."

"If the weather is good, then we'll go to the garden centre next weekend. James has said he will come along to help carry things," Mr Pendlebury said. Charles looked at me and raised an eyebrow. I shrugged.

In the car on the way back, he said, "They seem nice people."

"They are," I told him. "That's why I want to help them."

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