The Crossing Boy
Dunno, sir. Long as I ‘member, sir.
I takes me broom, sir – when someone ain’t nabbed it, sir – cos that happens, sir, blow me, it does, sir – an’ I brushes the mud an’ the mess off the street, sir, so people can cross avout gettin’ their feets filfy, sir. Tha’s the poin’ of it, sir. People not gettin’ their feets filthy. An some’imes people they gives me h’apence, sir.
Yes, sir. H’apence. But once, I got tuppence off an ol’ gen’ an that was a wery good day, sir. A wery good day. A day I ain’t soon forgot, sir. Wen’ down the markit an buyed mesel’ an oringe, sir, an a li’l sumfin for me supper, sir. An I was smilin’ all the way back ‘ere, sir. All the way.
The markit, sir? Covint Gar’n, sir. Jus’ ‘cross the way, sir.
It was, sir. It was.
No, sir. I sleeps where I can, sir. Doorways, mostly, sir, but I gets moved on mor’n not, sir. Win’er times worse, sir. Cold, see, sir. An’ windy, sir.. Blows down ‘ere like you wouln’t b’lieve, sir. Blows right frew you, sir – off the river, sir. Blows col’ as yer like, sir, it does, sir. Be the def a me, sir, I reckon, sir. Be the def’ of us all, sir.
On’y this coat what you see on me, sir. S’all I got, sir. Got it from the charnly shop, sir, down the Stran’, sir.
A charnly shop, sir? All bits an’ pieces, sir. For boats, sir – mainly, sir – but you kin get anyfin you wan’, sir, there, sir. That’s where I gets this coat, sir. Did I tells you that, sir?
No, sir. Was up the top en’ o’ the Stran’ afore I come ‘ere, sir, ‘ad a crossin’ up by the Square, sir.
Too dain’rus, sir. Too many carts, goin’ up an’ down all day, sir. I’d sweeps me crossin’, sir, an’ one’d come rattlin’ ‘long an mess it all up, sir. Afore I ‘ad a time to fix it, sir, ‘nother one’d come along an mess it all up agin, sir.
It was, sir.
Yes, sir. More’n once, sir. I ‘member one time I gets knocked clean off me feet, sir – clean off. An’ no-one never even gives me a bye or leave, sir. Jus’ wen’ on goin’ pas’ me layin’ there, sir. Jus’ lef’ me fer dead, sir. Fort I was a gonna, sir., I really did, sir. But I wern’, sir. I wern’.
Lucky, sir? No, sir. Not on your nelly, sir. Some’imes wish I breathed me last that day, sir, layin’ in the mud, sir, lookin’ up at the stars, sir. What wiv the cold an’ the starvin’, sir.
Free days, sir.
Yes, sir. Free days, sir. An’ I is ever so ‘ungry.
A chop ‘ouse, sir? I ain’t never ‘ad nuffin from no chop ‘ouse, sir. D’ya mean it, sir? D’ya really mean it?
Oh, fank you, sir. Fank you. Le’ me jus’ put me broom ‘way, sir. Keep it safe, sir.
No, sir. No-one won’t never fine it there, sir. It’s me sicrit place, sir.
Sicrits, sir? No, sir, I don’ got no sicrits, sir. On’y where I puts me broom, sir. On’y that, sir. Are we goin’ now, sir? To the chop ‘ouse, sir?
Oh, sir, me mouths a tastin’ it already, sir.
Yes, sir. Lead on, sir.
Fambly, sir. No I ain’t got no fambly, sir. Never ‘ad none, sir.
Dunno, sir. Fink I could be ten, sir. Or nine, sir. But I dunno nuffin’ ‘bout nummers, sir. No’ fer certain, sir.
God, sir? I dunno nuffin’ ‘bout God, sir. There’s a kine lady what comes roun’ some’imes, sir, an she talks ‘bout Jeesis, sir. But I dunno nuffin’ ‘bout it, sir. I don’t take nuffin’ in, see, sir. Gots to keep an eye on the crossin’, sir. Gots to keep it clean, sir. Is it far now, sir, the chop ‘ouse, sir?
Dunno, sir. Never fort ‘bout it, sir. The lady, she said sumfin’ ‘bout ‘evan, sir. But I dunno nuffin ‘bout ‘evan, sir.
Jus’ down here, sir? I’s ever so ‘ungry, sir.
God, sir? Like I says, sir, I don’ really know nuffin’ ‘bout God, sir. Jus’ what the kine lady said, sir.
No, sir. I don’ ‘member none of it, sir. Are you sure we’re near the chop ‘ouse, sir? It’s so dark down here, sir. It’s so dark, sir. I fink I’s be goin back now, sir.
Sir? Sir? Please, sir, let me go, sir. Please . . . no, sir . . . please, sir . . . no . . . no . . . the knife, sir . . . please, sir . . . please . . .
Ian Ayris is the author of The Shining Like Rainbows trilogy, published by Fahrenheit Press, One Day in the Life of Jason Dean, a novella published by Close to the Bone, and almost forty short stories. He lives with his wife and daughter in sunny Harold Hill, Essex and is a lifelong Dagenham and Redbridge supporter.
Follow him on Twitter: @ianayris