The Boy In The Road
He lay in the road and squinted up at the sun. The tar surface was hot and soft to the touch, and he liked the smell of it. There were no cars on the road. Only three people in the whole street owned a car, and they were away somewhere, probably at work, he supposed. He closed his eyes, and the world became orange. He thought of his dog, Bonzo, who was orange and white. The dog had a way of trotting at an angle, which the boy admired very much. Sometimes he tried to walk like that himself.
The boy opened his eyes just as a red and black butterfly flitted across the road. The boy, whose name was Sam, let his thoughts float after it. He thought about the Raymond gang, which had a membership of four; Raymond Chine, Stuart, Sam himself, and his brother Keith. The two boys were very comfortable with each other, although in fact they were not really brothers, or even related. They were, however, equally stubborn. When Gill bought them a cricket set, consisting of two bats, some stumps and a ball, the boys took it all down to Valentine’s Park and had a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours. When it was time to go home, they were both tired, and neither one wanted to carry the equipment back up the hill which lead to home. After some argument, Keith left it on a low coping wall for Sam to pick up. Sam left it there, expecting Keith to go back for it. When they got home, Gill sent them back for it, but by that time, of course, it had gone.
Sam was a sort of out-rider for the gang. When someone said, “I dare you”, they all knew he was the one who would carry out the dare. The boys sensed a kind of wildness in Sam, which set him a little apart from them; “I dare you to climb to the top of that tree”, “I dare you to lift that lady’s skirt”, or put pennies on the railway line for the train to flatten out, or jump off the bus while it was moving. Once he even took a half crown from Auntie Eva’s purse. He took it to the local sweetshop but he had no idea what to buy with it. The shopkeeper took him back home. Auntie Eva gently explained to him that it was wrong to take money without asking. She didn’t seem angry, and she didn’t scold him. He felt so ashamed that he promised himself he would never do anything like that again.
Sam had been with the Draysons since he was three years old. Before that he had lived a very long way away, in Scotland, with his mother. He had no memories of that time, but Eva and Gill Drayson sometimes mentioned it. Auntie Eva told him that his mother had been on her own, and that times had been hard because of the war. She said that his mother had to go into the farmer’s fields at night sometimes, to steal turnips; otherwise they might both have starved. Sam didn’t really think about things like that, but he stored it away somewhere at the back of his mind, as something to mull over when he was older, and could perhaps understand it.
Right now he had more interesting things to think about. Like Deirdre Ross, for instance. She always seemed to know more about the mysterious world of grown-ups than did the boys. She wasn’t part of the Raymond gang, but often hung around with the boys, who tolerated her because of the indefinable air she carried, of knowing more about the way the world worked than they did. Yesterday she had told the boys that she knew a secret. “Keep it under your hat, boys, but I know where babies come from”, she confided in a stage whisper, and pointed vaguely towards her tummy. Sam thought of a baby in a hat. A top hat. It was all a bit confusing, and he added it to his list of things to mull over at a later stage.
Sam let the sun soak into him. Could life get any better? High up, a single-engine airplane droned slowly across the sky, the sound getting fainter as it moved away. He watched it until it disappeared. He remembered that he had asked Uncle Gill if there would ever be another war. Gill had been mending a shoe on an iron last. He looked at Sam. “I hope not, boy,” he said. The war had ended three years ago. On the rare occasions that he had been taken to visit his mother in London, Sam had seen the bombsights which still littered the streets, looking like missing teeth. There were more fields then streets where the Draysons lived, and there had been no bombing raids here in the war, but still, Sam thought, if there were another war, the Germans might concentrate on his area next time.
He thought about his house disappearing with a loud bang, and Bonzo running down the street with his funny sideways gait, and his tail between his legs. He tried to imagine the street without his house in it, and couldn’t. The house was all he knew; the kitchen where Auntie Eva placed him on the sideboard and scrubbed his face and knees with a flannel at teatime, the dining room with the big radio and the tiled fireplace, and the front room with the piano, which nobody ever went into. The main bedroom upstairs, which belonged to Eva and Gill, had a clock on the wall which was taller than Sam, and was operated by a system of weights and chains. Sam never really understood anything at all about that clock.
There were two other bedrooms; one for the girls, Tommy and Pam, and the box room at the end of the passage, which was shared by Keith and Sam. Next door lived Raymond Chine, the nominal leader of the Raymond gang, although Keith was the real leader. Raymond’s father was a bus conductor, but Gill Drayson was a bus driver, which was far superior. Once a woman had thrown herself in front of his bus. Gill stopped the bus inches from her head. When the company measured the skid, they decided to give him an award for quick thinking. The boys were very proud of that.
Sam heard a car turn into the road, and decided to sit up. The road shimmered in the heat of the afternoon. The car, a small black Austin, drove slowly down the road and disappeared around the corner, leaving a smell of exhaust fumes in the air. Sam considered his options. He could find the gang and see if they wanted to go over to the Crooked Billet farm, and throw stones at the windows of the abandoned farmhouse. Or he could see if he could catch a lizard in the field behind the street, although you really needed two for that – one to distract the lizard and one to creep up behind and catch it before it disappeared in the long grass. Or he could just lie down on the road again and look at the sun through his fingers. Yes, that would be the best plan. It must be teatime soon, and they would probably send Bonzo out to look for him. He thought about Bonzo’s funny walk, and smiled.
James Donaldson Collins