A Childhood Lost
London, November 9,1962
Companion story to "A Childhood Story"
By Gilmoradict
Send feedback to: 12nostalgia77 @ gmail.com (without the spaces)
"Hey kid, get lost - off to school with you before I call the authorities." Laughing harshly the heavyset rubbish collector kicked the foot of the lean, scruffy urchin who had been sleeping in the sheltered back door of a bookstore. The boy was instantly awake, and smiled boldly. Rising to his feet to stretch lazily, the boy pulled off his wool cap and ran one hand through thick dark hair.
"Can't get there soon enough - got up too early this morning, so had myself a little nap here until the proper time." the boy answered with a grin before sauntering off. He shook his clothes a bit, pulling his jacket straight as he walked, managing to look astoundingly well put together for a child who hadn't had a proper home in almost a year. The rubbish man waved before he picked up another bin, and the boy nodded over his shoulder with a grace unusual in a child.
Having been given half a dozen names to suit the whim of whatever family he'd been stashed with, he now called himself 'Mick', though there weren't too many he was on name calling terms with. To most in the area he was just 'Kid,' and that suited him fine.
His regular routine took him to a fountain in a park, where he briskly rinsed both hands and then his face. The water was getting pretty cold, and would be turned off for the season soon, but Mick had a winter routine too. Rolling up his sleeve and glancing around he swiftly snagged a handful of coins from the fountain. He headed on to a cart where he bought a bun and a bottle of milk for breakfast. In a short while he'd be able to pick up a paper from the working crowd who threw them out after perusing them on their commute. Mick read most every word he could lay his hands on. There were plenty of ways for a bright nine year old to learn stuff. Nuns and priests with heavy hands weren't even close to running the best kind of school.
Cruising among the foot traffic on a busy sidewalk Mick kept his eyes open, and lifted two moderately thick wallets without arousing any suspicion. There were certain advantages, Mick had found, to being small. Like people tending to ignore him when he bumped up against them, sometimes even patting his head after he had picked their pockets. Taking his haul back to the park, Mick found an out of the way bench, removed the cash, and stuffed it in his pocket. One of the wallets had a little family photo in it. Mick stared at it for a bit, then stuffed that in his pocket too. The wallets went into the sack his breakfast had been in. Later Mick would drop them near the door of the local station. He had no need for the rest of the stuff, and he hoped they would somehow be reunited with their owners that way.
"Morning Stella." Mick called cheerfully to a bag lady he passed on his walk. She was still a bit groggy from whatever she'd found to drink the night before, but she smiled at the boy and waved him over to her.
"Got some books for ya Kid." she slurred, digging through one of her bundles
"Found a lil' stack of 'em at the train station yesterday. Thought maybe you'd like 'em."
"Aww Stella, you're the best!" Mick took the stack she triumphantly produced with near reverence. There was a paperback copy of The Prince and the Pauper, a history book of some indeterminate level, a thumbed pocket dictionary and a copy book. Holding up the novel, "Haven't read this one yet, and I've wanted to. Saw Errol Flynn in the film once."
"Enjoy, enjoy." Stella drifted off in her own haze again, pleased to have produced a smile on the handsome young face. Once upon a time she would have wondered why the kid was always on his own, but she'd known too many losses in her troubled life to any longer question much of anything around her. She'd seen the boy reading on more than one occasion, it was enough for her to remember that.
Mick settled with his new treasures on a stone ledge under a bridge. It was dry, and out of the wind, and since kids his age were supposed to be in school about now, he made it a point to lay low for a bit. By early afternoon no one would question his moving about again. As Mick examined the books, a friendly black mutt with a white streak down it's nose and comical brown eyebrows wandered up and settled against Mick's legs, nose in his lap, looking up at Mick adoringly as the boy stroked him. A fine day indeed, Mick thought. New book to read, warm dog to cuddle with. Lost in contentment, his morning flew by.
"Scout! Scooouuut!" A voice pierced Mick's solitude. Another voice, deeper pitched, called the same name.
"Here boy, here Scout!" A man walked closer, calling the name out searchingly. The dog sleeping at Mick's side whined, then rose, and looking back at the boy, walked hesitantly away, turning around almost as if he wanted Mick to follow him.
"Were you lost fella?" Mick murmured softly. "You'd best be off now. Thanks for keeping me company."
The dog trotted off then, having made up his mind. Mick heard the man and child greet their dog. He was sad for a moment. It would be nice to have a dog, or a cat. Someone to talk to, to keep company with in the dark, in the cold at night. Wasn't practical though. Most places Mick went a dog would attract too much attention.
Mick looked up at the sky. The clouds made it hard to place the sun, but he figured it was well past noon. Wrapping his hand around his little stack of books, Mick walked casually back up to the road, glancing about so as not to attract any attention were someone to be walking by just then. By now he could slip into the matinee at the local theater and wait for the feature. There was a washroom there with warm water. He had enough in his pocket for a bite of something to eat.
Mick sank back in the somewhat lumpy, slightly sticky seat of the cinema. The matinee this week was The Glen Miller Story. Perfect. Mick prepared to lose himself once again in the story of the music great who died a hero over the Channel. Not a bad way to get lost at all.
It was getting dark by the time Mick left the theater, having stayed for the feature. This was his favorite time of day, plenty of people milling about, good smells from the restaurants and carts, shadows that allowed a smallish boy to choose when he wanted to be noticed. He spotted an acquaintance, a man of somewhere between 25 and 40. Just a nod, and he walked closer.
"In the mood to work tonight?"
Mick nodded. "What'cha need?"
"Slender lad, good climber, light touch. How 'bout we get something to eat, and I'll give you the specifics." The man smiled, and putting an arm around Mick's shoulders led him into the pub.
Mick went willingly. Pete was someone who saw to it the boy got a hot meal now and then without asking him too many questions.
Several hours later, having scaled to the third story of a windowless warehouse, climbing the rough face of the stone, Mick slipped his pen knife under a vent, carefully prying it open. The child maneuvered into the building, finding himself in duct work not much wider than he. Sliding carefully along he found an opening to a darkened room, kicking the grill open to lower himself to the floor. In minutes he had found his way through the warehouse to the back door where his friend waited.
Pete paid Mick a fiver, which along with the hot meal earlier made for an adequate haul. "Thanks, Mate." What Pete did from here was no concern of Mick's; what mattered was being given a chance to earn a little money now and then. Whistling softly the boy walked back toward the street.
"What's this?" A gravely voice spat as an iron fist closed on Mick's ankle. Mick tried without success to pull his leg away, but the hand jerked him off his feet and he hit the pavement face first, hard enough to knock the wind out of him. Foul breath nearly sickened the boy as a fist dragged him around by his jacket front. Leering eyes stared rheumily at him. "Well ain't you pretty."
The fist that had held Mick by the ankle came up to grab his hair, turning the boy's face one way and then another as the drunk licked his lips and stared. Mick worked his tongue around in his mouth, considering the possibility of calling for help, but Mick had little faith that anyone would hear his cry, or if they did, would risk coming to help. He was his own best hope. The boy held perfectly still. Despite his calm demeanor his heart beat hard in his chest.
"Let's get off the streets for a bit, lad. Pretty boy like you shouldn't be out here all alone." He ran his rough hand down the soft curve of the boy's cheek, down his neck. Mick leaned as far away from the man's hand and sour breath as possible. Tightening his grip on Mick's jacket, the man lurched to his feet, staggering a bit.
The boy sensed his best chance to escape. Still half lying on the street, Mick twisted toward the man who held him, pulling the drunk forward. The man let go of Mick to put out his hands to catch himself. Scrambling away the child gained his feet and shot down the alley toward the street, flying with an adrenalin rush that stayed with him for several long minutes, weaving in and out of the crowd until he peeled off to reach the crawl space under a stairway where he had stashed his new books earlier.
Breathing heavily, Mick closed his eyes for a moment. He crawled back out from under the stairs and hung over a rubbish bin to puke. So much for dinner. He hated drunks. Hated bullies. Hated.... The boy walked with somewhat shaky steps to the street, and the pub where he had eaten earlier. Standing off to one side he waited for a group to walk in, and slipped in with them, heading to the toilet to wash his face and rinse his mouth out. He stood up tall to look at his face in the grimy mirror. Blue eyes with dark lashes scowled back at him.
Fighting nausea Mick walked slowly back to the stairs and curled up in the shadows, hands tucked in his pockets with his little roll of bills and the photo. A dog would be nice he thought as he fell asleep, a furry one with funny brown eyebrows.
The End

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