It’s about family and the fact that they needn’t be blood relations. Enjoy 🙂
Nelson’s Row is the toughest street in Clapham. Hell, even the coppers go down it in twos; too scared to take the walk alone. So it is surprising when a small boy of about fifteen turns into the street with a swagger in his step and a smile on his face. The street is quiet, but then it is about four thirty in the morning and most of the houses won’t begin to show life for another half an hour. The lad goes to one side of the street, leans against the wall and lights a cigarette. Taking an empty packet from his trouser pocket he carefully opens it out so it is a flat piece of cardboard. He then carefully folds the pack back up leaving the rough card on the outside. The gold insert that is still stuck to the bottom he carefully rips off and drops. The small piece of paper blows away and floats onto a step just down from where the boy is standing.
“Oi! Tom! This yours?”
Tom looks over and blushes. “Sorry missus,” he says and walks over. “He in?”
The woman looks at him and places her hands on her hips. “He is,” she says, glaring at the boy. She doesn’t want to see him, not with him wanting money, but doesn’t want to say anything, not with her husband inside and within earshot. Stepping aside she says, “Go in and mind the bucket.”
Tom nods and ducks inside, turning as he passes her to place a quick peck on her cheek. He has to go up on tiptoe but her blush and smile is worth it.
“Cheeky sod,” she says and pushes him in the direction of the sitting room. As he turns to enter she taps her head and Tom dutifully removes his flat cap. Inside, the range is burning and giving off a welcome heat. In the one good chair sits a large man.
“Let’s hear them,” he says with a gruff voice. Tom gets out the cigarette pack and a small stub of pencil. The man doesn’t even look up; instead he lists off a series of names and numbers. When he stops he finally hands the boy a small envelope of cash. Tom finishes writing down the figures and takes the cash. “You got all that?”
He turns back to the range and Tom knows he is dismissed. Popping the pack and the cash in his pocket he heads to the front door. The Missus is on her hands and knees scrubbing the step. Tom can see her hair is just turning grey and her hands are chapped raw from the water. For a moment he stands quiet, then he says, “Missus, I need to get out.”
The woman looks at her clean step and sighs. Standing she lets him pass. Tom takes a step back and launches into the air, missing the step and landing in the cobbled street, his metal bottomed boots ringing sparks into the road. The woman ruffles his hair, a smile on her face.
“Go on with you, Tom.” He grins and jogs, off his boots clattering his progress.
The next three houses run without a hitch and Tom knows he only has one more to do. He’s left this one to last. The Missus of this house is young and Tom likes her. Her old man he doesn’t know. He works and Tom doesn’t see him. Instead she will give him the bets. As he walks to the house he sees that she is scrubbing the step, later than the others. Stopping next to the step he coughs.
“Tom,” she says warmly. “You okay?”
Tom grins. “Yes missis, fine. Yourself?”
She ignores the fact that he has asked only about herself and not her husband. “We are both fine, thank you, Tom. How’s your mam?”
“She’s good.” Tom reaches into his pocket to bring out the packet.
“Not today, Tom. Said this morning he didn’t feel lucky.” She grins. “Try tomorrow.”
“Okay,” Tom says with a sigh. Not having a bet from them would cut his money, but it couldn’t be helped. “See you tomorrow.”
He turns to leave. Just as he does two coppers start along the street. “Tom!” The woman behind him calls. Standing, she picks up her bucket and walks inside, motioning him to follow her. Not needing to be asked twice he steps into the terrace behind her. “Go into the living room.” He does and she closes the door just as the coppers come into view.
“They’re probably going to be knocking on doors in a bit,” Tom says. The woman nods and goes to the range. There, on top, are some warming rolls. She grabs one and shoves it into his hand.
“The back door.” She points past the scullery.
Tom leans forward and pecks her cheek, turns, and is gone. She sighs and wonders why she is willing to risk trouble for Tom, a bookies runner. Then the answer comes to her. She sees him almost every day and he has become family. Hell, he’s become family for the whole street. She’s doing no more than anyone else would. A knock sounds at the door and she jumps. Sighing, she walks to the front and opens the door. She says nothing.
“You seen the kid?” one says.
She remains silent. Behind her she faintly hears Tom’s boots scrape the top of the wall and she smiles at the coppers.