Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Back and Back

His mother combed his hair while it was still wet, her cheeks wet too and her eyes looking tired and sore. His hand in hers and in the other a small suitcase as they walked through town, half the buildings empty or ruined or condemned. Just a short trip, two nights then home, a great honour it was, of course. They had a compartment to themselves. He told the inspector that they were going to meet the king.

“Oh, is that so?” the inspector said. The boy knew that the inspector didn't believe him.

He shared an apple with his mother then threw the core out of the window. She told him off. She wasn't really angry though. They played Beggar My Neighbour but the cards slipped around on the seat and anyway it was better with more people.

The roof of the terminus was vast and black at midday. At the left luggage counter his mother took a small bag from inside the suitcase. The Underground was crowded and smoky. It was nine stops; he counted them on the map above the door. Outside the Abbey his mother knelt in front of him and pinned the cross on his jacket pocket. She was crying again.

The king was older than he looked on stamps and newsreels, and thinner. He leaned down and said “You must be very proud” and for the first time the boy felt the absence of his father, a dead man he didn't remember.

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