Two doors down from the chippy, Kit played his fiddle. Hour after hour his music provided a little joy to the few people who wandered through the shopping precinct on their way to the promenade past the graffiti, sorry looking planters and seagulls warring over a chip wrapper decorated White Bay's town centre; the holiday brochures described it as local colour. Grease, salt and vinegar from the Northern scented the air, and when the door opened it supplied Kit with some warmth.
Money trickled in: one pence, two pence, three pence, four and the very occasional, very welcome, fifty pence. If he wanted that coat it was going to be a long day, so he upped the tempo. Nobody ever really stopped to listen but those who passed by gave more when he reminded them of fairgrounds than they did when he reminded them of their grandmother's funeral. It had him tapping his feet and lost in the rhythm, into a dimension where misery, vile graffiti and seagulls didn't exist.
He played until hunger got the better of him and he stopped for a breather. With his bow in one hand and the fiddle in the other he lent back against the cold, hard shutter of the abandoned shop behind him, his head obscured the latest graffiti: “Gazza is a Dick” in bright yellow. Exhausted, he closed his eyes. Until he made enough to cover the coat he needed he couldn't spare a penny for food. His feet ached so he lifted one off the ground and rested it behind him. He smelt the greasy gravy of a warm delicious pie. It spoke to his stomach which provided a brief but loud musical interlude.
He opened his eyes and rolled his head to face Hurdy-Gurdy Man and he smiled. He placed his fiddle and bow back in the case. "Hey HG."
“You look like you could use this?” HG sniffed and wiped his bearded face with the sleeve of his thick wool coat before holding out the pie in his hand.
“Thanks.” Hunger won and Kit took the pie before he could think of what might be crawling in HG's fingerless gloves. A bite – just one revived him and eased, a little, the pain gnawing in his stomach. “You having a good day?”
“Not too bad. Not too bad.” From his back, HG removed the heavy hurdy-gurdy in its wooden box. He had fashioned a contraption to allow him to carry it like a backpack. “Enough for me smokes, a beer and the pies.” He took a squashed pie, identical to the one he had given Kit, out of his pocket.“Slow down there you'll get indigestion, kid. Anyone would think you hadn't eaten in a week.”
Kit grinned and held up what was left of the pie. “Didn't have my breakfast.”
“Ahh.” HG picked a bit of pastry off and ate it. He didn't seem overly interested in the pie. “Been rowing with your gran again?”
Kit rammed the last of the pie into his mouth. He nodded... paused whilst he swallowed and wondered how much he could tell HG. Although they had been friends for years and HG made sure none of the other buskers harmed Kit, Kit didn't know him very well – in fact he knew nothing about the man. Still there was no one else. No other adult in his life who would listen. HG looked at him with his big eyes. When he was busking people said they were like a starving child from a Band Aid documentary. To Kit they resembled a black hole; it was like they had a tractor beam that drew everything out of Kit. He said it as fast as he could before his brain could change its mind. “Think I could be like my dad?”
“What makes you say that?” He handed over the second pie. “I'm not hungry you might as well have this.”
Grateful, Kit took it off him. He was aware HG wasn't his usual self but today he was consumed by one thought. “Gran said I was just like him.” The pie was colder than the first one and the grease just that bit thicker.
“Ahh. Usually, your gran is right but I suspect she was probably angry with that one.” HG seemed distracted and kept looking past Kit. Usually when he spoke he kept his deep dark eyes firmly on whoever he was talking to. Finally, he responded. “What did you do?”
“Left and slammed the door.” Kit shrugged. The anger that had coursed through him had scared him. “I wanted to well... I don't know but I was so mad.”
“What would your father have done in the same situation.” The way HG spoke it was obvious his concentration was elsewhere.
Kit looked back. All he saw was a blonde woman talking to some bloke, probably one of the ones that worked at the new Chinese takeaway. He shrugged and returned to face HG who was now not even pretending to pay him any attention.
“Your father wouldn't have walked away. He never did so I think that answers your question.” HG spoke really fast and picked up his hurdy-gurdy which he slung on his back. “Look, kid, I have to go. This is real important. I'll catch up with you later but I'm sure there is nothing for you to worry about.” He patted Kit's shoulder, causing Kit to flinch because Kit didn't do physical contact with people. Usually, HG respected personal space.
Before Kit could respond, HG took off at a run.
“But what if I kill her?” Kit shouted after him, voicing the fear he had carried since this morning's row.
A couple of girls stopped and looked at him until he felt like an exhibit. They were sharing a pasty and a Coca Cola. The fat one said to her skinny mate. “That's that Paki – the one whose dad killed his mum. Was in the paper last year.” She didn't seem to care that Kit and everyone else in the esplanade could hear her.
“Yeah. My Mum said she was mad and he was bad. Better go before he kills us and dumps our bodies off the pier.” The skinny mate sniffed, twiddled her plait and flounced off.
Her fat friend didn't move but continued to stare at Kit like he was a freak in a travelling circus.
After a year of people staring he had learned to let them go. Early on he would have threatened her and if she'd been a lad he'd have punched her. But HG had pointed out that it gave the gossips ammunition: bad like his dad and mad like his mum, they said. Today, none of his usual attempts to calm himself worked.
“I’m not a Paki. My Gran's from the Caribbean. You fat Cow!” he shouted in her face.
She shrugged and pulled a face. “Lindz, hang on. You can't leave me alone with him – he's nuts.” And she ran after her friend.
He'd let himself down he knew that. Putting his bow in the other hand he rested his fiddle beneath his chin and started to play. Anger fuelled his music this time; he didn't know the name of the piece. He’d heard it once on the radio.
After an hour of playing he considered giving up. There still wasn't enough in the case to buy the coat and the things he needed to apologise to his gran. He’d have to come back tomorrow.
A well dressed man with a very neat white beard and a silver topped cane limped over and dropped a tenner into the case. In a town of shell suits and jeans his tweed suit stood out.
Kit's eyes opened wide and he smiled at the man, treating him to an even faster tune for his extraordinary generosity. He tapped his foot and danced a bit, knowing the coat was his. The man tipped his trilby hat and continued on his way. A glance at the town clock said it was after two if he didn't hurry someone from school might catch him. It took him less than a minute to pocket his money, put his fiddle away and approach the door of the charity shop. The coat still stood proud in the window.
A tinkle welcomed him into the musty smelling warmth of the shop. It blasted his glasses. He put his fiddle case down and used his sweater to wipe the mist from the lenses before putting them back on.
Behind the counter sat a pink hair-do, peeping over the top of a Mills and Boons. There was also evidence that the pink rinse wore cocktail glass shaped glasses – pink to match the hair.
“I would like the coat in the window, please,” Kit said.
She sniffed and turned a page. A manicured, bright-pink polished finger, picked out a chocolate from the box on the counter. The chocolate disappeared with a satisfied grunt.
“Coat. Window.” This time he let a note of irritation enter his voice. He breathed deeply and closed his eyes. Losing his temper in public was what everyone was waiting to see. He wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.
The woman sniffed again. Folded the corner of her page and closed the book. “Which one?”
There was only one coat in the window.
“The man's overcoat, please.” He pointed to it.
“Bit old for you ain’t it?” She eased herself out of her chair and pottered over to the window. Her feet were encased in big fluffy slippers.
He was sure she was going so slowly to punish him for ruining her quiet afternoon out of the house. He looked out the window and checked the time on the town clock.
When eventually she returned, she threw the coat on the counter. “Have you got the five pounds?”
He handed her the ten pound note the man had given him, took the coat and put it on. It made him feel like the doctor – he’d need a scarf to go with it. It took all his effort not to girlishly twirl. That could wait until he was alone in his room.
Once more she sniffed, and held the note up to the light. “Looks genuine.” She put it in the cash register and gave him his change. “My dad used to wear something like that. It’s way too old for you.” She sat back down, helped herself to a chocolate and picked up her book.
The woman turned the page.
Kit left the shop. Now when he was stared at he could pretend it was his coat they were gossiping about. “Look at that young boy doesn't he look ridiculous.” He mimicked the gossips of the town.
He stopped and waited for Gary Newlove. They'd known each other since they had hatched from their mothers wombs. He knew human’s didn’t hatch but it made him feel squicky when he thought about the actual biology.
Gary's mother was a prostitute so he was used to the looks and comments that accompanied being Kit's friend. When Kit's mother had died Gary was the only one to have stuck by him. A good looking boy with sandy hair, bright blue eyes and a grin that would light up any situation, he always looked untidy and grubby.
“See anything good?”
“Watching a seal out in the bay. It's huge and black. Never seen one like it before. Going to take a picture tomorrow and name it the Newlove Seal.” He went in his pocket and took out a packet of cigarettes. “Want one?”
“Only dickheads smoke.” The habit disgusted Kit, but he considered Gary’s pollution a small price to have a friend.
“I’m a dickhead then. Where’d you get the coat?”
And that was all they said to each other as they wandered up the pedestrianised part of town. Past Woolies and Boots. There was nothing to say as their days had gone as they always did, with Gary looking out for various wildlife, hiking through the dunes and woods, whereas Kit had played his fiddle to bring in enough for their bags of chips on the way home.
In the middle of the street with people walking past, but paying no attention, a shape lay against the arched doorway of a long abandoned shop. The hurdy-gurdy gave the body an identity. Kit put down his fiddle down and ran towards it. He dropped to his knees and rolled HG over. His face was a mess but he still had a pulse. “Phone an ambulance,” he screamed to Gary.
Kit had often found his mother in a similar state. It was with a familiar calm detachment that he placed HG in the recovery position and sat next to him to await the paramedics.
Sun, Seagulls & Selkies
1980s. White Bay, a rundown seaside town in Northern England.