Friday, 21 November 2008

Too Young

It’s about midday and I’m at Merry Hill bus station, just outside the shopping centre. I'm sitting on the lower rung of a two rung wooden fence, waiting for a bus to Bromsgrove.

A boy, probably ten years old at most, has appeared from somewhere and is hanging around suspiciously close to me, idly climbing in and out of the fence. He is wearing muddy tracksuit bottoms, falling-apart trainers and a grey hooded top. It's not a school holiday and he seems to be unaccompanied. He finishes weighing me up and says -

'How's it going mate?'

'Alright mate,' I reply without looking at him.

'You got any baccy on you mate?'

'No mate.'

He walks away without another word and then spends a few minutes picking up dog ends from around the bus shelters before sitting on a bench to sort through the results and collect anything usable into a small tin. Surely he must be older than ten? His face is largely hidden beneath his hood, but I can occasionally see very pale skin and dark lively eyes. He doesn't seem visibly miserable or intent on causing any kind of trouble.

Now and then he approaches someone else, always choosing men and never anyone smartly dressed. I never see anyone give him anything.

At one point a sorry-looking pink balloon drifts across the ground past him and he picks it up and offers it to a young woman with a toddler in a pushchair. She doesn't want it and he lets it fall back to the ground before, as an afterthought, jumping on it and bursting it.

Eventually he gets on board a bus towards West Bromwich and disappears.

He seemed as if he had been plucked from some Dickensian novel, an orphan for whom adversity had led only to sharpened wits and self reliance. I hope he finds a good use for those abilities and the world finds a better place for him. I hope he cuts down on the cigarettes as well.

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