Waving at Bill
As I sit down this cold day with a bowl of soup, the vapour rises and my eyes run. I wipe away tears and as always find myself slipping back through 50 years to my grandmother's kitchen. At the table sits Bill Webb, the lodger, dipping rough chunks of bread into a bone and pearl barley soup.
He worked shovelling coke at the gas works and had also swept the city streets. These days we would say that he had learning difficulties. Then our words were fists.
As a boy he ran errands for local traders. One day on his way back to his master with sixpence he dropped the coin and lost it. Afraid of what would happen, he ran away. The shopkeeper set the police on Bill and he was sent to the asylum as an idiot. There he was to stay for 15 years. His life of hard labour and his bare lodger's room were what he knew as riches and freedom.
A railway track ran beside the house. Sometimes Bill would stand waving at trains. When someone waved back he caught it as if it were a prize. Then he would run with with the joy of it waving, waving so as not to break the thread of humanity which is a wave returned. When he could run no further he stood waving at the train as it steamed away into the distance.
Our world was changing. Cars began to bud pubescent fins. The Presley monster thrashed within its egg. All things black and white were swept away. Teddy boys rocked civilisation with pink socks.
We went less often to my grandmother's house.My mother bought a fur coat on the never never - modelling herself on the TV stars who had taken over the front room. She changed her name from May to Mary, finding the latter more regal. Soon we we were to move from the old brick terrace to a place where people called eachother "Dahling" but never "Love".
Shortly before the move I was out shopping with my mother in the busy street market. A familiar voice called out.
"Auntie May. Auntie May!"
I saw Bill Webb pushing through the crowd - an unkempt gap toothed windmill - joyful, waving,waving. My mother grabbed my arm and snapped
"Quick..he'll show us up..we can't be seen with him."
Bill called again "Auntie May!" and people began to stare. My mother ran dragging me along until she ducked into the haven of a department store. Once inside she let me go and made for the far side of the sales floor where she hid behind rails of clothing.
I stayed near the door looking out into the street. I watched as Bill bounded back and forth. Once or twice he raised his hand as if to wave. Then, wiping his eyes he walked away.
I never saw him again, but you know I've never stopped waving, never broke that thread. I'm still waving Bill. I am!
Author's note: For most of my life I have written in the name Bill Webb. It was a promise.
A few weeks ago I found Bill's bed empty, a short note and a small bundle of Bill's unpublished scribblings. He had finished my bottle of gin, eaten what was left of my Lucky House special fried rice,stolen my bag of council bus tokens and 20 Gauloise.
From what I can see he took with him only his collection of Edith Piaf records. The note read "Gone to Tibet. Enjoy your freedom"
All in all he was not a bad chap but too soft for this world. He won't be back. The wave has broken.
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