Travelling A Broken Rainbow Chapter 1 Part 2
‘Have yer had a buttie since yer got in from school, Phyl?’ asked Bessie, as they ran over to the other girls.
Phyl shook her head. ‘Me mum don’t never give me a buttie unless its fer me dinner. But I don’t mind,’ she added. ‘Me tummy’s used ter goin’ wivout. If I fed it now it would think Christmas had come bleedin’ early.’
The girls wrinkled their noses at this use of the swearword but Phyl didn’t see anything wrong in using the occasional swearword. She had picked up all the swearwords under the sun living with her parents and thought nothing of using the odd “bleedin’” or “bugger” or “sod” or “bloody” or even “bastard” if she felt like it.
The girls all did the dip to choose the order in which they took their turns and Phyl ended up first. Smiling happily she took the washing line Eileen Hobbs had given her daughter to skip with and started skipping. She wasn’t as experienced as the older girls as yet and could only skip forwards. She was learning though, but it was slow and hard going and Phyl often went weeks without a turn ’cos her mum wouldn’t let her play out.
Phyl had her turn and passed the rope over to one of the other girls. The girl, a real snob from the other end of the street, held the rope gingerly and turned up her nose. ‘I think I’ll have me go after someone what washes, Bessie,’ the girl said, wrinkling her nose. ‘Its all dirty now she’s touched it.’
Phyl’s face fell. Tears sprang to her eyes as she picked at the threadbare dress she was wearing. She couldn’t help being dirty. There was never any soap in the house so the only wash she had was with cold water in the morning and that didn’t wash the dirt off properly.
‘I can’t help bein’ dirty, Chrissie House,’ Phyl said indignantly, her fists clenching at her sides. She wasn’t upset anymore; she was very angry and ready for a fight.
‘Yeah yer can,’ Rita Burton added. ‘If yer washed proper yer wouldn’t be dirty. I bet yer don’t never use no soap ter wash.’
Phyl’s eyes flashed and Bessie took to her heels. ‘I would use soap if we had some in the bleedin’ house, Rita Burton. An’ anyway, it ain’t none of yer bleedin’ business whether I wash proper or not.’
Both Chrissie and Rita stuck their noses in the air and the other girls followed suit. ‘I bet when yer leave school yer’ll wear lots of cheap make up an’ jewellery like what yer sisters do,’ they said knowingly. ‘An’ yer’ll be a tart, goin’ down all the entries wiv any lad.’
Chrissie and Rita never knew what hit them when Phyl’s fists made contact with their noses. There were loud screams and children from all over the street can running over to watch little Phyllis Baker punching every inch of two much bigger and older girls.
‘Phyl! Phyl, stop it! They ain’t worth it!’ Billy grabbed his sister round the waist and pulled her off Chrissie and Rita without breaking a sweat.
He set his sister down while Will and Bessie planted themselves in front of the two crying girls.
‘Now, what did they say?’ Billy asked.
Phyl cuffed away her tears. ‘They said it were me own fault I were dirty an’ they said I’d be like me mum an’ our Rose an’ Maggie when I leave school,’ she choked on each word as her tears left clean streaks down her face. ‘But I ain’t never gonna be like them ’cos they’re mean an’ horrible people an’ want puttin’ in prison.’
Billy felt heartbroken when he saw his young sister crying ’cos she looked so vulnerable in all her dirt and the threadbare dress that was falling to pieces on her back and was far too small for her.
He turned to face the offending girls who were looking sheepish when both Billy and Will turned around and looked at them coldly. Will Hobbs had more than a soft spot for his best mate’s little sister and he was livid that these two girls had made her cry.
Just as Billy and Will started yelling at the two girls, Eileen Hobbs came out of her house in search of her two children.
'What the hell is goin’ on?’ Eileen bellowed. ‘Have yer lost yer minds, the pair of yer?’
She grabbed Billy and Will by the scruffs of their necks and dragged them away from Chrissie and Rita who were howling in earnest now.
‘Yer don’t fight wiv girls, lads,’ Eileen said crossly. ‘Will one of yer tell me what’s been happenin’?’
Phyl, having followed her brother, tugged on Eileen's arm. ‘It were my fault, Mrs Hobbs,’ she said. ‘I hit ’em first.’
‘Oh aye?’ Eileen's eyes travelled the length of Phyl and her heart filled with pity for the shabbily dressed girl, who was easily the prettiest in the whole neighbourhood. ‘An’ why did yer hit ’em, girl?’
‘’Cos they were mean ter me,’ said Phyl, a solemn look on her small face. ‘They told me I were dirty an’ that it were me own fault fer not botherin’ ter use no soap. An’ they told me I’d be like me mum an’ sisters when I leave school.’ Phyl looked disgusted at the thought. ‘I don’t never want ter be like them ’cos they’ll never get ter heaven.’
‘Ser yer had good reason ter be angry wiv ’em, Billy,’ said Eileen, turning back to the two lads. ‘What were your reason, Will?’
Will wiped his nose on the sleeve of his shirt and received a clip round the ears for doing so. ‘Billy’s me mate, Mum,’ Will said indignantly. ‘I were backin’ him up.’
Will was reluctant to give the real reason for his anger; his mother and sister would pull his leg soft if he told them how he felt about young Phyl, not to mention the other lads in the street. Eileen snorted. ‘I’ll believe that when I see it,’ she said. ‘Now get inside all of yer. Yer dinners will be ready soon an’ no doubt yer’ll need ter wash afore yer sit at the table.’
Phyl was rubbing her tummy at the thought of filling it with delicious food. She had been smelling lots of different aromas for ages now and she was starving.
‘Me mum will belt me one if I don’t wash afore me dinner,’ Phyl giggled bringing smiles to all three faces though Eileen felt furious inside. The poor kid knew she’d get belted for a simple thing such as getting washed before having her dinner.
‘Has yer mum told yer what ye’re havin’ fer dinner, girl?’
Billy hesitated, reluctant to tell tales on his mother but Phyl had no such problems. ‘Me mum don’t never cook, Mrs Hobbs,’ the little girl said, pushing her thick fringe out of her eyes. ‘She always gets chips an’ scallops from the chippy.’
‘Oooh, I bet yer don’t half enjoy that,’ said Eileen, pushing her anger to the back of her mind.
‘I don’t know what it tastes like, Mrs Hobbs,’ said Phyl, wide-eyed. ‘Me mum don’t get none fer me. I get a bit of bread wiv cheese an’ a cup of water.’
‘Ain’t yer never had a hot meal afore, girl?’ asked Eileen, asking God to give her strength.
Phyl shook her head, sending her messy pigtails flying. ‘Me mum don’t bother wiv me. I don’t get given no breakfast an’ I don’t get given no lunch at school ’cos we’ve got three wages in the house ser I can’t get the poor kids’ meal like me mate does an’ me mum don’t do me no lunch ter take wiv me.’
‘Did yer not get the poor kids’ meal when yer sisters were still at school?’ asked Eileen. ‘Did yer not taste a hot meal then?’
Again, Phyl shook her head. ‘No, me sisters always took it from me afore I could have any of it,’ she said, and Eileen knew she was telling the truth for Phyl had never told a lie in her life.
Eileen sighed. ‘Gawd love yer, girl.’
Phyl’s face lit up. ‘Why me, Mrs Hobbs? What’s ser special ’bout me? Why don’t God love everybody?’
‘Don’t yer go ter church, girl?’ asked Eileen, surprised.
Phyl shook her head. ‘I ain’t allowed out the house on Sundays,’ she said.
A crafty look entered Eileen’s eyes. She had just thought of a way of giving young Phyl a decent hot meal each day.
‘Tell yer what, girl,’ said Eileen. ‘I’ve got an idea an’ I hope yer don’t take no offence over it.’
‘Oooh, what is it, Mrs Hobbs?’ asked Phyl eagerly. ‘Will I like it?’
‘I hope ser, girl,’ said Eileen. ‘Now, how would yer like ter have yer dinner wiv me an’ me family each night?’
‘Yer mean, a proper dinner?’ asked Phyl, awed. ‘Not just bread an’ cheese? An’ I’d get a cup of tea an’ everythin’?’
‘Yeah, that’s right, girl,’ said Eileen. ‘How ’bout it?’
‘Ooooh, I’d love ter, Mrs Hobbs, but me mum an’ da won’t let me,’ said Phyl, her face falling.
‘They don’t have ter know, do they, girl?’ said Eileen, tapping the side of her nose. ‘Yer can slip down the yard ter use the lavvy an’ use the back entrance ter get ter ours.’
‘Won’t they wonder where I’ve gone, Mrs Hobbs?’ asked Phyl.
Eileen was stumped over that one. ‘Will they care if yer go missin’ fer a few hours?’ she asked carefully.
When Phyl shook her head Eileen decided that nothing said about her parents would upset the girl anymore.
‘Awright, ask if yer can take yer food down ter the lavvy wiv yer or ask if yer can take yer food ter eat while yer playin’ out,’ said Eileen firmly.
‘Me mum an’ da don’t let me play out after dinner,’ said Phyl. ‘I go straight ter bed.’
‘Ask if yer can take yer food down ter the lavvy wiv yer, then,’ said Eileen.
‘When can I start havin’ dinner wiv yer, Mrs Hobbs?’ Phyl asked eagerly. ‘Termorrow?’
‘Termorrow?’ Eileen echoed. ‘What’s wrong wiv terday? I can easy make the dinner stretch ter feed one more.’
Phyl jumped up and down and clapped her hands in delight. ‘Oooh, I’m not half lookin’ ferward ter it! Me first proper dinner.’
‘An’ if yer pop in mine on yer way home from school I’ll give yer a buttie ter tide yer over,’ Eileen added. ‘Yer need fattenin’ up, girl, an’ I’m just the person ter do it.’
Phyl nodded her head. ‘An’ I’ll run messages fer yer in return, Mrs Hobbs,’ she said. ‘I don’t mind. I’m dead good at sums.’
‘That’s the gear, girl,’ Eileen beamed at the little girl. ‘Yer’ve just made me day.’
‘Yer just made mine, Mrs Hobbs, ser I think we’re quits,’ Phyl beamed up at the older woman.
‘PHYLLIS!’ bellowed Sara Baker. ‘GET YER BLEEDIN’ ARSE DOWN ’ERE NOW!’
All emotion drained from Phyl’ face except fear. ‘I’d better go, Mrs Hobbs,’ she said. ‘Me dinner’s probably ready now.’
‘Yeah, an’ mine,’ agreed Billy. He felt like hugging Eileen for making his sister so happy.
‘Tell yer what, lad,’ said Eileen. ‘I can’t make ternight’s dinner stretch further than addin’ your Phyl ter me clan but I can buy enough ter feed you an’ your sister from now on. Yer a growin’ lad an’ need proper meals. Not just chips from the chip shop.’
Billy beamed. ‘Thanks, Mrs Hobbs, yer a gem, yer really are,’ he said. ‘I really wish yer were me mum ’cos I wouldn’t half love yer.’
Eileen felt really emotional as she watched brother and sister, so very much alike, running down the street towards the hovel they called home.
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