A Story About An Old Man
By Ivor Griffiths
The old man who came running across the bowling green had a brown felt hat on, he was a flurry of white, arms and legs wind milling blurs, he barked and growled. His rheumy eyes and red blotched, liver spotted face became clearer; a killers hate filled face, lips curled back over bright white ill-fitting false teeth that moved around as he spewed forth a torrent of profanity.

What the fuckin hell do you think you lot are doin, fuck off you little bastards, youll have my job. His face was so red and eyes so wide I thought his head would explode and that the silly old sod would drop dead, there and then. The five of us ran for cover, leaving the divots and holes in the green behind. I looked over my shoulder. Hat off, scratching his head, he surveyed the devastation we had caused.

I was a seven-year-old shoplifter, there were five of us altogether, although we would work in separate teams of at least two, but three was better. The idea was for one of us to distract the shopkeeper, and trick him out the back, so the others could get as much gear as possible before we scarpered. We flogged it to the chavs in the tenements, they werent called that then, but thats what they were. Leo was our leader, a sussed, sagacious, street urchin, my mentor, and ten years old. Me his two brothers and Billy were in his gang, he could have taught Fagan a thing or two. I wore bumper boots my mum bought me from Woolies, for the school holidays; I thought I was cool and they were good for running in.

We ran across the park, dodged through the thick and lush spring undergrowth next to the brook, we skipped across it on stones, adrenalin pumping; it was like flying, the wind on our sun-reddened faces cooling us down as sweat soaked our clothes. We clambered up the opposite bank and ran down a path where only dogs ran, following Leo. The old man could not get across the brook, and was shouting obscenities from the other bank. We knew we were safe so started throwing stones at him and telling him to fuck off.

A few months later about noon in August, I was off school and had been for what seemed months. Leos brothers were seeing their dad and I was hanging about with Leo and Billy. It was hot and we got bored. There was nothing on either TV channel except the American Presidents funeral, the one who got shot. We went looking for a buzz by causing trouble in the park. We played football on the bowling green, the escape route was over the brook up the dogs path and led to the cricket club indoor practice shed. Huge it was, brown, stinking of creosote and mould. Shaded on one side by the trees, the other faced the cricket pitch; it had dusty windows and was full of cricket bats, stumps, pads and other cricketing paraphernalia, the air shimmered above the roof in the heat.

The parkie who looked after the green was always skiving off work, he was shagging Billys mum now; Billys dad died in a car crash on the A5, on a day trip to Brighton, Billy was only one, it was a Triumph Sunbeam, yellow with wire wheels and a soft top. His mum still had the car, she was keeping it for Billy to fix up. Cos thats what his dad would have wanted she told my mum, in a whining Essex twang. We played in it sometimes, when his mum was out. Billy couldnt remember his dad but he didnt like the parkie shagging his mum.

We got bored playing football and Leo said lets go boys, well do the cricket club hut he looked both of us in the eye then scowled, a menacing, evil scowl, the like of which we had never seen before, he turned walking towards the brook, we followed, in a pack we broke into a run. No one was using the cricket hut. Peering through the windows round the back, we saw the pads and stumps, bats, balls and bags they used. Leo got a stone and put it straight through the middle window. We cheered an amazing shot. Billy had some fags he nicked out of the parkies coat, matches too. Sitting behind the shed Billy lit up, we didnt say much, just took turns smoking. Billy coughed, he had a bad chest, he smoked a lot for a kid and he was pale, even in summer, very thin and too short, short for his age. His wispy blonde hair went midway down his back. He didnt like eating much, his mum rarely cooked anything for him anyway. Leo had thick dark hair, chiselled angular Mediterranean features, square set jaw and almost black eyes, he was a foot taller than Billy and me and stocky. He told us that we were going to nick as much as we could to fuck up the game tomorrow, then shag up the bowling green, by digging it up with cricket stumps. The parkie would get a right bollocking for it: serve him right for shagging Billys mum.

Leo broke the rest of the glass, put his t-shirt over the splintered, dark-brown creosoted, wooden frame and climbed in, Billy followed, usually someone kept toot, whistled if anyone came, but we risked it anyway and checked out the swag. Billy was smoking another fag while rummaging through bags and boxes. Leo was swinging from the practice nets and I was squinting at the sun through a haze of Billys smoke. We didnt hear him. The parkies head suddenly appeared at the window, he began to climb in. Scarper, its the parkie I shouted. I ran around, frantically looking for the door. Dust and smoke in shafts of sunlight hung in the still air. Leo swung from the nets, leaping across upturned boxes grabbing the door handle he rattled it.

Over here he said.
Billy, this way mate I said.

He threw his fag down and legged it to the door. We all kicked and pushed it. It wouldnt open.Got you now, thieving little bastards, wait till I tell your mum Billy boy the parkie shouted from the window, being careful to avoid any broken glass while gingerly trying to manoeuvre through the small opening.Leo, here I said, giving him a cricket bat put that window out. He swung the bat, glass went everywhere, he knocked the rest out and climbed through, we both followed. The parkie roared, in a purple rage.Come back you little gits, Ill have the law on you
Running round the back of the hut, we saw his arse disappear through the window. We hunkered down shuffling then Billy stood and peered through the broken window.

Theres smoke he said.

What? Leo said, frowning and curling his lip. Lets go he yanked at my t-shirt. Smoke started to come through the window, making us cough. The parkies blood red face appeared seconds later, coughing and spluttering, eyes bulging, terrified and clawing at the small gap. Desperately lifting his leg up he got half his body in the opening but was coughing so much he couldnt move. The billowing smoke was thick and black. Creosote and two smashed windows quickly made it a furnace. I would like to say we made frantic efforts to rescue him but I cannot. We pulled at his arms a couple of times but the heat was intense. His clothes and hair were on fire. He couldnt scream as he couldnt breathe, he was convulsing violently though.

Well call the fire brigade Leo shouted come on he ran and we both followed, down the dog path, as fast as we could, ignoring the searing pain in our chests from the thick smoke. Crossing the brook, we heard shouting. Running towards the High Street, we heard sirens.

Go to Billys Leo said, we followed. Stopping, red faced, sweaty and gulping air, we were all in shock. Sitting in the yellow car, smelling of wood smoke and sweat, we caught our breath. He shouldve left us alone Leo said. We were only messin aroundYeah said Billy its not our fault.Think hes dead? I said.

The other two, looking down, both nodded. We sat in the car for a couple of hours, until Billys mum came home. She was crying. We never talked about it much after that, eventually we all lost touch.

A few years back I went to visit my old haunt. The cricket club had built a massive modern building to replace the hut. Parked in the street outside the park the pristine yellow Sunbeam baked in the August sun.

Ivor Griffiths
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