The rain sounded like hundreds of fingers tapping the top-side of the thin plywood that sheltered him. The rhythm varied from infrequent heavy drops to a persistent deluge, then subsiding a little and raising his hope’s that it would soon end.
The dank alley smelled of rotting food, urine, and petroleum.
He liked the smell of petroleum; reminded him of happier times when he was a kid, looking in the window of the bicycle shop. He was looking at the racing bicycle he was saving up to buy. The old shop smelled of oil and diesel and was a veritable wonder world for his young eyes! The ancient man, who owned the shop, had agreed to hold the Raleigh Racer for him until he had paid the £50 at the rate of a fiver a week for it.
His lips gently parted and his eyes lit up as he recalled those wonderful afternoons, when he would visit the old man in the shop.
‘Ah Kevin’, the man would smile, ‘here to see if your Raleigh is still real?’
Embarrassed at appearing too anxious, the boy would casually reply,
‘No I just happen to be passing by, and I like watching you repairing all these things.’
He would look down at the ground and kick at bits of loose metal parts that were strewn about the concrete floor, while shrugging his shoulders and dragging his finger along the edge of the old mans workbench.
‘Of course Kevin’, the old man would play along, ‘I’m flattered that you find this old bag of bones of interest, but I was just going out to the front of the shop anyway – so you might as well come and have a peek while your at it! How’s your summer job coming along? I hope those vagabonds aren’t working you too hard?’
When he was twelve years old he got his first summer job. His mother had arranged it for him. It was in a small local factory that produced aluminium windows (they were the latest rage at the time, the ultimate solution for home insulation – double glazing!)
She had saved up and bought two double glazed units to be installed in the front of their tiny cottage. There were two other windows out the back, and the aluminium window men advised she should get them done as well; but for now she could only afford the two for the front. The rest would have to wait till next year.
She was a thrifty woman and insisted on paying for everything in advance. She never used credit, and if she needed to save for something she would pay the shop so much per week before she would collect it. Kevin was taught thus – this was the way to do business!
Hence the summer job! She asked the two aluminium window men if they could use the lad in the factory for the summer holidays. They obliged and agreed to pay the boy £5 a week for helping out. Kevin later found out that the wages were set on the advice of his mother. The two men didn’t know what a fair weeks wage was for a 12 year old, so they asked her what she thought. She suggested a fiver a week. When Kevin finally found out that it was his mother who was responsible for his first experience of being exploited in the workplace, he was enraged, but his mother said that he should be grateful for having the opportunity to buy his Raleigh Racer.
Kevin had only one dream – to own a Raleigh Racer and if it meant slaving in the excruciating and mind numbingly tedious aluminium window factory, then so be it. But he couldn’t forgive her for striking such a miserable deal on his behalf!
‘Why on Earth didn’t you let me negotiate, I would have gotten at least £7 a week!’ he complained to her.
By the time that summer was half way through, he despised aluminium. He hated the way his nails felt when he had the compulsion to scratch the metal. He could not understand why he had to do that, but he would repeatedly scratch the dull aluminium to check if the sensation was as bad as he imagined it to be. It was like the way he hated the feel of nylon. Every time he saw one of his mother’s nylon stockings he felt a compulsion to lick it. The sensation was horrible but he couldn’t resist doing it anyway. That was how he felt about aluminium, it was torture. When his boss would switch on that chop saw to cut a new batch of aluminium he would sink into the depths of despair. No sound on this Earth was a torturous as the sound of that screeching saw searing through that raw metal like a dentists drill excavating a loose filling without an anaesthetic. His mouth would scrunch up and salivate and his jaws would lock tight as the sound of that chop saw wreaked havoc on those lengths of aluminium!
But it was worth it in the end, after ten long weeks he was down to the last payment- the last fiver, and now the coveted Raleigh Racer was to be his property! He was so elated, so proud the day the old man said to him,
‘Kevin my boy today is your day. I suppose now that you finally can cycle off on your new Racer I won’t be seeing any more of you, except perhaps when you need a puncture repaired, or do you know how to do that yourself now? You should you know – god knows you have seen me do it often enough here while you came in to look at me repairing all these things!’
Thirty five years on Kevin looked out along the wet dank alley and wondered will this rain ever stop.
‘The fiver in my pocket has to last till tomorrow, dole day. A bus is out of the question. When this rain stops it’s a Big Mac at Mc Donald’s and maybe a coffee if I have enough change!’