“Is it yer mammy yer waitin’ for, child?” whispered a voice from the left.
Tim turned to face a large woman with untidy gray hair which could have benefited from a brushing. Her face was weather-beaten and the brown cheekbones merged into a ray pattern around her eyes where the creases had folded the flesh against itself from years of open-air squinting in sun and wind. Her shrewd eyes almost seemed to permanently suggest that everything was available at the market vendor’s “special price” of 5 cans for £1.
“What sort o' mammy and daddy would be goin' an' leavin' ye on this cold night? And ye with only that thin jacket on? Ye must be perished with the cold,.... get yersel over to the fire.” And she nodded in the direction of the oil heater’s warm flame buzzing and fluttering in the corner.
Tim moved instinctively to the flame, like a frozen yellow moth. He recovered his composure in irregular sobs and sighs, and wiped his eyes and nose on his new jacket. Daddy would be horrified if he saw me, he thought. After a couple of minutes his pants had dried so that the wet mark couldn't be seen, and Tim felt he could stop trying to hide it by crouching awkwardly.
“Will ye have a drop o' tae to warm ye, young feller?” again came the whisper of the gray-haired woman, who was obviously the mother of all these children. Tim gladly accepted the hot sweet tea, even though it was in a cracked cup with no handle. He had never tasted anything as satisfying in his young life
. As he sipped, the life in the caravan began to etch itself on his memory. The children bickered constantly, but more out of propinquity than enmity. They shared all they had, while trying to mark out their own possessions for all to see. The mother whispered all the time, and had clearly long ago given up trying to shout above the din. However, the voice of Big Mick, heard at crucial points in the never-ending tumult of young activity, was one the children had learned to take notice of. Although their father shouted threats at them, Tim noticed that he never actually carried out his bloodcurdling utterances, but seemed too busy himself sorting out the badly-dented cans from the not-so-dented ones, and putting them into cardboard boxes marked 5 a £1 or 3 a £1, depending on dent-status. They would appear at the vendors’ market tomorrow. As Tim sipped the last of the tea, Big Mick looked at his watch and grunted,
“It's time I took you back to the cinema or your father will be worryin' himself.”
He stood up, bending his head of straggly hair to avoid banging into the metal ceiling of the van. He took the cigarette from his mouth and flicked the ash out the window,
“I'll only be a minute Sarah, and when I come back we'll start the kids to bed so Santy can arrive.”
“Aye,” she whispered,..... “Bye bye son.”
And Tim and the giant stepped out into the cold and the rusting door closed and you'd never even guess what was going on inside the darkened halting site, Tim thought as they stepped smartly up the path towards the cinema. The Mercedes was waiting, and, through the hedge that separated them, the boy could see that his dad was annoyed because Tim was late.
“I'll let you go on alone from here, boy. You'll be all right, I'll watch out for ye till you reach the car.” Big Mick squeezed Tim's shoulder and pushed him gently through the small hedge and into the floodlit area in front of the cinema.
Tim's daddy saw him straight away and lowered the electric window, snapping
“I thought I told you not to be late, Tim!..Did you forget?! We've got guests. And haven't I warned you about the gypsies around here?!”
Tim got into the car without speaking, and glanced back at the big shadow in the hedge. The mercedes engine picked up speed and they drove off up the dead end.
(end of story)
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