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With his shirt buttoned up and his Windsor knot tied, James shrugged his arms into his school blazer and his denim jacket with the furry discoloured collar. His mother forced him to take his Rupert the Bear scarf and holey gloves, but he didn’t complain. When it came to his mother, he never did.
Taking his satchel, James said his goodbyes and escaped, running along all the other lined up doors of flats and down the staircase.
Flocks of birds were crowding a piece of mouldy bread in the estate courtyard. James revved himself up and charged head-first, making engine noises as the birds took flight in panic and sheltered themselves on the tower block roofs.
Looking mournfully at his flat window, James left the estate in a hurry and started make a rhythm with his satchel as he scraped it along a wall, ignoring the twelve year old girls that had been moaning because he’d barged past them. On the other side of the road, he saw school friends boarding their bus. Today he wasn’t going there.
Knowing he didn’t have enough money for a train, he tagged along with a family of five, and got through the ticket barriers without any problems. He boarded the train, eyeing up potential seats and managed to grab a table and four seats to himself.
James had stayed on the train without any hassle until the ticket collector headed down his aisle, requesting tickets to hole punch. James hid under the table, holding his mouth when a cough felt like coming out. To his relief, the ticket collector came and went. He wasn’t going to risk getting caught again so he decided the next stop was where he’d get off.
James didn’t get pass the men guarding the barriers so easily this time and had them running around like headless chickens as they tried to grab him before he crawled under one of the barriers and legged it. To his surprise, the destination James had landed at was the seaside. Unfortunately, today definitely wasn’t beach type weather.
His stomach, now rumbling, told James that he was hungry and in need of food, so he went into the nearest shop and browsed what was being offered in each aisle. He picked up a sweet scooper and surveyed the pick ‘n’ mix, digging into some jelly babies and dropping them into a brown paper bag that he’d ripped off the paper rack.
Fiddling around with change at the counter, and after sliding the paper bag in front of the cashier, James kept looking up at the different chocolate bars by the counter, wishing he had more money.
James let out an accidental cough – that’s when the cashier realized that someone was waiting to be served. He loomed over and saw the head of a small boy with a crew cut counting up his money.
“Hey kid, aren’t you supposed to be in school?” The question wasn’t meant to come out sounding like a threat, but it did. James grabbed the pick ‘n’ mix bag off the counter and threw it at the man. The sweets spat like bullets as they went from left, right and centre- bouncing off the till and the rack of arranged chocolate bars and packets of gum.
“I don’t want your crappy sweets anyway!” James screamed waving a balled fist as high as his arm could stretch. Losing some of his teeth wasn’t James’s original plan, so he made a quick exit, sticking his scrunched up hand into his pocket to brush off the coins that were glued to his sweaty palm.
An odd bike or car drove past, but those were the only signs of human life outside. James crossed the road and ducked under the railings that ran along the outline of the beach. It was a tight squeeze even though he was small, but he did it- completely forgetting that he could’ve used the steps to access the beach.
Some sand sprayed into his eyes when he jumped down from the platform and he started manically rubbing at them until they were red and sore. Putting the fact that his eyes were watering at the back of his mind, James let his feet take him to the end of the beach.
Laying his satchel on the ground, away from the water that was washing over the sand; he rolled up his trousers to his knees and removed his shoes and socks. Carefully, James tested the water with his big toe and agreed that he’d brace the cold water.
It sent a shock up his legs at first when both legs were immersed in the sea. Trying to imagine something steaming hot seemed to work, the coldness turned into the relief of diving into a freezing pool on a hot summer’s day.
When James’s imagination packed in, the cold came back. He ran straight back to land, sitting down on his satchel as he cleaned out the sand stuck between his toes. He dried his feet with the sleeve of his jacket and then put on his socks and shoes. Something was digging into James as he rolled over, so he stood up and took his satchel off the sand to unearth a stick. He arranged himself again and with the stick now in his lap, James started to rummage around in his pockets to find his prized possession.
Using his trusty pocket knife that he carried everywhere, James started to chip away at the wood. The tip was so sharp after James had carved it, that when he touched it lightly, his thumb started bleeding. The stick was unguarded for a few seconds as James was sucking on his thumb, and in those seconds, out of nowhere, came a huge dog that grabbed the stick and flew past just as fast as it came.
“HEY!” James shouted, pushing himself up to chase after the dog. Because he’d been sitting down for so long, James had no feeling in his legs and he ended up falling face-first into the sand and cutting his cheek on a buried piece of broken glass.
Downhearted at the loss of his creation, James got up, dusted his trousers off, collected his pocket knife and left.
Dabbing at his dribbling nose with his scarf didn’t help. He’d patted himself down and came up with nothing when he was searching for a tissue. Grubby and far too cold by this point James wandered the street, trying to find somewhere to get his blood flowing once again. Buckets of rain had started falling.
Stopping at a café, James pressed his face and hands against the window. Oh how it looked so warm inside. It was empty, except for what looked like a girl bent over, cleaning away at the glass cabinet where the cakes were kept- yes, it was a girl.
She noticed James and turned round, smiling warmly. Her reaction startled him and he stepped back from the window where he’d left an imprint of his nose, mouth, cheeks and hands. She came to the door with a towel flung over her shoulder.
“Hey, what are you doing out here little one?” James crossed his arms and shrugged, finding it hard at first to get the gist of what she was saying since she had a strong French accent.
“Come on in then.” The girl opened out her arm and hurried James inside.
“Here” she said, “let me take that for you.” James took off his jacket and handed it to the girl. She went over to the radiator and draped the jacket over it.
“It’ll soon be warm enough to put back on.” The girl came over to James who was standing uncomfortably between two chairs, having not moved since he was invited in. She pulled a chair out for him like it was a restaurant and not a run-down café then leaned over so her hands where on her knees when she spoke to James.
“Now, how about a nice donut then?” James managed to crack a smile that showed his three missing top teeth. He waited patiently until the girl came back with a jammy donut coated in sugar.
Straight after taking a seat opposite James, the girl brought out a cigarette and lighter from her apron. First, she asked James if he minded and he replied with a shake of his head. She lit up her cigarette and stretched over to the table behind theirs to take an ashtray. James looked at her right breast, at her name tag.
His eyes were squinting – not because he needed glasses – but because he was trying to pronounce her name correctly. “Ameeelay Markel.” She smiled and said, “No, it’s Amélie Marcel.” James stared at his donut and split it open with his hands.
“Amelay, you’re the only person I can trust.”