Friday, 16 November 2018

TheLittle Girl who Tried to Make the World Happy

Sabrina was nine summers old when she met the old woman. To be real honest, she hadn’t even noticed her at first as the woman was sitting under a large tree, eating an orange. Sabrina had smelt the fruit from a long way away.
The last thing her grandmother had told her was not to speak to strangers - but Sabrina was a young girl who liked meeting new folks.

“Sit,” said the old woman. “Sit by me and have some orange.”

And that is exactly what Sabrina did. The old woman gave her some segments of the orange, and they both sat in the cool shade, under the sycamore tree.

When they were all finished, the old woman asked what Sabrina would like in all the world. Without hesitating too much, Sabrina said to make everyone she knew happy.

“Give it a try,” said the old woman, and one day we will meet under this tree and I will ask you about your life.

Sabrina was about to ask another question but as she turned the old woman had vanished – didn’t they always in these stories?

So the next day, she set out to make everyone she knew happy. She cooked and cleaned, and helped and scraped and painted and carried and washed and cut. It seemed that people were only happy when you were doing something for them – but as they all seemed happy, that made Sabrina content.

One day, in the following Spring, Sabrina met the old woman under the tree. This time they shared a pear.

“How have you got on?” The woman asked Sabrina, and she told her what I have told you.
“Now I want you to make yourself happy,” the old woman told her.
“How do I do that?” Asked the girl.
“By doing only what you feel is right in your heart and head – no more, no less. We will meet again,” said the old woman.

The following day, Sabrina started to do what only made her happy. She stopped cutting, and cleaning and painting and helping so much and found more time for her own needs and her own heart. The downside was that people started to ignore her , or talk about her and whisper about how she had gotten so selfish.

“She was once a nice girl,” Sabrina would hear them whisper. “Gone to the dark side,” said another.

One unexpected day, Sabrina met the old woman for the last time and Sabrina – while sharing an apple – told the old woman how making herself happy had worked out.

“You have found out the truth. You cannot make the world happy. There are those who have turned their backs on you, but they were only using you for their selfish needs. People are lazy, and stupid, and wasteful. They could not see how much in your heart you wanted to help them. Sabrina, you must make yourself happy, regardless of who it upsets. And when you are truly happy, there are those who you will make genuinely happy. They will see the happiness in your eyes and heart and that will be enough for them. The rest are not your responsibility and they will only find another soul to pester and torment. Be glad of who you are.”

And that is what Sabrina did for the rest of her life. She never saw the old woman again but sometimes she would sit under the sycamore tree and eat an orange and smile that she had, at least, made one person happy.

bobby stevenson 2018

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

The Private War of Bobby Falkirk

Which war he went to (and came back from), isn’t important here, it’s just important to know that Bobby came back in one piece – well almost. His head was intact, as was his body – but it was a plain and simple fact that his brain and heart didn’t really communicate that well with each other. Whose does?

Ever since he was old enough to climb trees, Bobby had always wanted to be a soldier. In Bobby’s world branches became rifles, and clumps of grass tied to his head made him invisible to the enemy. He used to invade Mister Elder’s garden on a weekly basis. Mister Elder threatened to go to the police, but nothing ever came of it and Bobby kept on invading and taking Mister Elder’s flower beds prisoner.

Every morning Bobby would ask his mother if he was old enough to join the army, and every morning she would say the same things – ‘not long now’ or ‘when you’re a little taller’. Bobby even hung upside down from trees, for hours, just to make himself that little bit taller.

As he grew up and older, Bobby could see his mother looking sadder – she knew the time was fast approaching when he son would be off to wars overseas.

Bobby had waited, as he had promised, until he was 18 years of age before he attempted to join the army. At that age he was over six-foot tall and built like a champion fighter. Bobby didn’t care if the world was ready for him, Bobby was most definitely ready to take on the world.

In all, Bobby spent ten years in the army and in that time, he saw many places, many cultures, and just as many ways to kill a man. His eyes grew tired and weary of the stench of death, and his heart grew cold and hard. By the time Bobby returned to his home, he felt like a man who belonged to no particular place. Something of himself had been destroyed and buried in those far-off lands and it made him confused, as a result.

In the ten years spent in the army his parents had died, leaving Bobby to feel that he was an orphan. He had a family while he was in the army – he had never been closer or felt more of sense of belonging than those army years, but friends had died in battle or had left.

For the first time in his life, Bobby felt totally alone. In his younger years, Bobby would sometimes travel with his uncle (really a kindly neighbour) up to St Pancras station and hotel on Euston Road. It had been falling apart for many years, but while his uncle worked on the railways, Bobby would explore the old buildings and the old hotel.

In the highest tower (and for reasons you will understand later, I am saying no more than that) Bobby found an empty room, full of cobwebs and rats. At each visit, Bobby would smuggle in little objects, pieces of wood (from which he built a seat), and some things to eat and drink. Over the next few years, it became Bobby’s home away from home. One weekend, when his uncle was taken unwell, Bobby sneaked up to the railway station and managed to get up to his den in the highest tower, unseen. He had always remembered this.

On his return from his war, Bobby had found himself with nowhere to call home, or even rest his head. It was then that he thought of his little room and wondered if it had been discovered during his absence, or if it indeed remained intact.

The station and the hotel had been transformed since last he had seen the place, and the chances didn’t look good for his den’s survival. Even the back stairs had been repainted and lit in electric light, but as he got to where the door was to his room, he found a brick wall. The entrance had been blocked.

The window to the left of the door was still in place and Bobby found he could still open it. The ledge was there and Bobby clung on to the guttering as he walked, carefully up the roof. The window to his den was still there and he managed to prise it open.

Would you believe it? Bobby’s den was still there, untouched, if a little unloved. The builders must have blocked the door and ignored the highest room in the tower. All his survival/army gear was there – even his little notebooks where he recorded all his height changes as he grew.

That night Bobby slept well, just like did when he was a kid. Tomorrow could look after itself.
It took him a minute or two to realise where he was when he awoke, as the sun shone through the window of his little room. When Bobby was ready, he went on a little walk of discovery and found that there was three other rooms next to his which had also been bricked off from the rest of the building. That was when the thought hit him – it would be possible to live up here, as long as he could come and go unseen.

He only had a little money, enough to keep him going for two or three weeks at most, and if he left the building in the dark then he should be able to survive for a while.

That first day, he ate what was left of the sandwich he had stuffed in his pocket. From up there, the highest room on Euston Road, he could see the world go by and the office workers impatiently watching the clocks on their walls. Bobby’s medication wouldn’t last more than a month or two. The army had handed him some tablets to keep his confusion under control, but in the end the self-control was down to him.

Bobby waited until past midnight before he made the walk down the ledge. He could hear the city screaming and shouting from the streets below; people with families and lives. People without the confusion that had swamped his thoughts. Would he love to be down there and normal? The thought didn’t last long as a breeze blew up and nearly knocked him from the roof. He managed to catch on to the guttering at the last moment. In that split second, he had imagined the newspaper report – ‘soldier returns from war and jumps from roof’. Bobby didn’t want that.

Bobby made it down to Euston Road and started towards Kings Cross. He went into the station and bought some chocolate to keep him going. Bobby was walking to nowhere in particular when, from the corner of his eye and across the street, he noticed a young woman being pushed about by three men. She looked to be in trouble. Bobby sped across the road.

Bobby shouted at the men. “Leave the girl alone.”
“Says who?” Asked one of the men. The one with a scar across his nose.
“Says me,” Bobby shouted back.
“Get him lads,” shouted the fat one.

At that point the three of the men threw the girl aside, making her bump her head against the wall.
It was easy for Bobby, he was fit and ready for them. He knocked two of their heads, literally together. One sparked out and one ran away. The one with the scar stood his ground and grabbed the girl by the neck.

“One move and she gets it,” he said with the girl blocking him from Bobby’s fists. Bobby rolled into a ball then quickly knocked away the man’s legs, Bobby managing to catch the girl as she was released.

Bobby stood and dragged the man by the ankles into a small lane. Bobby picked the man up and chucked him in a dump. Then Bobby returned to make sure the girl was okay.
She seemed to be okay and he found out her name was Elizabeth. She had no money, so Bobby went back and emptied the man in the dump’s wallet. He handed the money to the girl, taking her to a place where she could catch a cab. She asked his name, he told her it wasn’t important and then put her in a taxi.

Bobby could hear the station clock strike two in the morning, as he edged his way back to his den in the sky.

As he lay trying to sleep that night, Bobby wondered if everything happened for a reason. Maybe being a soldier and fighting the bad on the streets of London was why he had been put on this Earth.
Bobby, the hero? There was still a grin on his face as he fell asleep.

bobby stevenson 2018

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

The House with the Red Roof

One year, I decided not to walk the West Highland Way; a path of about a hundred miles leading from the central belt of Scotland into the glorious Highlands. Instead, I ventured out to the west coast – because here, it was much more remote and there was less chance of running into hoards of people. Not that I sought out loneliness, nor did I try to avoid it – I’d reached that stage in my life when I was relatively content with myself (regardless of my many faults). 

The problem with the north-west of the Scottish mainland is there are very few paths and even less places to take shelter, should the weather dictate.

That day, when I found the house with the red roof, that was such a day. I almost thought I was going to be wiped out in a snow storm. 

It was an old abandoned farm house which had transformed itself into a bothy ( a place of shelter if you should find yourself stuck out on the hills). Inside there was a little fire in the corner, and some kind soul had left a few twigs and branches to help start a fire. They had even left a few matches.

I managed (eventually) to light a fire – it is not as easy as they make it look in the books – besides, it was a damp room and the wood was slightly wet. I took out a bar of chocolate and warmed some milk I had brought. It made a lovely drink. Needless to say, I fell asleep almost immediately after my supper. The glow and crackling of the fire brought a peace to settle in the room.

For some reason, I opened my eyes – and to my shock (for that is what you told me later), a woman was sitting warming herself at the fire and rubbing her hands.
“Oh, hello,” she said. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Who are you?” Was the only thing I could think of to say.
“Harry, pleased to meet you.”

And that night, started something that changed both our lives. We sat and talked all night (or what was left of it) about the stars, and the world, our families, our dreams and hopes. Before we both knew it, the sun had come up. You said you were heading off to the east and I was going to take the western path, along the loch.

It had been the wee small hours of the fifth of November – remember, remember.
I went back to my job of teaching in Bromley and you said you were taking a PHD course in Physics at some south eastern university.
I have no idea why, but the following 4th of November, I happened to be walking near the house with the red roof. Maybe I hoped to run into you again. If I was being honest, you had been on my mind for much of the last year.

You were already there when I arrived.
“Imagine meeting you here,” was what you had said as I entered the house.
Imagine, indeed.

It was an extremely cold night, and I had actually brought some wood up here with me. For if there was no one here, I was going to light a small fire and then leave the rest of the wood for the next lonely traveller caught by the weather.

But you were here. Somehow I knew you would be. It was like that book ‘One Day’. Although neither of us saw anything romantic in what we were doing. At least, not then.  And once again, all we did was talk and lie by the fire.

I met Susan the following Spring and by Autumn we were wed. I don’t know if you sensed the change in me, but I went to the little house the next November and you didn’t show up.
Something must be wrong – I thought to myself.

Then I saw it – a letter on the mantlepiece of the fire – addressed to Harry. I was surprised the letter had survived. It said you had come a week early to the cottage as you were taking your final exams the week of the 4th of November. I remember sitting by the fire and wishing you well (at least in my head).

The following year we met again and this time you looked tired. Apparently you had nursed your mother through Alzheimer’s and now she was gone. You told me that night, that the walk had helped with the sadness. The fresh Scottish air had diluted your troubles.

It was crazy, but we continued to meet up over the next eight years. In that time I had become a father to two boys and you told me you had met someone special.
You looked, and grew so much happier over that time.

I just want to say thank to you for your friendship and your beautiful soul – and our meetings which kept me going over all the years.

If you are reading this letter dear Sophie, it is because I can’t make it this year. Susan took the boys to the hut (probably because she was curious herself) and she left the letter I wrote for you.

I will be watching you from the stars. I wish you all the love in the world.
Harry x

bobby stevenson 2018

Friday, 2 November 2018

Me and My Pal, Thing....

Long after Thing had departed the valley, and long, long after those who were his kin had disappeared; a woman came calling on me, one oppressive day in May. Her name was Esther Williams, and she apologized for the way the sweat stains on her clothes had made her appearance look disheveled.

“It was a long train ride from the District,” she said, and by the ‘District’, I knew she meant Washington, D.C.

She was a pleasant woman, of about forty, red hair, a lip-sticked face and she seemed to always have a notebook in her hand, or at least nearby. Miss Williams, as she asked me to call her, was a features editor and reporter on The Washington Post, and she was researching an article on Thing and his ilk.

“Where they came from, where they went to, and why they disappeared,” was her remit, she told me.
I told her that I hadn’t realized they had all gone.
“Oh sure, there ain’t been one seen, since…,” she looked at her notes, “since 1953.”

So I guess she was right, Thing and his crew had gone off somewhere better, maybe they were hiding out in the woods, waiting on us to become kinder folks – heck, I don’t know.
“You were close to one,” she stated - or maybe she was just askin’ - I ain’t too sure what she was getting at, to be honest.
I simply nodded.

“So?” She said.
“What do ya want to know?” I asked.
“Everything,” she said. “Everything.”

I told her how I was a grand pappy now, and how I wish my kids and their kids had gotten to know someone like Thing.
“He was the best,” I told her. “The kindest, most caring, individual I ever did know.”

“I met him one day, when he was sitting by the road, on the way back up to his cave. He was in my class at school, but I guess I hadn’t got around to talkin’ to him. Some of the older kids had been throwin’ rocks at him and one had hit him on the head.”
She asked what had caused the kids to throw stones at Thing, and I told her, most probably their parents.
“Kids ain’t born with hate in their heart. No, that kind of thing is taught at home and it goes deep, real deep. Anyway, I cleaned up his wound and he thanked me and he walked off towards his home. You know the funny thing is, I went to one of those school reunions a while back and all those stone-throwers were sitting at the one table. All of them proud - a table of bullies – and by the looks of them, they hadn’t learned a thing. I guess hate knows its own,” I told her.

Then the reporter asked me, if anything had changed in the general attitude to Thing. Had he changed? Had we changed? I told her that I didn’t think it was Thing’s place to change.
“He was just who he was. The way he was made.”

We did get a young teacher once, came to the school. She didn’t last long, on account that her, and some of the staff didn’t get on. She taught us all about tolerance, or at least she tried. Some didn’t want to hear what she was saying – I guess being deaf to certain words is another skill that some folks are taught at home. The teacher’s name was Miss Walker, I think I might have been in love with her. I think most of the class were. I could never work out if she was for religion or against, but she used to quote the Bible some. One day when Thing came to school after gettin’ a beatin’ by a few of the older boys, Miss Walker slammed a book so hard on her table that Jessica Smith fell off her seat (I think she may have been nappin’). She said that pickin’ on folks was wrong and especially when they looked different from what you saw in a mirror. She told us that some of the greatest devils had the sweetest of faces. Then she read from the Bible, especially the bit about the sixth day – the day when God had created all the land based creatures and when man was formed. That was when she wrote on the board:

We are all children of The Sixth Day.

She said, that whether we believed in the word of God or not, there was a lesson to be learned there. We were all created equal. Tommy Rogers said that his daddy said that kind of talk was for Commies and he walked out of the class.

But I noticed a change after that day. Some folks took some time from their lessons to talk to Thing and I saw him smiling for the first time in all his days at school. Sure there were still the stone-throwers, but they found other targets for a time – although they mostly picked on anything their folks had told them was different. Maybe they were just behavin’ the way they were made, and they had no choice either. Yet I still think - you can see badness for what it is.

So this reporter, Esther Williams, thanked me for my time and for the delicious iced-tea I had served her and said she’d let me know when the article was being published in the Post.

They never did find any more of Thing’s kind of people. I hope they didn’t get wiped out by our hate, and that maybe, just maybe, they are hiding out in the woods waiting for us to become better humans.

bobby stevenson 2018

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

The Halloween Mirror

For the last three weeks, he’d been shaving. He was proud of that, I mean most of his friends had started a year or two ago. He hadn’t been able to find enough hair on his face to convince his dad to let him use the razor, up until then. 

So, that morning, he did what he had done for the last 20 days, he went into the bathroom to shave. He pulled the mirror his dad always used, down a little, and started to………..

Except there was one thing missing. One important thing.

He was missing. There was no reflection in the mirror. Oh, sure there were the walls and the shower behind him, but nothing stopping their reflections. He didn’t exist – as far as the mirror was concerned. He stupidly turned the mirror over to see if he was reflected on the mirror on the other side. He wasn’t.

He ran back into the bedroom to ensure he wasn’t still asleep and dreaming. But no. The bed was empty and the mirror in the bedroom was the same. No him.

He could hear his mother downstairs preparing the breakfast and he was unsure as to what he should do next. If he told her, she’d think he’d been on some drug or other – not that he had ever tried anything – but she tended to think the worst of all his exploits. He popped his head out into the hall, to see if the coast was clear – and another weird thing happened: he could see his reflection in the hall mirror …..except…..except…it, or rather his reflection, stuck a finger up in a rude gesture and ran away. Well disappeared out of the side of the mirror, that is.

He chased it to the mirror at the bottom of the stairs, but all his reflection did was laugh and run on to the next mirror. He knew there was a mirror in the kitchen and his mother was also in there. He walked in, trying not show any panic, and wished his mother a good morning. She asked if he wanted toast, and he said he did. She wasn’t looking, so he had a quick look in the mirror and sure enough his reflection was there. His mother turned around and scolded him for being so obsessed with his appearance. “You boys,” is what she’d normally say, and then laugh.

When his mother turned around, the reflection started to make stupid faces, and so he responded by giving a rude gesture back. It was as his mother was buttering the toast, that the reflection reached out from the mirror and grabbed him – so hard and fast, that he didn’t realise what was happening at first. The reflection pulled him into his side of the mirror. Then it jumped out into the kitchen.

“Your turn,” it said. “See how you like it.”

The reflection was in the kitchen getting toast from the boy’s mother. ‘Doesn’t she know it isn’t me?’ He thought. But she obviously didn’t. The reflection smiled back into the mirror – and because his mother was watching , he thought he should smile back – like a good mirror should.

Then the reflection and his mother left the kitchen.
And the boy? Well the boy and his unshaven face were stuck in the mirror wondering what the secret was to escaping. And how long he might be there. 

bobby stevenson 2018