A couple of weeks ago, I walked to the shop, as I do every morning before work to buy a newspaper and a pint of milk. I saw a young boy sat outside of the shop with his dog. He must have been about 10 years old, and I remembering seeing him wondering around the streets quite a few times before.
He always had a cheeky smile on his face as though he’d just pick pocketed your last Â£20. He had mousy brown hair that’s probably be bright blonde if it wasn’t for the mud in it. He was wearing ripped gloves and trainers that looked like they’d walked a million miles. ”
It’s the middle of winter. Why are you sat outside? Shouldn’t you be getting ready for school?” I asked him.
“I don’t go to school. I need to get some dog food for my dog. Can I have some money? I won’t buy cigarettes or sweets. I promise.”
I laughed at his proactive approach to begging and gave him Â£2. I told him to buy dog food and some sweets for himself and then to go home and get out of the cold. He explained that the shopkeeper shouted at him for bringing his dog in the shop and asked me to look after it while he went in to buy the food.
“His name is Spot, he doesn’t bite! He likes it when you scratch his tummy.”
I sat and scratched Spot’s tummy as I waited for him. I imagined what it must be like for the two of them. I felt a strange sense of freedom for a few seconds.
He bought the dog food and sweets and as the two of them ran off excitedly, he shouted, “thank you, Mister!” And they were gone. I had no idea where they were going, and I wasn’t even sure they did.
I went in to the shop and the shopkeeper looked annoyed. I couldn’t understand why.
“I feel sorry for that poor bastard. Four times I’ve caught him shoplifting this week. This must be the only time he’s come in here with money. I’ve never seen him so happy.” He said, shaking his head.
“What’s the story with that kid? I always see him wondering around the streets. Where are his mother and father?”
“He lives his with his grandmother. His parents are heroin addicts. Both of them.”
“No wonder he’s always on the streets.”
“Yeah, poor bastard.”
I thought about that kid quite a bit for the rest of the day and I saw him on a few occasions afterwards and gave him some money for dog food and sweets every time I did.
Yesterday morning as I made my morning walk to the shop for my newspaper, I saw him again, sat in the same place outside the shop. This time he was sat alone and he was crying quietly.
“What’s wrong?” I asked him.
“Spot ran away yesterday when I went in the shop to buy him food and a car hit him and now he’s in heaven.” He explained through his tears.
I felt awful. I told him he should go home and get out of the cold.
“I can’t, I need to go and find some rope.”
“Why?” I asked him. Surely this kid couldn’t have been thinking of suicide, I thought.
“Well, Spot ran away and died, so I need to find rope so that I can tie the my next dog to the lamppost when I go and buy his food so he doesn’t run away and die.”
I’d never heard anything like it in my life.
“Could you come to my tree house and help me with something, please?” He asked me. He seemed to have cheered up.
“Sure,” I answered. Work was the last thing on my mind.
He took me to the woodlands nearby, I could see he was getting excited to show me what he had built. We approached a tree house he’d built. I laughed to myself thinking I couldn’t do a better job at building a tree house if I tried.
I asked him about his family and why he was always on the streets.
“My Nan won’t let me see my mum and dad and she won’t let me have a dog but I love dogs and I just like to build my tree house all day. I can do what I want here.”
I asked him about school and he explained that he was bullied because of his shoes when he was there so he refuses to go.
He ran over to a shopping trolley that was hidden in the bushes and pulled it towards me. In it was a football, a multi pack of crisps, a few bars of chocolate and a huge net. He told me how he wanted to hang it from two branches to make a huge bed but he couldn’t reach the branches.
I hung the net up for him, making a huge hammock. It looked brilliant. He laughed and even squealed with excitement.
He looked around, deep in thought. Then he was hit with a brainwave: He quickly flipped his shopping trolley and lent it up against a tree and used it to climb up on to his hammock. Without hesitation and without fear that the hammock may not take his weight, he jumped onto it, rolling around on it, laughing and shouting.
It was 7.40am, and while the world slept, he was awake for everyone. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so happy in my whole life.
I left him in his hammock and gave him some more money before I left.
“Thanks!” He shouted.
And I could hear him giggling as I walked back to the real world.
I found myself feeling emotional as I walked away. I didn’t know whether it was because I felt sorry for this kid, or whether it was because I was envious of everything he had.
I sat at my desk later on and I looked around the office. I couldn’t see a single smile. I saw phones, desks, computers, shredders, photocopiers, staplers, pens, pencils, none of which brought happiness to anyone using them.
Life, I thought, we’re doing it all wrong.