Continued from “Squatting” from the novel “Wooden Dancers” a work in progress…
When he’d seen Judy off the premises, Ryan rode the lift up to Number 13 on the third floor, a journey that took seconds but told the story of his life.
The boy who went down with the flush of just-ridden youth was now the man looking back at him in the mirror going up. He was the man whose life had changed. The man who could get used to living this way, off the streets and into a block of apartments, away from poverty and into wealth, out of the pit of despair and into the comfort of dreams. The dream he was having right now was what he’d just done to a woman so much more experienced. “No!” she said, “Right here!” And they were doing it there, on the kitchen counter, and she was telling him he was big. But then she wanted him to carry her to the bedroom where he’d slept the night before, the bedroom for which she chose the decor, Chris’ spare bedroom, to do it again, before lying there post-coital, talking, laughing, sleeping and waking before she said it was time to go, and gave him her card and said he should come to the seaside. The man who looked back from the mirror was his father.
Ryan was eighteen the last time he saw him, the night before a crucial game his future would depend on. If the future was to be rosy he would need a new pair of football boots, top of the range, and other things, so his father had given him £500.
“You’ll want this,” he said.
“What’s it for?” Ryan asked.
“But you have to earn them.”
“By scoring a goal and winning the game.”
“I think I can do that,” said Ryan.
“But that’s not the only thing. I want you to make me a promise. You’re a young boy with the world at your feet, you need to promise me that whatever happens, you’ll be successful, rich even.”
“I promise,” said Ryan.
“Shake on it,” said his Dad, and Ryan took his hand, “Now up the wooden dancers and get a good night’s sleep.”
Ryan did get a good night’s sleep; not even the neighbour’s dog barking or an urban fox or whatever caused much disturbance to the young man dreaming of scoring a goal and winning the game. Not even some noise downstairs could intercept his dream. So when he woke up he felt refreshed, keen, eager, excited as he went downstairs for an early breakfast.
“Dad?” he called.
“He’s gone,” said his mum.
“Gone,” she repeated.
“He’s supposed to be running me to Liverpool.”
“He said you’ll have to get the train,” said his mum, with a distant look out of the window, a trace of dampness in her eyes.
“I don’t get it,” said Ryan.
“Your father’s gone,” she said, “and he won’t be coming back.”
Shocked, bemused and scared, the young boy wanted to know why, but all his questions went unanswered as his mum told him she had to be in work. He was to get himself to Liverpool and do his best, something about doing what his father asked last night and shook on it, that’s all she knew. And that was the last time he ever saw his dad, when he’d told him to score a goal and win the game and whatever happens be successful even rich, and they’d shaken on it. “Whatever happens”. Ryan, the young boy with the world at his feet, now knew the significance of those words, that his dad was leaving and he was to be on his own. That the £500 was not just for boots but for his train fare too.
The lift door opened and Ryan left the man in the mirror behind. Then letting himself in to Number 13 with the key he’d been trusted with, he tried to reconcile his weird feeling right now; that sleeping with Judy had made him feel strong, in control, that he could do anything he wanted. In other words he’d had an epiphany. Though he was no closer to finding his dad and it was early days anyway, the anger and hatred had gone. Instead he felt empowerment, the strength to honour the promise he’d made all those years ago, to be successful even rich. And though he’d spent years drifting like litter in the wind, it was time to take control, turn this opulent ‘squat’ into something permanent. A curious shift had occurred in his mind, from one of loneliness and depression to one of renewed hope and determination.