It was in the late 1920’s. I was 6 or 7 at the time. Mother was wearing her pearls with a fox wrapped round her shoulders. Her legs were long and shiny. Daddy’s hair was shiny too. I stood on a chair and reached up to touch it. It was sticky and I put my fingers in my mouth and licked them, but Daddy took them out. “Naughty, naughty, naughty!” he said and wagged his white-gloved finger at me. Mother smelt of moth-balls when she bent down to kiss me. They were going out – to a ball I think, and I was staying in with Auntie Vy. She promised me a story when they’d gone. She always made it sound like we were doing something naughty. Oh how I loved my Aunty Vy!
After they’d gone, we snuggled up on the big sofa by the fire. It was cold outside – snowing - or maybe it was sleet, but the fire was lovely and warm, spitting with new logs. Aunty Vy read me my favourite book: “Winnie the Pooh.” I liked to look at the pictures. We’d just got to the bit where Pooh Bear gets his head stuck in the honey pot when I heard a tap-tap-tapping at the window. Aunty Vy let out a squeak. “Ooh!” and we both jumped up. At the window was the face of a little boy, his nose and cheeks all squashed up against the window pane. His eyes were big and he stared at me, and I stared back. Aunty Vy put on her coat and galoshes and went out. She was always so kind hearted. She’d bring in birds with broken wings and nurse them. It was her who taught me to be nice to spiders. “They’re flesh and blood – just like you and me”, she’d say.
Back she comes in with the little boy who’s got no coat on and he stands with his red legs, dripping water on the rug by the fire. His teeth are chattering. Aunty Vy goes and fetches a steaming cup of cocoa and a great big towel which she wraps him up in, then sits him down next to me and carries on reading. His breath is loud and I can hear his heart beating - like a frightened bird.
The little boy stays to the end of the story, then, with not so much of a word, he jumps up, drops the towel and stuffs his feet back into his squelching shoes and goes off into the hall making for the door. Just before he goes, Aunty Vy takes 2 apples from the bowl on the sideboard and rushes over to him with them. He takes them, puts them inside his shirt, looks up at her with his solemn little face, then looks over and stares at me. I stare back - then off he goes. Disappeared - like he was a ghost or something.
“Time for bed” Aunty Vy says. She puts her finger to her lips and softly whispers “Shhh”, and I know it’s to be our little secret. Before I fall asleep, I remember the untouched mug of cocoa and ask Jesus to make him safe.
I never saw him again.