Paternoster Tales: Chapter 12


Now it’s my turn to feel guilty. I’ve left it awful late to start telling you the next bit of our story and – precisely because it’s so very late – I won’t be able to tell you much.

I guess the sooner I get on with it the better.

I guess you’ve noticed this chapter is called Barnabas.

And I guess you remember that Barnabas is me.

I am Barnabas. The Barnabas of Paternoster Square. The waif with the golden hair. And the blue eyes. And the nose that looks longer than it should be. I’d make a good bird. The sort with a thick short beak, more sparrow than woodpecker, more bull-finch than wren. I’m too intelligent to be a pigeon but too slow to be a hawk, and too small to be a swan. Plus I can’t swim. I hate water.

I drowned.

Just thought I’d drop that in now. Get it out of the way. When I was alive, I couldn’t swim. I worked in the docks – they’re all gone now. One day, I was shifting bags of sugar. And I fell. Head first straight into the cold Thames. And that was that.

I haven’t quite been here ever since, but so nearly as to not matter. I try to forget where I was before I found Paternoster … or he found me … and I came to live here. I’m glad he brought me here, because the watching is first rate. And the food! Aaah! – the food smells and the food-watching within a mile of Paternoster Square are incredible; they make my heart sing (not that I have one, but you know what I mean).

In this part of London, the people-watching is sublimer than … ? Than … than a deck-chair snooze in Monet’s French water garden, on a summer’s afternoon, lazily counting the lilies, while electric-blue dragonflies dip and skim the water. One of my current people-watching favourites is Harry. I guess he’s about I-know-what-I’m-doing-even-when-you-think-I-don’t-and-I’m-going-to-do-it-anyway-seven. He’s cool, but it would be a bad idea to tell him so. He’s savvy, but again I’d counsel against telling him. And I’m not sure if he’s lost the ability to see us or if he can, but chooses not to and instead, ignores us.

Harry carries a Harry bag; always. It’s a small brown satchel, covered in stickers. With three leather luggage labels, each with a photograph. The red one is of Harry playing tennis. The other two are of famous tennis players and have Wimbledon in gold letters stamped diagonally across the leather. Whatever time it is, or day it is, or time of year, Harry has a tennis ball in his hand.

Did I just write ‘in his hand’? It would have been more accurate to state not in his hand. It’s either bouncing … on the ground or against a wall, or it’s in the air. He tosses it out of his left hand and mimes a windmill with his right, but his right hand never catches it and he always misses. Paternoster says he’s swerving. Molly says it’s serving. But Paternoster says that’s what you do with food. Hmm … Whichever it is that he’s doing, he does it all the time. I hope he puts it in his pocket when he gets to school.

He also puts sweet wrappers in his pocket. He’s like a magpie – anything bright and colourful flitting about on the ground, he scoops up, examines and smooths and folds and slips into his pockets. I once saw his father tower over him, early one drizzly morning, like a … and here, I apologise because I realise I have a bit of a theme developing – I’m stuck on bird similes … but his dad did look startlingly similar to a vulture. Long grey coat, long neck, long nose and a shoulder hunch that could audition for Notre Dam’s hump-back on the West End. Harry’s vulture father made him empty all his pockets into a bin. Every last bit of paper foil; even the gold sheet that had started Harry’s collection – the one that he held up to his father’s face as a single tear spilled over his lower eyelid and started to roll down his cheek. The one that he crumpled in his hot fist before he let go and dropped it on top of the others. The one that he went back for later and unfolded on his knee and smoothed with his thumbs and slipped back into the zipped pocket on the inside of his jacket.

Why does Harry collect sweet wrappers?

And what does Harry have to do with our story?

Well, we people-watch and Harry is one of the people I watch and if I hadn’t been watching Harry, I may not have seen Patrick and his scrawny dog.

Patrick wore a wooly hat.

He and his dog were invisible.


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