by Roger Noons
a mug of cocoa.
My mother always told me to keep away from the old tramp. He lived in a disused old building that had been neglected by The Test, an area where chain was stretched until it broke. When a link broke, the crack would be heard for miles around. Locals knew that tests were carried out on Tuesdays and Fridays. On two sides of the land were fields separating the factory from Four Ways Church.
Aged seven, I tended to follow my mother’s instructions, unless being so engrossed in an activity, I forgot. Opposite our house was an unmade private road leading to St Luke’s cemetery. It was a large, irregularly shaped area with many gravestones. It was my playground, as it kept me away from any main roads. Albeit, in 1950, there were few vehicles travelling along Cradley Heath’s highways. It also offered countless nature study opportunities.
It was on a late July morning as I was meandering between graves, looking for butterflies, that I met the tramp. I emerged from below an elderberry tree to find him sitting on a blue brick gravestone.
‘How do, lad,’ he said. He may have smiled, but there were so many whiskers on his face, I couldn’t see.
‘Hello,’ I said quietly, as I began to back away.
‘No need to run off, I’ll not bite you. You might like to see this, bet you ain’t seen one close up.’ He reached out and I could see in his hands the black feathers of a bird. It’s orange beak was open and it’s glistening eye was looking at me. ‘Found it, didn’t I, resting on this grave. One wing broken, it can’t fly.
I sniffed. ‘You going to let it go?’
He shook his head. ‘It’ll be caught and killed by a fox or one o’ them up there.’
I followed his gaze and saw circling high in the sky, two round-winged, short-tailed brown birds. When I looked back, he had turned away from me. I heard a crack, much quieter than the Test. He moved away from me. ‘It deserves a grave,’ he said over his shoulder.
When he reached an earth mound headed by a simple wooden cross, he got down on his knees. I edged closer and watched as he scooped earth towards him until he had a hollow. He placed the bird onto the soil and pushed the loam back.
‘Come,’ he called, ‘we’ll say a prayer.’
It seemed an odd thing, but I felt sorry for the bird and moved to kneel down along side him.
‘Goodbye little bird,’ he said and looked at me.
‘Jesus, please take care of this blackbird,’ was all I could think to say. I stood up but the tramp remained on his knees.
‘I’m Tom,’ he said, offering a large, rough, soil-covered hand.
‘John William Rogers,’ I announced, as he took my hand in the gentlest of shakes.
His head went back and he began to laugh, which frightened me and I turned and began to run.
‘You’re a good lad,’ he called after me.
I didn’t tell my mother about meeting Tom and when I lay in bed that night, I hoped I would meet him again.
About the author
Roger regularly contributes to Café Lit. A number of his flash fiction pieces were included in Slimline Tales which were bottled by Chapeltown Books.