Monday 29 May 2023

Sunday Best by Gill James, champagne

 Have you ever noticed that thing about Sundays? There's something different about them, isn't there? I don't mean about going to church or anything though I expect some people do. But it's a bit quieter and a bit more vibrant at the same time, isn't it? It's less hurried and more hopeful. You do different things perhaps. You might go out in the country, have a roast for dinner or even go into town and browse through the shops before they're properly open. Less dangerous, my dad always used to say; you're less likely to spend your money.

That's what my mate Billie and I had decided to do that Sunday. Put on our glad rags and go and have a bit of a browse. Some of the lads might be meeting in Piccadilly Gardens. We had every opportunity to impress.

"You got any cash to spend?" Billie asked.

"A bit," I said. I knew I would have to watch her. She never had any and she was always on the scrounge.

"Well you should put on your new jeans and that top with the sequins on," she suggested.

That was an idea. It would still look casual but smart at the same time.

Of course, she turned up in a mini-skirt, a halter-neck top and stilettos. We nearly had a row there and then and I almost told her where to get off.

"You'll show me up," I said.

"Oh go on," she said. "You look fine. I'm only trying to impress Davo. You'll be all right with Kev."

I would, would I?

Well she convinced me. And now I'm so glad she did. In view of what happened.       


We didn't get there in the end before the shops opened. The Metrolink wasn't working and we had to take the replacement bus.

"This takes for blooming ever," Billie moaned. "If this darn bus don't get a move on they'll have already set off for the footy. Oi, you driver mate, it's the pedal of the right."

Everybody on the bus stared at her. 

"Behave," I hissed.

"Well, you want to see Kev, don't you?"

I did. Of course I did. But it wouldn't have been a disaster if I hadn't; we were okay with each other now. If I missed him this morning, we'd talk on the phone tonight.

It didn't help that she couldn't walk in the stilettos.

"What we have to put up with for our men, eh?" she complained as she tottered along. 

I was doing fine in my trainers.

The town was buzzing. It would be warm enough to sit out in the open at Piccadilly Gardens. I hoped the water feature was turned on.

As ever there were a fair number of homeless people slumped in doorways. They made the place look a mess and they made everybody feel uncomfortable. How did they get into that state? Dad had lost his job the year before and it was a bit difficult for a few weeks but it never got that bad and he did find a new job.

One lad caught my eye though. He wasn't much older than us.  He had long wavy brown hair and warm brown eyes. I found myself smiling at him. He smiled back. I noticed he was reading The Book Thief. We'd done that at school and I'd loved it.

"Good book," I said.

"It is, isn't it?" he replied.         

"What are you talking to him for? You need to keep well away from that sort." Billie was pulling me away from him and frowning.   

"What do you mean, that sort?"

"Idle sods. Can't be arsed to work. Don't wash."

"How can you know what's happened to him? Don't forget my dad lost his job. It was really hard."

"But you didn't end up like that, did you?" She pointed at the lad I'd been talking to.

He looked away.

"I guess we were lucky," I replied.

"Anyway, don't get giving them any money. They'll only spend it on booze or drugs."

She was really beginning to annoy me now. She never had any money because she spent all of hers on vodka and ciggies. "You enjoy a drink, don't you? You smoke. That's a drug isn't it?"

"Yes, but I pay my bills first."

"What bills? You live at home with your mum and dad and they give you lunch money and buy your books for college, don't they?" She didn't even have a Saturday job like I did.

"Well, my dad says they need to get off their arses and get a job." Billie's dad said that? He was always ringing in sick for work. I wouldn't be surprised if one day soon they gave him the sack. I wondered what would happen to Billie and her family then.       

Billie started stomping off towards Piccadilly Gardens. Suddenly there was a great crack as the heel on her right shoe broke.

"Oh Bugger. Lin, you've got to help me. Can we go to Timpson's and get this fixed? You've got enough money, haven't you? I can't meet Davo looking like this."

She really was the limit. I'd had enough of her. It was stupid to wear shoes like that for traipsing around town anyway.

I stopped walking. "No, you know what? You can limp or walk barefoot. If Davo's at all decent he won't mind a bit. Maybe he'll help you out. If you see Kev, tell him I'll ring him tonight."

"So where are you going?"

"There's something I need to do."

I worked my way back through the crowds to the spot where I'd seen the lad. I was pleased to see he was still there. I fished in my handbag and pulled out my wallet. I had £15 in there. I took it out and held it out to him.

"Will this be of any use to you?" I said.

His eyes grew round as he looked at the money. "I can't take that," he said. "It's too much."

"You can and it isn't." I had a reading week and wouldn't need to go out again until after I'd earned some more money the next Saturday.

"If you're really sure. Thank you so much. I'm Jeff Charles." He held out his hand.

I shook it. "I'm Linda Fairchild." I pointed to his book that was now closed. "I see you've finished it."

"Yes. Now I don't know how I'm going to pass the time."

"Have you heard of book crossing?" I asked. I told him all about how people left books in places for others to find. He'd normally have to go into the library and use a computer there to find out where but I looked a few up on my phone. There were half a dozen within walking distance of where we were. "I can keep an eye on your stuff while you go and look," I said.

Ten minutes later he came back with three books and a broad grin on his face. "You're a life-saver," he said.

We chatted for about half an hour and then I made my way home. All I had left now was my return ticket for the replacement bus.       


Billie and I drifted apart after that. We made up after the fight but we didn't really go about together as much as we had before. Kev and I eventually got married. So did Billie and Davo. Kev and I celebrated our twenty-fifth last year. Billie and Davo split up after three years. She's been married and divorced twice since. She almost ended up on the streets herself. Her and her two kids. In the nick of time the council found her a small two-bed flat and she's just about holding it together now.


It was a real surprise when the doorbell rang the other day, Sunday as it happened, and I opened it to find a man in a very smart suit and a little bit older than me standing on the step. He was carrying a huge bunch of flowers and a bottle of champagne. I knew who it was straight away. Jeff Charles. Those eyes.

"How did you find me I asked? I'm Linda Davies now, so it can't have been that easy."

"I'm into family history. I know where and how to look. It wasn't difficult. I hope you don't mind me coming here."

"So, what's your story?"

"Well, that day you turned up in your Sunday best..."

"Sunday best? Jeans and a cheap top?"

"You looked gorgeous. I think I fell in love with you a bit. That friend of yours just looked silly. I hope you don't mind me saying."

I invited him in, introduced him to Kev and made a big pot of tea. He told me all about what had happened since that day.

"That £15.00 got me into a hostel and I chatted to somebody from Crisis. They helped me to get a job as a cleaner and to find a studio flat."

Apparently, he then learnt such a lot about cleaning and knew he could do better than the firm he was working for. So he set up his own company and now he had contracts with hotel chains, prestigious office buildings and luxury sports centres.                                

"So, let me get to the reason I've come here,” he said eventually. “I want to give something back and I want someone with a clear vision to help me with that."

I didn't understand what he was talking about at first. He went on to explain that he wanted to offer jobs to some of the rough sleepers and also build some accommodation: starter studios that they could rent very cheaply until they could afford something more on the general market. He needed someone who knew how to talk to people like the person he had been then, and who could train others to do the same. And he thought that person was me. 

"But how do you know I'll be any good at that sort of thing?" I’ve been a teacher for twenty-seven years and yes, I can talk to teenagers all right. I wasn't so sure about this, though. 

"Instinct," he replied. "Just like the instinct that made you give me that £15.00."

Maybe. Well, he was so enthusiastic I've decided to give it a go. Kev's right behind me. We opened the bottle of champers as soon as I agreed to what he suggested.   

You see, there really is something very special about Sundays. They're the best.          

About the author

Gill James is published by The Red Telephone, Butterfly and Chapeltown. She edits CafeLit and writes for the online community news magazine: Talking About My Generation She is a Lecturer in Creative Writing and has an MA in Writing for Children and PhD in Creative and Critical Writing 


Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)

No comments:

Post a Comment