‘Hasn’t he got no home to go to?’
Nan said the same thing each time she saw Carl kick a can round the rundown park in the middle of the estate, whenever he was shuffling outside the offy pestering customers to buy him fags.
‘What you want to smoke for?’ she said the day he asked her for twenty B & H. ‘You’ll stunt your growth and you’re already a short arse.’
I watched him watching Nan as she hurried us off to the indoor market for bin liners and a box of broken biscuits, watched him squint his currant eyes, a look too hard for a twelve year old.
He never did grow much.
Fifty years on, a neighbour told me when the police kicked Carl’s flat door in he was five foot one and a quarter. He lay in the hall wearing only his pyjama top, eyes wide, watching for Death with his iron hard, old man’s stare.
Note for non-UK readers –
B & H – to give them their full name – are Benson and Hedges a popular brand of cigarette here.
Offy is a nick name for an off-licence, a shop that sells alcohol, cigarettes etc.
A box of broken biscuits is a memory from my childhood. When I was young we didn’t have much money and my mum used to buy boxes of broken biscuits, rejects from the biscuit factory packed in a plastic bag and a plain brown box, sold off cheap, all the flavours mixed together. Each biscuit came coated in crumbs and all of them tasted of Ginger Nuts.