He kicks an empty drinks can from the pavement into the gutter. He neither looks around for possible censure nor looks guilty about what his father would describe as ‘loutish behaviour’. The sound of aluminium against tarmac is a beautiful symphony to him. His mother would call it ‘quite uncharacteristic’. His school reports told of an ‘ordered and orderly boy’.
He visits a charity shop and selects an outfit for twenty five pounds. The lady behind the counter gratefully receives his black school jacket, white shirt and regulation black shoes. She even accepts his tie.
He leaves the shop kitted out in jeans, a hoodie and scuffed trainers.
Next he visits a hairdresser.
“What style would you like?”
The possibility of choice baffles him. Magazines photographs are flicked in front of his face. He selects one, almost at random as he senses that to show no preference would be taken as bad manners.
The bleach made his eyes water. The face that greets him in the mirror is a stranger. The hairdresser is alarmed that her client may cry.
“It’s what you wanted. It’s just like the picture you chose”. She goes to retrieve the magazine as evidence. But he stops her by saying, “No, it’s good. I like it.”
A warm meal is regularly provided in the school canteen. Today he can choose. Burger and fries taste so different from his mother’s suppers. She calls him ‘my little guinea-pig’ the evening before one of their regular dinner parties. Naturally, the boy is not invited to those formal affairs. These evenings are set pieces for his father to do business. Influential dinner guests arrive, often chauffeured. The young man never has the opportunity to meet them or even to see them. He has so much revision and homework assignments.
One evening, sneaking down to the kitchen for a glass of milk, he overheard snatches of conversation from the dining-room. His mother, self-deprecating, “Just a simple dessert really, a recipe I found in an old cookery book”. Then his father’s voice ; “Yes, just the one boy. Coming up to his ‘A’ level year. Five ‘A’ stars predicted. School seem to think he can have his pick of any Oxbridge college.”
The milk sat heavily in his stomach that night. Or was it expectation?
He looks at his mobile phone screen. The missed calls are racking up. The first was from school at 9.17am, then his mother. His father had even called around midday.
The next morning in a café he watches a local radio news report. There is growing concern about the probable kidnap of a local businessman’s son. The poignancy of the story is accentuated by the timing. Apparently he was taken on his way to school where he was due to sit his first ‘A’ level examination. He had a promising future ahead of him. The past tense is used already. It is weird to see his crying mother and grim-faced father on the screen.