Harry and the Poo Smell

For Buster.

For without his patience and understanding none of this would have been possible.

Harry was a young boy of about 9 and 3/12. He had a best friend, Charley, and he loved his brand-new bicycle that he got for his birthday (bought at great expensive by his father to ensure his son was the envy of everyone else at prep). But, most of all, he loved heckling paupers. His favourite pastime was to hurl abuse and occasionally an empty Perrier bottle at them from afar. He loved to tease them as they could never catch him on his new bike. ‘Not that they would be able to, the drunken, smelly degenerates!’

One sunny, summer’s day, Harry and Charley were cycling around the park in the centre of old Cambridge town, bored out of their little minds. They decided to stop for a breather and a pee break. They dropped their bikes and lined up against the nearest hedge and began the hilarious duty of emptying themselves. No sooner than they had started, Harry spotted something on the other side of the hedge.

‘Charley, look,’ Harry nodded through a gap in the leafy boundary. ‘Tramps, a whole bunch of ’em!’

Charley peered through the thicket. To his surprise, there was a plethora of paupers all sitting around in a disused car park. The horde of homeless had obviously taken over the place and had installed bin fires, cardboard sleeping compartments and miscellaneous articles of rubbish on the floor. The vagrants all wore strange, ill-fitting garments and hats. Some had whiskers, some had warts. None had teeth. Most had dogs, which were in surprisingly good shape.

‘Let’s get ’em!’ cried Harry. ‘Oi tramps! Trampy tramps! You smell! Bad!’ he shouted with all his might.

‘I don’t know, Harry,’ said Charley. ‘There are an awful lot of them. They’ll probably catch us.’

‘Don’t be such a girl. If they come after us, we’ll get away on our bikes, like always.’ Harry shrugged, unconcerned. ‘And besides, they’ll have to jump this hedge first. Look, most of them can hardly stand, let alone lift a can of super-strength beer to their lips.’

Charley considered this whilst Harry volleyed another torrent of abuse over the hedge.

‘Oi! Hey, trampy. Trampy trampy trampy! What are you drunk for? It’s only half nine in the morning! Get a job!’ Harry doubled over in a fit of hysterics and pounded his hand on his knee.

Charley couldn’t help himself and guffawed in hysterics.  Harry regained composure and took a breath. His eyes lit up as he delved in his pocket and brought out a shiny pound coin.

‘Hey tramps? Yeah, you tramps!’ Waving the coin at arm’s length through the bush. ‘You want to buy yourself a nice croissant? Maybe a nice café latte? Or would you rather prefer another bottle of lovely cider? Hmmm, cider? Is that it? Thought so.’ Harry levered back his arm as far as it would go, then jettisoned the pound coin as hard and high as he could. It sailed through the hedge and over the heads of the hobos. The vagabonds watched its twinkling trajectory with grave concern.

‘Expensive gag,’ cried Charley, ‘but totally worth it!’ He shook with laughter and tears streamed from his eyes. He loved how confident his friend could be.

‘Don’t worry,’ gasped Harry between fits of laughter. ‘I’ve got another one somewhere.’

Charley wiped the tears from his eyes and cheeks and took stock of his surroundings. ‘Er, Harry,’ he panted. ‘Where are the bikes?’

The runaway laughter came to an abrupt halt. There was a dull thud in Harry’s heart and he missed a breath. They had just dumped the bikes behind them and gone for a wee. No more than three minutes ago. Oh no, Harry thought. What would Father say? Would he be angry? Would he punish him? Would he buy him another bike? But more importantly would he buy him another bike today?

‘Damn bloody, trampy tramp tramps!’ raged Harry, fresh tears in his eyes and scarlet in his cheeks. ‘I bet you’ve robbed it ya trampy trampers, with yer filthy trampous paws! You’re disgusting!’

‘Right, that’s it,’ cried Harry, delving into his pocket. ‘They’re not going to get away with this. I’m going to call my mummy and get her to pick me up. Then she’ll call the police and sue these horrible people who live in cardboard boxes and wee on the street and play tin flutes at me. They’ll learn.’ He angrily jabbed buttons on his shiny new iPhone.

Charley ceased sobbing for a moment to splutter: ‘H…Harry… Harry, look out!’

Harry was suddenly shadowed by a large and imposing figure. He looked up into a grizzled, toothless, whiskery, stinking mess of a man’s face. It had strangely twinkling blue eyes underneath overgrown white eyebrows. It muttered: ‘Change?’ Although for the full effect it needs to be pronounced with much spittle and slurring.

‘Aaaaaaagh!’ cried Harry. He dropped his phone in shock and turned to flee.

‘Aaaaargh!’ cried Charley, who turned and ran for all he was worth.

Before Harry could make good his escape or find the right words to convey his feelings toward this stranger, he slipped in something rather slick and sticky. He dragged himself backwards along the ground as fast as he could away from the deranged-looking druid. ‘Aaaaagh!’ he cried again. ‘Where’s my bike, you?  You low-life!’

‘Change?’ mumbled the old drunk.

Harry managed to pick himself up and flee across the park. Once he had rounded a side street he stopped and tried to get his breath back and round up his senses. His lungs ached with exhaustion. His throat felt like he had scorched it or scratched it from all the shouting. ‘Damn tramps,’ he croaked. ‘My bike, my bloody bike!’

‘Right, call mum,’ he thought. ‘She’ll sort this out.’ His chest gave a nasty jolt again. ‘My phone, I had my phone in my hand! Oh no, that filthy beggar stole it after I fell. Right, where’s Charley?’ But Charlie was nowhere to be seen. ‘Charley, you idiot, come back and help me get home!’ He screeched to the street in general.

He concluded he’d just have to get the bus home; public transport: Ew!. But there was no way he could walk that distance home, it would take a million years. He plodded off in the direction of the bus station, weary, his throat shredded and his feet aching as he marched.

Once at the bus station he quickly found the right bay and was rather relieved to find a bus ready and waiting. ‘Thank goodness,’ he sighed. ‘Soon I’ll be back at home with my feet up, playing my Gaymbox XII – The Ultimate Home Entertainment Console. Then Father can come down and sort those ruffians out. They’ll all be in jail before teatime.’ He relaxed and joined the bus queue.

Just when he thought his ordeal had come to an end, Harry had another terrible realisation. He hadn’t thought to bring his wallet out today. He hadn’t needed anything from town, and he and Charley were just going to loiter round the park all day. It never occurred to him that he might get trapped there!

‘Next,’ hailed the bus driver. ‘Come on, next, please. I haven’t got all day. Come on lad, where you want to go to?’

‘The Smitt’s residence: Fox Hunt Manor, please.’ Harry’s voice creaked as the bus man rang things up on the meter.

“What?”

“Er, Pilkington Lane.”

‘Two quid, please, lad.’

‘Erm, I don’t have anything on me right now. But when I get to Pilking…’

‘No,’ interjected the driver. ‘If you don’t pay the fare, you don’t get on the bus. Tickets holders only, please. Next, please. Step off the bus, son. Next, please.’

‘But you don’t understand. Do you want to be held responsible when my mother realises I’ve been left in town all alone?’ The pain in his throat was unbearable but he had to use it. ‘I’ve had my bike stolen, you see…’

‘I don’t make the rules, boy,’ the bus driver cut in. ‘But I do have to obey them. Now step off the bus and go and have a bath.’

Harry held his tongue. He was quite taken aback. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of that last remark. It was then he realised that, although there was a queue, and there were quite a lot of people trying to get on the bus, they were all giving him a rather wide berth. He stepped gingerly off the bus. The parting crowd of people either stared at him, or curled their lips up and looked deftly away.

‘What on earth’s going on?’ thought Harry. ‘Are these people mad?’ A breeze lifted on the street. People filed around the unkempt-looking boy and tried to get on the bus. Then Harry smelt it. He gagged and threw up all down his Super Dry pullover and corduroys.

‘What the…? Where’s that coming from? Oh my…’ Harry spotted the source of the foul smell. His entire left flank and his bottom were covered in what could only be described as pure, light brown, chunky evil. His eyes watered and his nostrils clamped up. He put a hand to his mouth and realised that, too, was covered. Worse still, his bus was now leaving the bay.

‘Oh no! Come back! Aaaagh! I look and smell like a tramp!’ Harry had had enough. He stamped his feet, flailed his arms and threw himself on the ground, just like when nanny wouldn’t give him a cookie. Nobody went to help him up. Passers-by just walked around him or crossed the street to avoid him.

‘What am I to do?’ he wailed. ‘I need to get home! I need to have a bath and to burn these clothes!’

Harry lay there and stared up at the blue sky. ‘Maybe someone will just pick me up and take me home if I lie here long enough.’ A large black cloud crept over the sun, blotting it out. A single dollop of water impacted exactly in the centre of Harry’s forehead.

‘Oh no.’ Harry leapt to his feet. ‘Excuse me, miss? Could I borrow…? Excuse me, madam? Hi, I need just one pound to get… Don’t walk away from me like that! Sir? Sir? Please, listen! Sir?’

The rain was now peppering the pavement and Harry was getting soaked, but the rank smell was not leaving him. It was ingrained on his skin and in his clothes, which were now quite tatty. Slowly, an idea crept into his brain. Ah! He was a genius. He ran down the pavement to a payphone on the corner. He threw in his last pound coin and punched in his home number. ‘Mum? Mum! Mummy? Mother? Moth Her? Moor Hen! Mummah? Mumsk? Mother pick up the phone this instant! Ah…!’

‘Hello, this is the Smitts’ residence…’

‘Mother, dear! Help!’

‘…we can’t get to the phone right now, but please leave a message and…’

‘Damn!’ cried Harry. The handset was smashed back on to the hanger and the coin dropped through the machine. However, the coin retrieval slot remained empty. NO! If he hadn’t waited so long that the voicemail chipped in, it wouldn’t have cost him his only pound! So now Harry was a penniless, wet, foul-smelling street urchin and no mistake.

He slumped onto a bench inside a bus shelter. The street was almost completely deserted. The rain and the smelly little boy had scared everybody off and there was not another bus due for a good while. The rain pitter-pattered off the shelter. Harry’s face had fallen. He was cold and distraught and everyone thought he was a dirty, poo boy. A tramp! A pikey! A river of tears and rain flowed down his face.

 

Without introduction, someone sat down heavily beside Harry. Obviously, this fellow didn’t mind that he smelt of dog’s doings and that he looked like he’d been run over by a litter bin. Maybe he just really didn’t want to be in the rain. Harry lifted his sodden, aching head and wearily looked up at who was invading his personal space on this lonely, drenched street.

The old, twinkly blue-eyed tramp, looked kindly into Harry’s eyes; one mucky palm was outstretched with two golden pound coins in the centre. ‘Change?’

Harry sighed and almost slid off the bench in relief. He looked up gratefully into the man’s dopey, blue eyes and went to take the money.

The man’s fist clenched and his eyes narrowed. Confused, Harry tried to search the man’s weathered features for the meaning of this. Before he could open his mouth, the tramp threw the two shiny coins on to a grate by the road where they were swept up by the current of rain and deposited down the drain, lost forever. Harry’s jaw dropped.

‘Expensive gag,’ mumbled the vagrant. ‘But totally worth it.’

With that, the man burst out in a hideous cackle. He got unsteadily to his feet and stalked off into the rain, howling like a mad man.

The moral of this story is: Whenever you’re next out taunting tramps, just be sure you’ve got the bus fare to get home.