Francis’ complaint

Francis complains that he’d come in to work early to ‘have a nice sandwich and half an hour in the sunshine’ before his shift, but then the narrowness and high walls of the lane thwarted the last part of his plan. Looking freshly-scrubbed in his white shirt and company tie, topped off with a head of childishly unruly, big brown curls, he chatters happily, helps me carry some goods across, confesses that the last thing he remembers from Friday night is P wrestling him to the ground. ‘Everyone keeps mentioning chips!’ I don’t get a chance to ask what he means by this lament, because he’s on to the next thing, unstoppable as water; he reminds me of my siblings.

The next time I see him he’s liberated a piece of shabby carpet from some overlooked corner of the labyrinthine back shop or warehouse, and is proudly perched on it, atop the businesslike old rubbish bin. It’s maybe a metre tall, and there at its summit he’s got the full power of the slice of hazy spring sunshine that does manage to fall in the lane. He is reading The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway and drinking a mug of tea with a generalised, omnibenevolent air of triumph. He is eighteen years old and he’s leaving next month to go travelling. He once pointed out that I become emotionally attached to people very easily. He may be right. I will miss him.

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