It was one of those strange places where one road full of shabby houses with old bikes, mattresses and empty beer bottles in the gardens, not to mention the St. Georges flag hanging from the window of number 35, ran parallel to a tree-lined avenue of houses with perfect gardens; the lawns so immaculate that they may have been artificial. The only thing hanging from any window in this road would be the corner of a net curtain inadvertently caught when the cleaner shook the dust out of the window. One road shouted poverty the other money-to-burn.
Mr. Brown, a model of respectability has left his office and caught the bus home. He prides himself on his green credentials. He doesn’t drive to work in the posh car that stands in the drive of his house. He looks the part in his made-to-measure suit; always well turned out. His acquaintances at the golf club are always impressed. His fellow parishioners value the good work he does at the local church. He walks up his leafy avenue, nodding and smiling at the neighbours, if any are about. Key in the lock of his impeccable house. His wife and children cower silently behind the closed door. A quiet war awaits.
Harry Smith leaves the building site at the same time as Mr. Brown leaves his office. They use the same bus to travel home. They don’t know each other, move in very different circles but even so Mr Brown would never sit next to the likes of Harry in his dirty overalls. Given the chance Mr. Brown would have joked, “I might catch something”. Harry would probably drive to work if he could afford a car.
Harry walks up his road. He doesn’t nod and smile. He stops to talk to his neighbours swigging their beer or clasping their hands round mugs of tea. These houses have uncut hedges, peeling paint, kids screaming and laughing, criss-crossing across the road. Harry’s children wait inside, front door open, desperate to see their big, rough-hewn-scruffy-to-the-bone-expletive-tongued-Dad. Screams of welcome and delight explode through the doorway as his wife envelops him in a tight hug. Noise and laughter abound. A noisy peace. Sanctuary.
Malcolm Henshall – February 2020