Blessed Youth

He was puzzled by the white marks on the stone blocks of the bridge until one day he saw someone climbing across it on tippy toes, fingers scratching for purchase, dipping intermittently into a little bag at his waist. Shy and awkward, he’d watched from across the street and wondered. When the climber had gone, he examined the marks, touching them gingerly, wondering if the smudgy white might come off on his hand. He tried pulling on the holds, fruitlessly squashing his toes onto the tiny edges. Thwarted, he stood looking at the bulbous blocks with the irregular chalk marks and then reluctantly set off for home.

Another day, the climber is there again, backwards and forwards, absorbed in the task as though it’s really important. This time the kid finds himself drawn toward the spindly figure. The climber is aware of him yet concentrating hard. Eventually he turns and smiles. “Fancy a go young ‘un?” The kid gives a big shrug. The climber dismounts and takes off his weird multi-coloured shoes and hands them over. They’re too big but the kid laces them up as tight as he can. This time when he stands on the tiny holds his feet stick. He makes a tentative step sideways, moves his hand to a new hold and then jumps down with a shy grin at the climber, who’s rolling a fag and nods at the wall. “Gerron again then young ‘un.” For the next ten minutes he fights to stay on the wall, trying every edge, shifting his weight instinctively, grunting and gurning with the effort. “That’ll do young ‘un. I’ve gorra get t’Sheaf for last orders.” Reluctantly he takes off the boots and hands them back. As the climber strolls off towards the pub, the kid tries again in his tatty trainers and hangs on for ten seconds. Stepping down, he grins.

Evening after evening, he pads to and fro across the bridge wall. His father tells him he’s got more chance of growing a third bollock than seeing his old man shell out for climbing boots, whatever they might be. So he summons up the courage to nick a pair from a shop in the city, a shop full of mysterious kit.

Eventually he tires of the horizontality of the bridge and craves height. Quivering with anticipation, he stands at the foot of a church spire. As he looks up, it begins to sway alarmingly. Discomfited, he looks down to find he’s the one who’s swaying which makes him laugh and the fear go away. He starts climbing, the holds on the massive blocks of the church reassuringly incut. As he climbs, he’s aware of a growing clamour. He stops and cranes his neck round. He’s looking down on the canopy of the local woods which is heaving like a storm-tossed sea. A rookery is in motion, surging in the moonlight, the birds’ truculent calls pulsing with the movement. Transfixed, he watches the birds dance until his arms begin to wilt and he’s forced to retreat. He stands at the foot of the spire wondering if it was a dream, a climber’s dream.

Another time he’s climbing a factory building on a snowy night, his fingers like putty, nose nipped. Caught in the penumbra of a street light, flakes luminesce and dance, veering this way and that as if a giant unseen hand is gently shaking a snow dome. He knows these moments of wonder are just for him. In a shitty world, where a skinny kid is the class fall guy, where parents see him as an inconvenience, where going unnoticed is the best you can hope for, this is his, all his.

Another night. The cops are at the bottom of a tall factory wall looking up and at the top, looking down. He’s in the middle, wondering which way to go. Up or down and he’s nicked. What do they want? He was just climbing, he wasn’t doing any harm. Why does everyone have to stick their nose in where it isn’t wanted? He’s not doing any harm. There seems no way out apart from a large oak tree which is offering him a sturdy limb, but it’s yards away. He can’t jump that far can he? The copper above him is shouting, “Come on lad, let us help you.” Help me. Like the kids at school help my head down the toilet. Like the teachers help me achieve fuck all. Like my parents help me to keep out of their way. I’ll take my chances. If I can get to that tree, I can get from that one to the next one and the next one and the next one. It’s not that far, I can make it. Bending his legs as much as he can, he launches into the unknown.