Around the corner from Mirabelle’s school there’s a path which leads away from the playing field and then goes all the way up the small rise of tarmac to the rear of the garages belonging to the residents of the flats in Albone Place. Mr Samuel lives in one of these flats. Number sixteen. The paint around his doorway is white and it flakes away onto the concrete passageway whenever the door is shut too firmly. Mr Samuel doesn’t seem to mind about the flaking paint though, and Mirabelle thinks the debris looks like the dandruff that sits on her teacher’s shoulder, but she’d never say.
Mirabelle’s been told at school this week that the class must bring in non-perishable goods which will then be divided up and put into boxes which the children will decorate and then deliver to the local community; to people who don’t have much money or can’t get out to the shops. Mirabelle is delighted because it means she will miss a maths lesson. Mirabelle prefers painting to sums and when she’s older she’s decided she wants to design things, so painting patterns on food boxes is an ideal way to progress her career. Not that she knows the meaning of the word career just yet. Or even progress come to that.
Mirabelle’s mother has given her a tin of baked beans, a container of dried parsley, a box of blackcurrant jelly and a jar of fruit in juice which some of the children in her class thinks looks like sick. One child makes so many vomit-gagging noises that their teacher sends him to stand in the corridor to calm down while the rest of them continue with their endeavours.
At a quarter past two, after lunch and before sums, Mirabelle’s class lines up outside their room and each child holds their package in front of them. They’re standing up straight with their outside coats on and the teacher walks up and down like a soldier inspecting his troops (her troops, though, because Miss Jordan is a lady) to check they have a firm grip on their boxes. Kyle is sent to the back of the line for spitting in his box which he says he didn’t mean to do and if he hadn’t been kicked in the butt by Greg Matthews then he wouldn’t have retaliated. Kyle doesn’t actually use the word retaliated although he uses the word butt with great relish. Greg Matthews is made to stand next to Mirabelle and he sticks his tongue out at her beaming face once he’s alongside her in the line. Mirabelle knows Greg is a bully and she doesn’t care because he can’t do much holding a heavy box. If he says anything spiteful she’ll just ignore him because the rhyme says words can’t hurt her.
Miss Jordan gives a signal and the line of children manoeuvre away, walking steadily across the playground, out through the heavy iron gates and along the tarmacked path which leads around the playing field and up the rise towards Albone Place flats. All twenty boxes have been allotted to residents in the flats and Mirabelle can’t wait to see the faces on the people when they take delivery of their special parcels.
The lady with no hair and only one tooth on the first landing has to be steadied by Miss Jordan when she sees the sea of smiling faces outside her door. She leans hard on her doorframe panting like a dog that’s been playing fetch too long and needs a rest. She smiles so widely that Mirabelle notices the lady has two more teeth right at the back of her mouth.
Mr Parker in number eleven doesn’t take charity from children. His father fought in the war and his father before that and he doesn’t think it’s right that he’s been singled out for a food parcel and wants to know who put them up to it. He goes back inside his flat to get a piece of paper so that Miss Jordan can give him the school’s phone number and he can ring and complain later on. He takes the box though; evidence he calls it.
While Miss Jordan is helping Caitlin and Rosie deliver their boxes, Mirabelle rests her box outside the doorway of number sixteen on a crate which some boys had been using to sit and smoke on this morning when she’d walked past on the way to school. She clears her throat and raps on the door. Some paint falls away from the frame and Mirabelle imagines Albone Place in a snowglobe.
Mr Samuel is wearing a tie. He has scuffed shoes and his trousers are being held up by elastic belts over his shoulders. He looks tired and old but his eyes shine when he sees the young girl on his doorstep. Mirabelle lifts her patterned box up and holds it proudly in front of Mr Samuel. He doesn’t tell her that his father fought in the war, nor that he will ring the school and report her for implying that he needs charity. Hunched, he manages to take the box with pale, shaky hands and continues to nod delightedly as he shuffles his body around so he’s able to close the door again.
On the way back to school, after having delivered all of their boxes, Mirabelle notices something written in chalk along the tarmacked path which she doesn’t remember having seen on the way up. It says you got this and she likes the way these words make her feel. She’s heard her mum say this to her Aunty Ann when she’s been upset and crying, and she’s heard people on Eastenders tell other people that when they need cheering up. She runs to the front of the line and asks Miss Jordan if she can please quickly go back to Mr Samuel’s flat because she forgot something. Miss Jordan sighs loudly, shakes her head and halts the queue of children. If Mirabelle isn’t quick then they will carry on without her, she tells the girl. But Mirabelle knows they won’t. She trusts Miss Jordan.
Mr Samuel looks surprised when he answers the door to Mirabelle. She explains that she just needs to quickly finish her design, so Mr Samuel hobbles off and brings the box back. Mirabelle concentrates carefully, her tongue pressed against the side of her mouth as she scribbles something around all four sides of the cardboard container before waving goodbye to Mr Samuel and running back to her waiting class.
Later, as the fighting, swearing and shouting escalates outside his flat door as it does every evening, Mr Samuel looks across at the parcel the little girl brought to him earlier. He’s not quite sure why he’s been given some sick in a plastic pot, but seeing the words you got this in loopy, childish handwriting around the brightly painted box in his living room makes Mr Samuel feel somehow less alone.
Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink image prompt for 18th January 2018