by David McAdam
It was Monday, Scruffy didn’t understand why he suddenly felt different about Annie. They had enjoyed the usual playground games on Friday without him feeling like this. As an eleven year old Scruffy was experiencing puppy love’s first stirrings. He didn’t just want to be one of Annie’s pals; he wanted to be her best friend but realised his chances of this were slim.
Dressed scruffily in odd socks, split plastic sandals, moth eaten sweater and hand-me-down short pants held up with twine had earned him the mocking nickname of Scruffy. Annie, on the other hand, was affectionately nicknamed ‘Granny’ though never by him because of her thick, black framed spectacles, pulled back hair and pinafore dress. A real Georgy Girl. However, what she lacked in the 1966 fashion stakes she made up for in personality. Scruffy also had rivals in Kenny and Derek whom he, because of his heavily freckled face, drooped bottom lip and pudding-bowl haircut, felt were better looking than him. They were certainly better dressed. Along with this different feeling was the awareness if he wanted to be Annie’s best friend he had to impress her. His opportunity came at the pool.
Scruffy was swimming by the diving boards when he saw Annie at the shallow end. He looked up at the boards and was struck by an idea. He ascended the top board three metres above ground. It appeared higher still when Scruffy looked down at the water. ‘Gulp!’ Barely able to dive from the poolside never mind this height he nonetheless determined to impress Annie. ‘C’mon, Annie, please look this way,’ he pleaded under his breath as he stood trembling. She finally did. Taking a deep breath he plummeted landing with a belly flop: ‘Ouch!’ Clutching his stomach underwater with one hand he surfaced hoping to meet with an impressed Annie only to discover she’d left the pool. ‘Tch.’ The next opportunity was the rope swing by the river.
Seeing Annie draw near the tree Scruffy swung out and let go one hand from the rope. Unable to hold on any longer he dropped into the shallow water landing feet first then falling back onto his bottom: ‘Ooh!’ Meanwhile, Annie walked by unimpressed. Scruffy had one more card left to play.
He and other boys were making flatulent sounds in the playground by flapping one arm over the hand of the other held under the armpit when he caught sight of Annie. ‘Annie!’ he shouted running towards her, ‘Listen.’ Scruffy stopped before her and with a beaming smile repeatedly flapped his arm. ‘You’re rude,’ Annie retorted and pushed past unimpressed. ‘Uh?’ Scruffy gave up.
The school Christmas party had arrived, the minister had finished preaching the Christmas message and the game of Pass the Parcel had ended. The Scottish dancing segment was now in full swing. ‘Girls’ choice!’ the headmaster’s voice suddenly boomed. ‘Girls line up on the right side of the hall, boys to the left. When I give the signal girls will choose the boys for the St Bernard’s Waltz.’ Scruffy, dressed no differently than usual except for the addition of an elastic bow tie stood between Kenny and Derek.
Annie stood directly opposite the three. Conscious of his failed attempts to impress her earlier in the year Scruffy feigned a cavalier posture. ‘Right, girls! Choose!’ the headmaster’s voice boomed. ‘Me, me!’ the boys, including Kenny and Derek, began pleading again and again to the approaching girls. Scruffy stood silently, his head tilted back as if admiring the garlands hanging from the high ceiling.
The girls strode across each taking a boy’s hand of her choice and led him to the dance floor. From the corner of his eye Scruffy saw Kenny’s being taken but dared not look by whose. He also saw Derek hold out his prompting him to thrust his unchosen hands deep into pockets already made deeper by the holes in them and lift his now glazed eyes back towards the ceiling. The ‘Me, me’ pleading had now stopped. Suddenly Scruffy felt a tug at his arm. ‘Give me your hand, Peter,’ the accompanying soft voice said. Wiping his eyes with frayed sleeve as he lowered his gaze Scruffy’s eyes lit up when he saw who the voice belonged to. ‘Annie!’ he uttered in wide-eyed disbelief. She smiled, took his hand and led him to join the rest.
Glimpsing the minister as they waltzed, Annie guiding them through the dance steps, reminded Scruffy of the theme of his message: ‘The most precious Christmas gift came wrapped in coarse swaddling cloth. It’s not the outward appearance but what’s inside that matters nor is it what we do but who we are that counts. Together these make for the most precious gift we can be to each other.’ ‘Thanks, Annie.’
LINK TO DAVID MCADAM'S BOOK
|David McAdam's Book|
"Homelessness is not only the abscence of a roof, it is the absence of love"
LINK TO DAVID MCADAM'S WEBSITE - ART + WRITING