The Book of Smiles

I go on a lot of bus journeys, not to get anywhere quicker than a walk would, but to get some inspiration for my stories. I usually select a circle route that brings me right back to where I started without me having to get off (in Edinburgh – get the No 14). But it’s the golden moments in between my first step on to my last step off that are the best of all.

I get to meet the passengers, the salt of the earth.

Wee Jessie is heading into Leith for her butcher meat, that Anderson’s is rare this time of year for their pork, she says to her chum from under her rain hat. A few rows in front, Big Jim is heading to the Masonic Club for a round of doms with his pals. They’ve been doing it for years he bellows. Every Wednesday morning 11am, sharp as you like. Sometimes even wee Heather fae behind the bar gets them a wee scone n that. Magic, he says and licks his lips.

A wee boy of 6 or 7, possibly older but he doesn’t look it, gets onto the bus with an elderly lady and they sit down opposite me. His hair is greasy and his clothes and jacket are filthy. He has mud, something dark and tacky on his face and one of his eyes is weeping. He sniffs every few minutes and wipes his nose on his jacket sleeve.

He is clutching a book to his chest and smiling a quiet smile into his matted scarf. It’s as if he doesn’t want his Gran to notice how happy he is. He catches me watching him so I smile and look away, pretending to look out the window at the world rushing by. He sneaks a glance at my notebook. My pen is poised ready for the next sentence but I get shy and put it away. I don’t want him to know what I’m doing. But I would tell him if he asked me.

I glance back and his fingers are curling around the edges of the hard back cover, smoothing the cover under his palm as if he can’t quite believe it belongs to him. The gold and silver letters of the title shine in the dazzling overhead lights. He uses his index finger to trace their shape and hums a tune only he knows.

His Gran looks down at him and admits that he’s very lucky getting a book like that. Especially now that times are hard and there isn’t much to go around. He nods back. His simple reply says it all.

“Gran, when we get home I’m going to wrap it back up again and put it under the tree so I have something to open on Christmas Day”.

She pats his hand and smiles down at him. Turning her face to the window, her weary frown and tear-filled eyes are for everyone in the world to see but not him. He coories in beside her and they sing Ally Bally to the bus.

I get off early and walk home. The tears trickle down my face all the way.

I hug my boys extra tight that night and tell them, yet again, over and over, how lucky they are. I tell them about the boy on the bus with his book.

Everyone needs a book of smiles.

 

8 thoughts on “The Book of Smiles”

  1. Hi Sarah! I don’t often get emotional about blogs, but I’m trying not to cry. On Saturday I was in Blackwell’s taking part in the Readathon and last week choose a book from the tree for a teenager who lives in difficult circumstances. I sat and read Maisie in the Rainforest because I love Morningside Maisie and I’m so passionate about the rainforest. Stuart Kelly read a wonderful story by John Masefield and an American girl who is also Sara or Sarah read from the Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.
    Even I enjoyed hearing the stories read out.

  2. That’s a sad little tale Sarah but full of hope in a way that a little boy so deprived is still prepared to wait and that reading is still a pleasure to him.
    xxx Hugs Unlimited xxx Nadolig Llawen

    1. Thanks David, this little story has been with me for a few days now and I just had to write it down. Mainly to clear my mind as it was making me so sad and hanging over my shoulder everywhere I went. Sadly, there are many kids out there now in the same situation and my heart breaks a little more every day.

  3. Sarah, that’s such a touching tale, and true! Sad, yes; isn’t it typical of kids that they find the bright side of every moment? Bless him.

    1. Thanks Frances, I just needed to get it out there. I love the way kids look at things, it makes life seem much more interesting and not as harsh as adults can sometimes see it.

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