Mr Brown stood with hands on hips looking down at the boy. Something told him that this child was desperate for the work.
“Look, son, I have customers to serve. Why don’t you have a practise until I’m finished and we’ll talk then?”
“Oh, thank you,” Johnny hauled the bike upright.
He rode up and down the street for over an hour; falling now and then and skinning his knees through his threadbare trousers, but he never gave up. When Mr Brown came out, he was able to cycle up to him and dismount without falling over. He stood with flushed cheeks, triumphant at what he’d achieved.
“I knew you could do it, son,” Mr Brown ruffled his hair. “ You’ve got yourself a job. Its five and a half days a week and the pay is five shillings. I’ll expect you to work the extra day when we’re busy with the Christmas rush and for this you’ll get an extra two shillings. Are we agreed?” He held out his hand.
Johnny shook, his fingers disappearing in to the man’s huge hand.
“Thank you, sir. I can start in the morning,” he said.
“Good boy, be in at eight sharp.”
It took him quite a while to persuade his mother to let him take the job, but they both knew they needed the money. He told her about the five shillings, but not about the two extra he could earn. She assumed the wages were for a six and a half day week and Johnny was happy to let her think that. His first two shillings were placed as a deposit on the doll in Mrs O Rourke’s window and he swore her to secrecy. It was ten weeks to Christmas and he knew he’d have enough for the doll, with seven shilling left over. With this he intended to buy a coat for his Mother; second hand, but warmer than the one she now wore and a small present for his baby brother. His mind was awash with plans as his little legs pumped up and down like mad, as he cycled from house to house. The customers all liked the thin little boy with the sparkling eyes and they lost no time in telling his employer this. Mr Brown knew from the start he’d chosen well in Johnny and gave him the leftover cakes and bread to take home each night. Slowly the sadness faded in his mother’s eyes and his sister and brother were no longer hungry.
It was Christmas Eve and the shop was busier than ever. Snow and slush lined the side of the roads and made the going tough. Johnny wore two pairs of old socks over his hands in a vain attempt to keep out the cold, but his fingers were frozen. Sometimes, when he dismounted from the bike, his hand retained the bars shape and he had to blow on them to breathe life back into them. At times his hands were so cold, he couldn’t pull the brakes and he took many a tumble. It was now five-o-clock and he was finished for the day. His mother and baby brother’s presents were hidden in the flat, but he still had to collect Cathy’s doll. Mrs O Rourke’s shop didn’t close until half past five so there was plenty of time. He smiled, as he wheeled the bike in to the shop.
“Sorry, son,” Mr Brown said. “Another order has come in. It’s an important customer and I can’t afford to let them down.”
He named an area over two miles away and Johnny’s heart sank. Mr Brown was a good employer and he couldn’t refuse to go, but he’d never be in time to collect the doll now. He peddled like the wind; the pennies he’d received from grateful customers slapping against his legs. It was six-o-clock when he finally reached O Rourke’s shop and the lights were all out and the door shut tight. He stood on the pavement wanting to cry, but that would not be a manly thing to do. He felt his heart might break until the bell inside the shop tinkled as the door opened.
“Ah, there you are, Johnny.” Mrs O Rourke smiled. “I waited for you; I knew you’d be along.”
He handed her the last payment of one shilling and sixpence and took the brightly-wrapped parcel.
“You’re a good boy, Johnny,” Mrs O Rourke kissed his forehead. “Your mother should be proud of you.”
Mrs O Rourke went back inside her shop and Johnny stood listening as she rammed the bolt in to place. The street was quiet; the last of the shoppers had all gone and he knew as he walked home, his mother would have a fire blazing and there would be plenty to eat. He had done it. He was a man with a job and could take care of his family. He stopped at the door of the flats, looked up at the heavens and whispered a prayer for those in need that night. His eyes were drawn to a light in the sky and there it was; the Christmas Star, shining as brightly as it had done over two thousand years before on another little boy.
Copyright © 2012 Gemma Mawdsley