PORTENT

I’d finished my first year at St. Mary’s College, Twickenham and had a few disasters with jobs and various daft things going on, a whole different set of stories, so, with very little money left in my pockets I jumped on a Clipper bus and headed home for a free feed and bed for a few weeks.

I was sat in the front room on my first day back chatting to my mother and drinking coffee with the crap morning telly on in the background as my washing whirled around the washer.  The TV always seemed to be just ‘on’ in the house unless my dad was in and if he wasn’t watching anything it would go ‘off’ most of the time!

I was in the middle of telling my mam about what had happened in Crawley with my mate at the start of that summer.  I’d been offered work as a security guard for the Wimbledon Championships but my friend, Chris “Macca” MacDonald, who’d been working as a painter and decorator in and around the Crawley area had lured me away with tales of loads of work on building sites at Gatwick.  His brother worked on a site and would be able to get me a job no problem, but there was loads of work there for longer than just two weeks work at Wimbledon with good pay.  I could stay with him at his brother’s house as well so, I would only have to find money for my grub.  It seemed ideal. However, I arrived in Crawley to find that Macca’s brother had had a row with a foreman the previous day and had gone back up home after walking out on his job.   I had nowhere to stay.  Macca had found a small room in Crawley and as it was too late to find anywhere else I was allowed to stay in his room at half the price after speaking to his landlord.  I explained to my mother that  this arrangement was for me to sleep on the floor next to the door without enough room to stretch out fully!   Not great!  The delights of working and earning a fortune in West Sussex seemed a long way away at that time.  The next few days involved me walking around the building sites to find that they weren’t taking anyone on for work at all.  I told my mother how I’d eventually got a painting and decorating job for an Asian family who’d apparently been left in the lurch by a different painter, unexplainably, part way through the job. I explained to her how I’d worked almost round the clock for three days with Macca coming in to help out.  I also told the hilarious tale of how the head of the family refused to pay me when I asked for a part payment for work already done so that I could buy some food.  I ‘d borrowed a few quid off Macca and worked for another two days to finish off the job.  Macca had gone to collect payment for  the job while I tried to sleep.  I woke to him telling me that they’d refused to pay, saying that the job wasn’t to a good enough standard.  I’d thought it was quite a canny job, even if I say so myself, but Macca’s negotiations for payment with the head of the family concluded with him throwing the remaining paint over the uncovered furniture followed by going back a few hours later, while I was out for the count, to slash the fella’s car tyres.  Oh! How my mother and I laughed as I recalled these hilarious tales.  I’d been left high and dry and had to get away from Crawley in case the police came looking to arrest me.  All I’d done was wield a paint brush but I’d decided to head home on the bus and give it up as yet another invaluable experience!

I was nearing the end of this tale when I suddenly stopped!  Stared ahead into nowhere, stood up in a daze and walked out of the room.

A strange, cold feeling had come over me and I felt compelled to go upstairs.  I’d never liked going out into the porch area leading to the stairs, I always felt that someone or something was watching me from there through the small panes of glass in the door.  My mother started shouting at me asking where I was going but I didn’t answer.  I couldn’t!  I reached the top of the stairs and headed for the junk cupboard, not knowing why.  I eventually pulled the badly fitting door open after a few yanks and started dragging stuff out of the cupboard placing it behind me on the landing.  My mother came up and saw what I was doing.

“What the hell are you doing?  You’re making a right mess.  Put that stuff back!  What are you doing?”  she shouted at me.  She was fond of doing that.

“I’m just looking for something man!  I’ll put it all back don’t worry!” was my frustratingly annoyed, eyebrows raised with rolling eyes reply.  I wasn’t doing anything wrong and hated getting shouted at for stupid little nonsensical reasons.  I was twenty years old now but still treated at times the same as I was when I was six or seven.

“What are you looking for that’s so important?”  she shouted back angry at my own tone of voice.

“I dunno, man!” I said in reply with a resigned ‘please, just leave me alone’ tone.

“What do you mean ‘you don’t know’ lad?“ she said incredulously!

“I dunno, something!”  I couldn’t explain what I was doing but couldn’t seem to stop searching.

“Well, you better tidy it back up because I’m not doing it!” came the next retort.

I really didn’t have a clue what I was looking for but there was something in that cupboard that I just had to get my hands on.  Then….

“This is it!” I triumphantly exclaimed, holding my trophy in the air.

“That?!  What do you want that for?” was my mother’s reply with a ‘I just don’t understand you sometimes’ tone.

“I dunno!”

I had picked up a Real Madrid football pennant that my brother had been given as a present by my auntie when she was on holiday in Spain in the summer of 1981.  I’d been given a Barcelona one and had loved it but for some reason I found myself holding up this Real Madrid pennant after years of being chucked in the junk cupboard.  Both pennants had photos of current players from that time proudly looking out from around the sides of them.  Here facing me now were Miguel Angel, Uli Stielike, Juanito, Comacho and Del Bosque, all names I knew and admired, but I wasn’t interested in them at all.

I found myself focused on an English player who’s face was staring at me from the top right corner of the pennant.  I started to tell my mam who he was, how he was the first black player to play for England at any level and the first to represent his country in a competitive match. I told her how he’d made his name at West Brom before being snapped up by Real Madrid.  He was a great player but had lots of injuries and ended up being loaned out to various clubs including Man Utd.  The last I’d seen of him he’d come on as a substitute for Wimbledon in the FA Cup Final win against Liverpool the previous year.  I then told her that I think he’d gone back to Spain after that but wasn’t sure and hadn’t heard anything about him since.

After that history lesson I put the pennant back where I’d found it and then started to put the rest of the stuff I’d taken out back into the cupboard.  My mother stood looking at me from the top of the stairs with her mouth agape.

“Is that it?  Is that all you wanted?” she declared without understanding.

“Errrr yeah!” I didn’t really know why I’d picked this item up and started talking about one particular player represented on it but it seemed now that the compulsion had ended, the cold sensation had gone and I concentrated on tidying up after myself.

“You’re bliddy mad you are!” I heard, not for the first time, as she returned downstairs.

The following day I was sat watching the BBC One O’Clock News with my mother before going out to meet a few mates for a couple of pints down by the river.  We were chatting a little bit but I was just killing time before heading out.  Then the newsreader said that there were reports coming in that the footballer, Laurie Cunningham, had been killed in a car crash in Madrid just before noon the previous day.  My mother looked at me with eyes wide open and her mouth the same.

“Isn’t that the….?”  my mother gasped.

“Yeah!”

I then felt a shiver go right through my whole body and I felt sick.  It was as if everything had gone cold and dark all of a sudden.

“That was just after when you went upstairs for that thing!” she said.

“No, if you take the hour difference it was almost exactly the same time!”  I said with my voice shaking with fright.

My mother just sat looking at me as I walked out of the room and went upstairs to gather my thoughts.  Not again!

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