When she spotted his red football shirt glowing down the road, she was tempted to lock the shop door, pull down the blinds and hide. He might only be ten, but his meaty hands could do real damage. She’d seen them punching and poking, shoving and strangling the other boys. Crushing bags of crisps to dust when he couldn’t afford to pay and she wouldn’t give them away. Gripping her arm so hard that the bruises lasted for weeks.
He didn’t used to be like this.
His beefy paws flung the door open. She stepped out from behind the counter, her arms held out as if she was going to hug him.
‘Now, I want no trouble. You hear? The next time you start that’ll be it. I’ll call the police and you’ll not be allowed in here again. Ever.’
She waited for the eruption. But it was if her words punctured the balloon of him. His bottom lip shook before he bit down on it to keep it still. Tears couldn’t be blinked back fast enough so rolled down his doleful cheeks.
It was then she noticed the smart black trousers and shoes, the jacket over the football shirt. Eyes swollen from crying long and hard. The photo clutched in his hand. A glimpse of long blonde hair and a laughing mouth.
For a moment she had no clue what to do. Then she grabbed a bag of crisps and a chocolate bar, pressed them into his other hand. ‘Go on now. Everything will be okay,’ she gently squeezed his shoulders as she turned him to the door. ‘You come back whenever you like.’
He nodded without looking up.
She watched him drop the crisps and chocolate unopened on the bench. The photo crumpling in his tiny hand as he walked away.
Amanda Saint is the author of two novels, As If I Were A River (2016) and Remember Tomorrow (2019). Her short fiction collection, Flashes Of Colour, is coming in 2020. Amanda founded and runs Retreat West, providing writing competitions, courses and retreats, and Retreat West Books indie press, which publishes short fiction, novels and memoirs.