Pierre, now 78 years old, sits looking at an old black and white photo. He can remember exactly when it was taken. He had been playing in an old builder’s yard. All his friends had gone home because it was getting dark. Looking closely at the photo he can see the dark shadowy figure of a man in a long black coat, standing on the other side of the railings. He was just 13 years old at the time.
Pierre still remembers that he felt the man was watching and waiting. Just as he was thinking of leaving, he saw a photographer. The photographer said his name was Henri and he had wanted to photograph the boys leaping, jumping, doing handstands and cartwheels. The boys had been pretending to be circus acrobats. The photographer seemed interested in the antics of the boys. They in turn showed off for him with their leaping and jumping becoming ever more acrobatic.
Pierre suddenly noticed the light was fading. He could see reflections on the wet ground. He jumped off the ladder he had been playing on while trying to recreate his own leaping shadow in the puddles. The ground shone and his reflection was perfect. Looking at the railings around the builder’s yard, he saw they looked spiky and dark, a bit like a cage. The building materials, which had become toys, needed to be left alone now.
The ladder had been great for climbing up a pile of broken cement blocks stored in the corner of the yard. The pile was very high. Pierre pretended the rubble was a castle and he’d been storming the ramparts. Playing like that had felt free. Now, as the shadows loomed, the buildings seemed to close in on him. Everything began to look black or grey, all except the wet ground which shone like ice. He glanced back at an old poster glued to the yard wall. It was advertising a circus. Pierre climbed the rubble again and leaping off, trying again to recreate a leap just like the acrobat in the picture.
Earlier that afternoon Pierre had walked over to the old industrial estate to join his friends. It was their playground, an escape from the cramped blocks of flats they all lived in.
There was so much fun to be had with all the leftover building materials. Railings to swing on, bits of old metal and wood to turn into guns or swords.
That afternoon the boys had played ‘King of The Castle’ and Pierre had been allowed to be king. He spent the afternoon ordering all his friends around. It rained heavily towards late afternoon, but they didn’t care. It just gave them puddles to splash and jump in. It had made everything a bit slippery but that only added to the sense of danger.
All the kids had been forbidden by their families to play there but that just made it even more exciting. He knew he must leave before dark but as usual he was the last to leave because he was reluctant to go home. The decision to leave and go home was always hard.
It wasn’t that there was anything bad at home. It was just miserable. His parents did not like each other. There was never enough money or food. Pierre always felt hungry. He dreamed of the day when he was old enough to leave.
As he was walking out of the yard, he noticed a figure standing by the railings. At first he thought it was the photographer who had been taking photos of the boys earlier but when he looked more closely, he saw that it was Old Man Devereaux who lived in number 8, two doors along the corridor from his flat. Now there was a reason to be afraid, and that moment Pierre made the decision to go home.
This man often lingered outside his front door and sometimes downstairs in the lobby. You never wanted to be on your own if he was around. Pierre started to walk quickly out of the yard and down the narrow, cobbled street. It was only a few minutes to his home. Pierre’s Papa had told him to be careful around the old man who carried a Leica camera with him. Papa said he didn’t want to think what old Devereaux did with the pictures he took of the boys.
Pierre set off walking quickly. He knew Devereaux was following. He could hear the tap, tap of his stick. But he was not too worried because he knew he was faster than the old man.
Hurrying along, he reached the stairs to his block. Taking them two at a time he hurtled upwards. Reaching his front door, he banged on it loudly. His father opened it.
‘What’s all the noise? Why are you banging like that?’
Glancing along the corridor he saw Devereaux coming along.
‘Oh, I see. Up to his tricks again is he? Come on in’.
Pierre saw his father lean against the open door watching Devereaux carefully, and then he heard his father say
‘You do know that I’d kill you if you ever touched my boy’ and with that he calmly shut the door.
Pierre looked at his father and thought to himself
‘Maybe being home isn’t so bad after all. At least I’m safe here’.