The smell of frying bacon was coming from the kitchen, but Sam stayed where he was. He glanced at his face in the mirror over the fireplace as if seeing it for the first time. Then he looked at the rest of the room, over his reflection’s shoulder; the two old armchairs, the long dining table and the sideboard, upon which rested the big mahogany wireless.
Sam liked everything about that wireless. He liked its solid chunkiness, the big wooden dials and the window with its red needle, which lit up when you turned the set on. He thought of the programmes he listened to in the evening, sometimes with Keith, sometimes with all the family. There was ‘Dick Barton, Special Agent’; “Come on, Snowey, help me break down this door before the blighter gets away!” “Right you are, sir – here, better take my gun”; and there was ‘Journey into Space’, with Jet Morgan and Lemmie, which had them on the edge of their seats with its sounds of rocket engines roaring, hissing air escaping from something or other, and the eeriest music they had ever heard. He even listened to ‘Toytown’ with Larry the Lamb, although he was supposed to be too old for that; “Please Mr. Policeman, there’s a dra-a-a-gon in the woods”.
He wondered briefly why it was called a wireless, when anyone could see the thick wire coming out the back of it, but life was full of mysteries. For instance, why were all airplanes a mile long, why did you float to the ceiling if you swallowed an orange pip, why was there a flagpole without a flag in the garden, and what had happened to their pedal car. This wonderful vehicle had been made for Sam and Keith by Uncle Gill, and was the envy of all the kids in the street. One day it disappeared from their garden, and the grown-ups claimed they didn’t know what had happened to it. The boys suspected it had been broken up for firewood, but nothing was ever proved.
Sam sighed. Looking out through the French windows he could see the flagpole at the bottom of the garden. He remembered the ‘boxing match’ he’d had with Keith in the garden. Uncle Gill had bought them each a pair of boxing gloves, and they couldn’t wait to try them out. Off they trooped to the end of the garden. They both swung and landed a mighty punch at the same time. It was the only punch of the match. They burst into tears at the same moment, and the boxing gloves were taken away, never to be seen again.
When he had first come to stay with the Drayson family, they had called him Silent Sam, and even now, six years later, he wasn’t a great talker, but he was happy, and couldn’t remember having lived anywhere else. Keith was just four months older than Sam, Pam was a couple of years older and Tommy was nearly grown up. Tommy’s real name was Eva, but she had always been called Tommy. Sam was a little in love with Tommy, but then so was everybody else. In summer they sometimes cycled the five miles to Hainault Forest to pick blackberries. At least, the two girls did the cycling and Sam and Keith perched on the handlebars. He remembered that the metal brake levers would pinch his thighs if he weren’t careful.
And now his mother was coming to take him to London to live. Apparently she had just got married again and had written to say she wanted to take him home. Well, not home, this was home, thought Sam. His mother smelled of perfume and wore a fur coat. He went to visit with her several times a year. He wore his good clothes and tried to stay on his best behaviour. He was always glad to get back to his life with the Draysons.
His parents had split up when he was three, and he had been with the Drayson family ever since. He had seen his dad only once since then, on his fifth birthday. His dad had brought him a large cannon with wooden wheels, and which fired wooden cannon balls. The grown ups called his dad Jock, and seemed to like him a lot. Auntie Eva gave Sam a gold cigarette lighter to give to his dad. It was wrapped up to look like a toffee. Sam thought that was a very clever idea. Jock put the boy on his knee and talked to him in his funny Scottish accent. Sam liked him a lot, but that was the last time he saw his dad.
He returned to the present to hear Uncle Gill calling him from the kitchen. Sam scuffed his shoe against the fireplace. He did not want to go into the kitchen. He knew his life was about to change in ways he could only imagine. Uncle Gill called again, and this time Sam made his way to the kitchen. Uncle Gill did not look at him. “Your mother will be here soon, boy. I’ve made you a bacon sandwich for the journey”.
Auntie Eva had gone off to work this morning, Keith had gone to school, and Pam and Tommy had gone wherever they went during the day. Sam and Uncle Gill were the only ones left in the house. The boy watched as Uncle Gill cut the rind off the bacon. This was the first time Sam had ever seen him cook anything.
They heard a car scrunching to a stop in the road outside. Footsteps came up the path. Now the man looked at the boy and ruffled his hair. Another first. Sam found he could not speak. The doorbell rang.