When I was 16 years old I bumped into God – quite literally as it happens. He was walking along the pavement minding his own business and I was on the pavement too, going much too fast on my bike.
I didn’t know he was God at the time, of course, if I had I might not have run him over. But who knows? I was trying to get away from the Crawford brothers at the time, so I might have been prepared to do anything.
“Why didn’t you look where you were going?” he asked, as he picked himself up.
He didn’t look hurt which surprised me a bit as I’d hit him quite hard. Anyway I wasn’t prepared to hang about. The Crawford brothers seemed to have disappeared for now but I wasn’t taking any chances.
“You’ll fall off,” he called as I cycled away, and I laughed because I was pretty good on my bike. I’d done a few runs for the Crawfords over the last couple of years and I needed to be fast if I wasn’t going to attract too much attention.
I fell off. I don’t know how it happened.
“Told you so.” He’d caught up with me.
“I can’t see,” I said defensively. “My glasses got broken when I bumped into you. It’s all your fault. You were in the way.”
“On the pavement?” he queried. He was a mild-mannered sort of man, insignificant in a pair of old corduroy trousers and one of those brownish cardigans with the leather buttons that old men always wear – though come to think of it, he wasn’t actually old. He wasn’t really any sort of age at all. He just was.
“I’ll be seeing you,” he called, as I walked away from him pushing my bike. I doubted it.
A couple of policemen were walking in front of me and I hoped they wouldn’t look too closely at me and wonder why I wasn’t at school. You often saw police in this part of town looking for drugs. I wondered if they ever found any. They’d certainly never stopped the Crawfords, who always came in on the London train. Even if they did they wouldn’t find anything because the Crawfords always passed the stuff to me as soon as they got off. I’d stand there at the gate waiting for them every time and we had this funny sort of arrangement where I’d run over to them all eager-like, calling out things like “Uncle Ray, Uncle George – it’s great to see you again. Mum’s got the kettle on.” They aren’t my uncles, of course, and neither of them is called Ray or George. Mum certainly wouldn’t be hanging out any flags for people like the Crawfords but they thought our little act helped allay suspicion.
The man in the newspaper kiosk was certainly fooled. “Waiting for your uncles again are you?” he’d asked the other day. “You’re a good lad.”
I can’t remember now how I got mixed up with the Crawfords in the first place. Now that I’m 16 they’ve started saying things about how there will be a place for me higher up in their firm when I leave school. This morning I told them I want out. They didn’t like it. That’s why I’m running away.
When I got home I went straight to bed. I was scared to go out again in case I happened to meet the Crawfords. I’d never told them where I lived but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t find out somehow. And besides – I had a terrible headache. I might have hit my head when I bumped into that man, though everything seemed a bit of a jumble now.
He was there when I woke up, sitting in the little armchair by the side of my bed. Somehow I wasn’t surprised, although that might have been because I assumed I was in a dream.
“You really aren’t looking where you’re going are you,” he said gently. For a moment I wondered if he was my dad. I’d never met my dad. When I fantasised about him I usually imagined someone a bit tougher, but there was something about this man that made me think he really cared.
“I told you,” I said angrily. “My glasses broke.” I pointed to them at the side of my bed. The lenses are really thick and I can’t see anything but a blur without them. Mum says I must get my awful eyesight from my dad because it doesn’t come from her. Perhaps next time I think about what my dad looks like I’d better start imagining someone
“I don’t mean your eyes,” the man said. “I mean the direction you’re headed. It will all lead to trouble in the end you know. Big trouble.”
I didn’t ask how he knew. I was still assuming that I was in a dream, so I decided to be completely honest. If you can’t be honest in a dream when can you be?
“I know,” I said. “But I’m stuck. It seemed like a good idea at the time. They said I’d earn some pocket money. Mum can’t afford to give me pocket money.”
“What would your mum say?” he asked. “If she knew. Or has she already guessed?”
I closed my eyes and leaned back on my pillow. I hated to think of upsetting Mum.
“I think she has,” I said miserably. “She’s been to the council to see if we can change our flat. She wants us to move somewhere else.”
“Where?” he asked. He looked interested. It had been a long time since anyone other than Mum had been interested in what I said, and Mum was always so busy.
“She says anywhere will do,”
I told him. “But there’s never anywhere available. Everyone is trying to get out of this town too.” “Oh,” he said. “That’s a shame.” I wondered what it would be like to live somewhere else, a place where I could start all over again.
I liked the sea. Most nights I went to sleep imagining it all but every morning when I woke up I’d realise all over again that it wouldn’t ever happen. It was all so hopeless.
“Don’t give up, Jay,” said the man. “I know it’s hard but good things are just around the corner.”
“How do you know my name?” I asked sharply. I was sure I hadn’t told him.
“I know lots of things,” he said. “I can help you if you’ll let me. Just promise me you’ll try looking where you’re going, start to look ahead.”
“How can I?” I asked him. I’d started to trust him but now I wondered why. After all he was just some stupid man I’d bumped into. “My glasses are broken. I told you. If you were so clever you’d mend them for me.”
“Why?” he asked mildly, raising one eyebrow. “You don’t need them any longer.”
I looked around the room at all the things I’d never been able to see before. He was right. But how had he known?
No one knew for certain why my eyesight had suddenly got better. The doctor at the hospital said perhaps it was the bump on the head. Mum said it was just one of those things.
“You see, Jay,” she smiled, giving me a hug. “Sometimes good things happen too.”
She didn’t believe me about the man in the cardigan. When I said I thought he was God she just laughed. It was a nice idea she said. I never told her about the Crawfords, although I heard that they got arrested getting off the train the week after. I wasn’t there to meet them that time and they had all the stuff on them.
I heard that someone had tipped the police off. It wasn’t me, although I was terrified they might think so. They’re inside now though and I never did tell them where I live. Even if I had it wouldn’t matter really because I don’t live there any longer. I live by the sea.
Mum got the letter from the council the day after I bumped into God. “You’ll never guess,” she shouted. “We’re moving.”
I was upstairs in the bathroom brushing my teeth at the time. She’d kept me off school because of my bump on the head. “Can’t have you going around imagining people all day,” she said.
My bike had a wobbly wheel but I managed to get it mended. I wish that I could meet God again although if I did I’d be careful not to run him over. If I met him again I could tell him that I’m taking his advice. It doesn’t matter too much though. I expect he already knows.