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Thursday 16th October

I know I shouldn’t take it upon myself to do this. But who else will? She’s alone with no next of kin. None that we know about anyway. I feel so sorry for her. And then I think: shit, Christmas is coming.

She’ll be alone, as will many elderly people.

I’m now spurred on even more to help her.

I step out of my car and into the rain. I can hear the children inside laughing and learning. Or not learning as the case may be.

I can feel eyes on me. The school has two floors with windows seemingly everywhere. I keep my head down and head towards the entrance.

I don’t know what I’m going to say. I don’t know the age or even how many children are harassing Mrs Mellor.

The musty smell of the reception lobby is unwelcoming. It reminds me of my old school: the old and brown scuffed and threadbare carpets, the neutral coloured walls, the ceiling tiles with brown damp stains forming inkblot like shapes. It’s like nostalgia on steroids. To the right of the reception window are some steps that lead down to the polished hard echoey floors that clatter with the sound of pupil’s solid shoes. A security camera watches me from above the main door behind me. The reception window is a thick pane of glass that looks like it was rescued from a closed down post office. There are small holes in the centre for speaking through and not much else. To the left is a door that I guess is for the headmaster.

Behind the glass is a room with three ladies is at desks. One of them, young and pretty, approaches the glass. ‘Can I help you?’

‘I need to speak to someone about some of your pupils harassing an elderly lady who live across the street.’

She looks at me for a second and nods. ‘Can you take a seat for me please?’ She points to some chairs to the left of the main door. ‘Someone will come and speak with you soon.’

I nod and take the seat and wait while she goes into the headmaster’s office through a door in her room.

Five minutes later the headmaster comes out. A man, small and fat with a balding sweaty head and thick black rimmed glasses.

I stand to my feet and he extends a hand to me. ‘I’m Mr Jacobs. The headmaster. What can I do for you?’

From his voice I can tell he’s genuinely interested. Not like that witch at the depot. Food to your door? More like mood to your door. That’s clever, Lee, you should write that one down.

I say to the headmaster, ‘I deliver meals to a lady who lives nearby. She tells me that some kids from this school are antagonising her.’

He doesn’t invite me into his office. He just stands with me in the lobby. The ladies at reception can hear us. ‘Antagonising her how?’ he asks.

‘They swing on her gate and knock on her door and run away. Sometimes they shout abuse. It’s been going on a while now.’

At first he seems to dismiss it. ‘That’s just children for you.’

But then I ask him if he would say the same thing if she was his mother.

He changes his tone. ‘All right, Mr?’

‘Mercer, Lee Mercer.’ God I sound like James Bond.

‘I’ll ask some questions around the school. Some of the teachers may have heard something. But this happens outside school property so I’m limited to what I can do.’

I nod.

He asks, ‘Do you have a contact number we can reach you on?’

I don’t want to do that. If I did then I’d be involved more than I’d like. ‘It’s OK. My customer will let me know if things get worse.’

He looks at me quizzically and nods back.

We say no more on the matter and he heads back into his office. I go back to my car and begin the seven mile drive back to Bournemouth Avenue. I feel like I’ve achieved something today, though I also feel like I’ve gone too far. Time will tell.

It’s almost two thirty as I pass the centurion tank on the roundabout and continue towards Preston. I wonder what Mei’s mother’s up to right now. I hope she’s not moved anything or changed anything in the house. She does that sometimes. But I’m not in the mood to deal with any of that. Today has been trying enough.

The rain falls faster and I have to put my wipers on full speed. It might be the sadistic side of me coming through, but I quite like driving in bad weather. It wakes me up and keeps me alert.

When I park up along the road outside my house, I find my gate open. Probably the postman.

When I enter the house, Mei’s mother has a face of thunder, similar to the one Mei had when I dropped her off this morning.

I don’t know what’s happened, obviously, and her mother can’t tell me. She just moves her hand to her ear like she’s making an invisible phone call. I remember this. It’s the Mercer household sign for ‘phone Mei’. So I do.

The phone rings and rings. It’ll be in her locker at work. I don’t know what her mum expected to happen.

I shrug my shoulder and hold up the phone. I know the word for ‘Work’, so I say it and she nods and heads back upstairs with a frown that would make a clown look happy.

Need to get her a phone.

I’m standing here in the hallway. I haven’t even taken off my shoes yet. Her mother must be angry as she hadn’t even noticed I still had them on. We have a piece of carpet by the front door where shoes have to be stored. That’s the only place in the house where outside shoes can be. Some Chinese thing I think as, when I go there, I always have to take off my shoes and wear some slip-ons. I don’t mind doing this as I’m in their country. When in Rome and all that. And as I said before, it seems to be the typical English thing to do. I do hate speaking English over there. I feel a little disrespectful, like I should try and learn their language. I remember the first time I went there and I caught a cold. Mei taught me how to ask a shopkeeper if they sell tissues, only the word for tissues and spoon sound very much alike. I asked and the guy responded in English. It made me smile. It’s a similar story when I go to Scotland. I think that because most of the world speaks English we take it for granted. Yes, I know Scottish people speak English, but it’s my accent that embarrasses me up there. I don’t really like them knowing I’m English.

Yes, sometimes I do think stupid things.

As I still have my shoes on, I think I’ll go and see Harold

I leave her mother upstairs and head next door, though it has bugged me why she looked so pissed off. Maybe a cat has shit on our grass again. Who knows? The smallest things can set her off.

Poppy is already barking inside the house before I even get to the door. She knows I’m coming.

I knock and walk in. Harold walks out of his living room. ‘Hiya Lee,’ he says joyously. We enter his kitchen.

Poppy is jumping at his legs again.

‘No,’ he says. ‘You’re too fat. No means no.’

Still she jumps and we try to talk before she barks instead. To shut her up, he reaches into the cupboard and gives her a chew stick.

‘It keeps her quiet,’ he says, embarrassed. ‘So, how is ya?’

I tell him I’m all right. I tell him about Mrs Mellor and going into the school. If there’s one thing about Harold I like the most, it’s how he listens.

He makes the cup of tea and we go into his living room. I take my place on the leather recliner while he perches on the sofa.

‘Some trouble this morning, wasn’t there? What the hell was all that about?’ he asks.

What now? I look at him blankly.

‘Don’t you know? That kid, Jason. You know, him from hundred and twenty. Jason.’

‘What about him?’

‘He was outside with your mother in law. They were arguing when I went out. He was doing this to her.’ Harold put two fingers on his eyes and stretches them until they’re thin. ‘I don’t like that,’ he says. ‘I hate racism.’

I hate it too, more so with my wife being a foreigner.

He points to Poppy who is sitting on the floor beside me. ‘She was barking her head off.’

I go quiet. My stomach sinks.

For the next ten minutes I sit sipping my tea while thinking what to do about this. Harold is talking about Liverpool FC but I’m only taking some of it in. Small snippets like ‘They’re not the Liverpool team I know, and he’s not a Liverpool player.’

Usually I like talking about football with him; I just don’t feel like it at this moment in time. My mother in law might be a burden but she’s still my family and I don’t like the idea of her being terrorised by that little shit down the road.

‘I might go and see Jason’s parents,’ I tell him.

He looks at me and agrees. ‘I think something needs doing about him. Don’t get me wrong, most kids are nice and they play amongst themselves, but him? He sets the others off, like he’s their leader or something. He’s a bully.’

I nod.

He says, ‘There I go again, getting on my high horse.’

I can’t help but smile.

I finish the last of my tea and stand to my feet. Harold stands to see me out and Poppy starts barking again. ‘Oh there’s nothing there,’ he says to her. Still she barks.

At the door he wishes me luck and off I go to number one hundred and twenty.

It’s a short walk, only twelve houses down. The footpath is a minefield of dog shit – another annoyance of mine. Why not just pick it up? Doggy bags are ten a penny. If you don’t have any, go home and get some. It’s not rocket science.

Oh shut up, Lee.

The rain has subsided a little. The eyes of the flats across the road are on me again as I get to Jason’s house and knock. Here I am again, complaining about another kid. Twice in the same day. Not bad.

Jason has three siblings: two sisters and a brother. He’s the worst of the lot. The other three have never bothered anyone. One of the girls is at university while the other girl and the boy are at school.

His mum answers: a fat old cow that looks like she just got out of bed. Her wavy hair is to one side and the entire candy floss-esque lump is frizzy. She holds a cigarette in one hand, raised and resting on her arm that is crossed around her midriff. I was hoping for the father, but I think he’s gone to work. So I’m stuck with this beast.

‘What do you want?’ she asks sharply.

‘I live at ninety-six,’ I tell her.

She looks me up and down. ‘So?’

‘That boy of yours, Jason. He’s been racist to my mother in law?’

‘Yeah?’ she says, chewing the inside of her cheek. ‘What do you want me to do about it?’

Behind her at the top of the stairs, the three siblings congregate to watch the fun unfold.

‘I want you to sort him out.’

She rolls her eyes like she’s heard it all before.

‘So you’re OK with letting your son run free?’

She nods. ‘He’s not a pet you keep on a leash.’

I’m clearly getting nowhere with this.

She says, ‘Look, if he’s been a bad boy then he’ll be punished.’

‘He has been a bad boy.’

‘Where’s your proof?’

Proof? What the hell has she been sniffing?

She continues, ‘When he gets back I’ll sort him out. That all right for ya?’

I just sigh and walk away. Behind me I hear her snort like the pig she is and the door closes.

As I walk along the path in front of the houses I think about telling the police. I can understand Mrs Mellor’s apprehension in phoning them. I’d rather deal with this myself. But I know I won’t. He’s not my child.

I think to myself I will call them if it happens again.

I pass number ninety-eight. The Starkies. Margaret is there at her front door.

‘Hi Margaret,’ I say.

She approaches her gate, which is wooden because she has to be different from everyone else. She’s a nice lady and her husband is a nice man, but they never miss an opportunity to try and get me to convert.

She says, ‘Some of the words coming out of Jason’s mouth earlier aimed at your mother in law.’ She puffs out her cheeks and exhales loudly. ‘You’d never have thought a child knew those words.’

‘I’ve just tried speaking to his mum. She doesn’t care.’

‘Well, people like them don’t have the lord watching over them.’

Here we go.

I don’t want to get into this right now, so I just ask, ‘Do you believe in Karma?’ I immediately regret it.

‘I believe in God. Karma is just God’s way of making things even in the world.’ She leans closer to me. ’And that little boy isn’t ‘even’.’

I remember someone once telling me that the more they endure, the more karma will repay them and they’ll reap the benefits when they’re older. To me, that made more sense than what Margaret was saying.

I nod and say, ‘I’ll talk to you later, Margaret,’ and I head into my own garden and enter the house, thankful to get away from her before she started properly.

For the rest of the afternoon until I need to pick Mei up, I play some games and take her mother some boiled water upstairs where she lays on the bed with the laptop. She smiles and say ‘Thank you’ in her best English accent. She looks pleased, cheered up slightly after her ordeal this morning.

Happy in law: happy wife; happy wife: happy life.

Mei won’t be a happy wife when I pick her up. Not only is she already annoyed that she’s once again waiting outside the old Blockbuster, she’s annoyed that the rain has started back up again. And when I get her home, well, I don’t need to tell you.

As I said before, I actually don’t mind the rain, especially at night when it’s warm, and there’s something quite soothing about driving in it. I prefer the sunlight, but rain somehow hides me. People usually look at the ground when there’s a pour down, which means they won’t be looking at me.

Shut up Lee you paranoid arse.

I ask her how her day was and she tells me it was very busy. The Christmas shoppers are out now. I cringe. I love Christmas, but not Christmas shopping. It once took me an hour to get out of the multi-storey carpark near Preston train station. I parked there because it was cheap at weekend, but I paid for it when I left. This year I think I’ll do my shopping online. And I need to be quick.

I tell her about what happened, both with Mrs Mellor, and her mother. I’m going to try and stop calling her ‘her mother’ now. Her name is Wei, so I’ll try that. I just think it’s disrespectful to call her by her name. She’s my mother in law.

Anyway, Mei isn’t happy by what she hears. I’m especially not when she tells me he did a similar thing to her last week while she was waiting at the bus stop near our house. She hadn’t told me about that.

‘Why the hell didn’t you tell me?’

‘I didn’t want you to get upset.’

I say, ‘You’re my wife. In future, tell me, please.’

She nods, though I bet she doesn’t.

The traffic heading home is reasonably quiet. The junction at the Crossroads was the only tricky part with stupid idiots blocking Blackpool Road – the road the runs from left to right. Why turn when you know you will block the junction?

We make it home and her mother is in the kitchen cooking something. It smells nice. I don’t know what it is. Probably something she’s concocted. It’ll no doubt have soy sauce and sugar in with a combination of something else. I have to give her credit. She is a good cook, and if she buys something she’s not certain how to cook, she tries anyway. She once did a salmon dish and put any old thing left in the fridge in with it. It turned out nice. Though I was the only one who thought so, which meant more for me.

Over dinner they talk in Cantonese about what happened and once again I’m the outsider. I don’t know why it bothers me so much, it’s not the first time. It’s a similar story when we’re out with her friends.

The food her mo – Wei – cooks is nice. It’s beef she must have found in our freezer. She’s cut it up into strips and fried it with some spring onions, soy sauce, sugar, and some Chinese five spice I had somewhere. She served it with rice. Rice is something we never seem to run out of. We buy a large bag of t from an Asian supermarket on Kent Street and it lasts forever.

When we’ve eaten I wash up, and the rest of the evening is a similar one: gaming and laptop watching.

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