The morning was cold and dry. Tom drove his lorry into the fuel station. It would take many litres of diesel to fill his tank which was nearly empty since his long trip through France and on via the Channel Tunnel to Folkestone. He yawned. It was only just light and many more miles lay ahead of him before he would reach his home town.
He was a regular at the Folkestone services. He filled his tank and went inside to exchange banter with the girls at the pay desk. The thought of an English breakfast was tempting so he turned his lorry away from the pumps and headed for the café. He ate slowly, reading the paper, and drinking his coffee. After a while he decided it was time to make a move. As he walked back across the lorry park, a football shot out from some trees, hitting him on the arm and rebounding on to the grass nearby.
‘Mister. Mister. Give us the ball,’ shouted a voice. Two young boys, one taller than the other emerged from behind the trees.
‘Kick it back Mister,’ shouted the smaller boy. Tom walked over to the ball and picked it up. What would children be doing here? Who were they with?
‘Mister, give us the ball back,’ said the boy again with a bit more urgency in his voice. In the brighter light of early morning, Tom could see their dark, grubby clothing. Their sweatshirts were loose and baggy, swamping their thin young forms. The trainers they wore were decidedly battered and had no laces. Tom began to walk towards them. They stood watching him through the long dark fringes that fell onto their faces.
‘You can’t play here lads. It’s dangerous with all these lorries moving about. It’s not a playground. Go home. Shouldn’t you be getting ready for school?’ He held out the ball and looked more closely at the youngsters. Thoughts began running through his mind. Were they from one of the refugee camps in Calais? Had they got here on a lorry like his? Would they try and stow away on his lorry? But they didn’t sound foreign.
He walked slowly towards them and threw the ball to the older boy. Both boys disappeared into the trees. Tom walked away but then his curiosity got the better of him and he turned back to see where the boys had gone. He hadn’t gone far into the wooded area when he saw the tent. A man was just emerging from it and he could hear him shouting at the boys.
‘I told you not to get the ball out in day time and it’s not a good place to play ball anyway. There are too many lorries – you’ll get run over.’
‘Just what I told them,’ said Tom as he approached the group.
‘They take no notice of me. No respect for their Dad,’ the man replied.
Tom gazed at him. He was about forty he guessed. His clothes weren’t as scruffy as the boys, but looked like they needed a good wash.
‘What are you doing here?’ Tom asked.
‘It’s a long story, mate, but basically me and the boys are homeless. Been like this for a week now. Lost my job. Lost my wife. No money left. We’re waiting for my sister to come and pick us up. She lives in Leeds but she can’t get time off work to drive all down here till the weekend.’ He rubbed a hand over the stubble on his chin and looked down at his feet. ‘Bit of a failure really.’
‘Could happen to any one mate. You never know what life’s gonna throw at you. How are you managing for eating?’
‘The girls in the café know we’re here. They see we’re alright. I’ve told them it’s only temporary. They understand.’
‘Well, I hope things turn out OK for you,’ said Tom. ‘Here.’ He drew out his wallet. ‘Here’s the euros I’ve got left. Take ‘em. I’m not going over again till next month. Give some to the girls in the café, like as a thank you.’ He held out the cash.’
The boys looked their dad who hadn’t moved forward to take the offered cash.
‘Take it Dad,’ said the younger lad. ‘We can have a real breakfast today – not leftovers.’ Tom thought for a moment.
‘I’ll tell you what… I’m heading up Leeds way. I’ll give you a lift – if we can be gone in the next ten minutes. Will that do?’
Now the man smiled. ‘That’s very kind. We can be ready in five minutes. There’s nothing to take.’
‘Just the football Dad,’ said the older boy.