“Now, come on Tom, you don’t want to be late on your first day at school, now do you?”
Tom turned onto his side and clutched his pillow, hoping to get back to his wonderful dream about the seaside.
“Now, I’ve made you a lovely breakfast,” continued Iris breezily. “And I’ve pressed your uniform. You’re going to look so smart.”
Tom grunted. There was no way out of this one. At first, he’d hoped there would be.
“Do I really have to?” he’d begged, preferring instead to spend lazy days at home playing with his train set.
“Tom, we’ve been over this time and again. There’ll be plenty of time for your train set when you come home.”
So that had been that. She could be very stubborn when she wanted to could Iris. Once her mind was set, there was no going back.
“OK, OK,” he’d concurred, idly swirling his spoon through his corn flakes.
And so it was that he found himself standing outside St Aloysius school. They’d passed it many times before but until now he’d barely taken notice of it. A tall white granite building, huge round windows and a large blue sign, proudly displaying the emblem St Aloysius School, founded in 1837.
Of course, he’d seen children from that school before. You couldn’t help but notice them really: bright yellow blazers and dark trousers. No wonder the kids were known locally as the bees from the Alley.Well, today, he just hoped he’d be ok and wouldn’t get stung.
He looked down at his uniform. It did feel a bit big for him. Iris had assured him he would grow into it though: not surprising with all those delicious puddings she kept feeding him.
His musings about Iris’s tasty cuisine were sharply interrupted by a young punk guy wearing jeans, a leather jacket and a torn T-shirt with the inscription “Killer Guerillas” and his black PVC-clad, tattooed female companion. “Oy grandad, gonna see us across the road then?”
Tom clutched his lollipop pole to him. He wondered if it would protect him from the likes of the local yobs. Maybe like one of those wonderful James Bond inventions, there could be a secret switch which he could just press and a harpoon would emerge and give the local punks an extra piercing that they hadn’t anticipated.
He was still trying to compose a suitable answer, when he felt a tiny hand touch his finger. He looked down and there was a little girl of about six years old, with long fair hair tied up with pink ribbons.
“Are you our new lollipop man?” she asked adoringly. “My name’s Emma. Will you help me across the road?”
“Why, I’d be glad to,” answered Tom. The punks smirked and walked off, leaving Tom ample time to signal the traffic to stop so he could escort his precious charge to the safety of the other side.
“And I’ll be here when you get back this evening,” Tom promised. He smiled to himself. He thought he was going to like this job after all.
The time went quickly enough. Swarms of bees arrived, he took them across to their hive, back and forth. “A bit like a ferryman,” he thought, “Only,” he corrected himself “With no ferry.”
He was full of his adventures when he arrived back at the cottage for lunch.
“So how was it?” questioned Iris on his return.
“Do you know it was really ok? Some of the kids are little terrors, you can tell that straight away but others are really sweet. In fact, there’s one called Emma. She’s lovely. I’ve promised I’ll be there when she finishes school today.”
Iris sighed. It had been such a strain for them both when Tom had lost the job at the factory. After all those years too. “New technology,” the Human Resources Manager had explained. “It’s taking over all those jobs that had to be done by hand. Just the way things are these days. Sorry and all that but …”
And that was why Iris had been secretly pleased when she’d seen in the local paper the advert for lollipop men and women. The last thing she’d wanted was Tom hanging around the cottage all day. It would be good for him to get out and about and be useful.
After a leisurely afternoon, doing the crossword and polishing his signal boxes, it was time for Tom to return to the school to escort the afternoon traffic.
“What a noise,” Tom thought to himself as the torrent of noisy schoolchildren exploded out of the school. It was all he could do to keep the groups together and get them safely across the road.
Back and forth, back and forth … then suddenly a thought struck him. “I haven’t seen Emma yet. I wonder where the little lass has gone to.”
But the crowd which had filtered to a trickle seemed to have come to a standstill by now. There had been no-one else leaving the school for a good ten minutes. By rights, he should be able to go back now but he couldn’t just leave without Emma. Maybe she’d been taken ill during the afternoon and had had to go home. He should probably leave it but …..
“A promise is a promise,” he thought to himself. He approached the school gates with as much apprehension as anyone going into a new school.
He looked around. The playground was deserted. This was ridiculous: just his imagination. He really should get back, shouldn’t he?
And yet a feeling in his stomach urged him on.
He opened the door, turned right into what he soon realised was the gymnasium. And there, in the corner, was a tiny mite sobbing her heart out.
“Emma,” he cried running over to her. “Whatever is the matter?”
“My mummy hasn’t turned up yet. She was supposed to pick me up. I waited for her. Wherever can she be?”
He looked around. What did he do now? Well, there must still be someone here. The school wasn’t locked, after all. “Leave it with me,” he assured her, “I’ll see what I can find out.”
He burrowed his way through the maze which was the school corridor. Eventually, he found a room marked Secretary. A grey-haired lady sat at the desk, typing away.
“Excuse me, Miss,” he whispered. “I’ve just found one of your pupils, sitting in the gym. Blonde pigtails. Her name’s Emma, says her mother hasn’t turned up to pick her up yet.”
“Emma?” responded the school secretary. “Oh dear, you must mean Emma Williams. I’d better see if I can ring and see what’s happened to her mother. Don’t worry, I’ll sort it out. You’d best be off now, hadn’t you? Only school personnel are allowed on these premises.” she said pointedly.
Tom didn’t know what to do next. He felt bad about leaving Emma but he’d picked up the secretary’s warning loud and clear.
He headed out of the office and turned back towards the gym just in time to find the punk from this morning heading towards the gym.
Shock and rage filled his chest. He couldn’t walk away now, leave that punk to go towards where young Emma was sitting on her own. You read such dreadful things in the papers these days.
Luckily, he still had his lollipop pole with him. James Bond or not, it could surely deliver a hefty blow from behind.
Purposefully, he started running behind that dreadful leather jacket as fast as he could.
He got nearer, ready to raise his pole when …
“Alright, grandad? You following me? Hey, what’s your game?”
There was a fight. Tom wasn’t quite sure what happened but the next thing he knew he’d been pushed firmly down on the floor and his lollipop pole, which had been snapped in two, was lying on the ground beside him.
“Ow, my head,” he thought.
“What are you doing on the floor?” said a little voice. He looked up. There was Emma. “I was just …………” he replied.
“Look, sorry, pal, didn’t realise …. ” said the young man. “I was just a bit worried, you read such awful things ………. Come on Emma, best get you home. Your mum will be worried.”
And she put her hand in the punk’s hand and said “Yes, daddy, so glad you came to get me.”
He picked her up a piggy back and said:
“See you tomorrow Mr Lollipop Man. Sorry about your Lollipop, no hard feelings eh?”
And off they went.
Back at the cottage, Tom sat in his armchair and rubbed his head.
“Tom, you should get an early night. You look done in. Another early start for you tomorrow,” soothed his wife.
“You’re right”, he sighed. “After all, tomorrow is another schoolday. And those bees can’t just fly across themselves, you know.”
Iris smiled. It looked like things were going to work out after all.