Why do some memories make more of an impact than others? Do empty houses make more noise and if they do, how do the noises sound to you? Are they kind, loving and inviting or are they the exact opposite and do they make you feel lost, alone and fearful?
I remember as a child of about 11 or 12 years old an incident which pops into my mind regularly even though it happened many years ago and if truth be told it was nothing major. By that I mean that nothing actually happened and that was what was so fascinating about it: nothing happened. Yet that nothing happening is a source of intrigue for me.
It was a summer’s day. It was around 4:00pm and it was a very ordinary day. School was over for the day. I had changed out of my school uniform and into a skirt and a blouse. The skirt was blue and was several inches above my knee and the blouse was loose and white. I was fashionably dressed for the time: mini-skirts were ‘in’ and although it wasn’t technically a ‘mini-skirt’, I had made it so by rolling it up several times so that there was a thick belt of material around my waist. But you couldn’t see that, because my long blouse hid it.
On arriving home from school, my father was in the kitchen cooking the evening meal. He found he had run out of an ingredient and asked me to go to the corner shop to get it. I willingly obliged. I was at the age where I wanted to show off my newly-improvised mini-skirt and this was the perfect opportunity to do so. I was so innocent.
The corner shop was only a few minutes away from home and to get there I had to walk down a street two streets away from where I lived. The street in question had houses which were mostly inhabited, but at the top of the road were about three or four empty houses. They were rather dilapidated and the windows were broken and I guess it wouldn’t take much brute force to enter any of them through the front door if you were so inclined.
As I turned the corner into (let’s call it) Kempton Road, there were a group of eight to ten boys playing. They were aged between 10 to say, 15 or 16. They usually collected there of an evening to play football or cricket depending on a whim. I had seen them there so often that they posed no threat and had many times walked by them to get to the corner shop. If they weren’t playing games, they would sit on the walls of the empty houses, in smaller groups chatting and laughing amongst themselves.
This particular day as I turned the corner they were in the middle of the road, talking loudly and playing. One of the boys called me over. I did not go. I kept walking as if I had not heard them and I wasn’t afraid or disturbed in any way. However, this same boy called again and again, and probably frustrated by his inability to get my attention and not wanting to look small in front of his playmates, he ran towards me and grabbed my arm. I was now afraid. Several others came to his aid and all I could see were arms pulling at my arms and clothing and dragging me towards the empty houses at the top of the street.
I struggled but I could see that I did not stand a chance. Whatever was in store for me was going to happen whether or not I tried to defend myself. I resigned myself to my fate, whatever that was going to be.
‘Let her go!’ A voice called out. Blindly I looked on. I could not see who had called out.
‘I said, let her go!’ The voice said again even more forcefully and with authority.
The boy who had grabbed me first released me first, followed quickly by the others who had followed his lead.
I took the opportunity to walk as fast as I could away from them and never walked down that road with the empty houses again on my own. To this day, I can’t remember what the young man who was part of the group looked like and blind with fear, I don’t think it would have registered anyway.
But all I know is that I’m thankful to him. Nothing happened because he spoke up. And because empty houses cannot speak I do not know what their story would have been had he not spoken up for me that day.
~ Marie Williams – 2017