As a youngster Tim had been a loner – partly by choice and partly because of circumstance. Dad had always seemed to be changing jobs – changes that caused his son to be continually changing schools. He coped very well as a loner. On leaving school he went to Technical College to learn extra skills and from there earned a place at University. It was not one of the top ones – Oxford, Cambridge and the like were beyond him – but it was a pretty good one.
Today was the first time that Tim Peterson had been back in this University town since he had graduated. In those long gone days his life had been beer in the pubs by the river, rowing with the girls on the river and late-night combinations of beer, girls and a trad-jazz band of some quality in the bar close by the river. Oh, he had studied as well and had obtained a reasonable 2:1 at the end of it all.
He had arrived late yesterday, checked into the hotel, sampled the mini-bar contents and then fallen asleep.
His alarm told him it was eight o’clock already – and reminded him why he was there. He had a 10 o’clock appointment with the local college selection board for a teaching post there. Julie, his wife, had seen the advertisement in the Sunday paper and had convinced him that it was a post that fitted him to a tee. He wasn’t so sure but he had humoured her by applying. The college, much to his surprise, had invited him for interview – and here he was. Not only that – he was determined to make a good case for the powers-that-be to hire him.
To be honest – he could not really care less about it, but Julie did. She was getting fed up with his frequent changes of jobs. It was not too bad while she was working as well – between them they had a more than adequate income for their needs. Now things were changing. Julie was six months pregnant and it was time Tim got himself a stable job; one of security, stability, and a decent income. Today was the day he was out to prove that he had what it took. Julie deserved it.
A church clock struck twelve noon as Tim stood outside the college gates. He was disgusted, disappointed and extremely angry – and that was an understatement. The optimism, ambition and determination he had felt when he had left home were all gone. The dismissive interview had destroyed all that. He had forced himself to believe that this opportunity would make a fresh start for him and Julie and their soon-to-be little one. Now it was crushed; he was crushed; he had let Julie and himself down. He could blame the ‘interrogation board’ but they were just doing their job, even if it seemed a bit one sided.
He felt that it was him – Tim the failure again. He walked across to the taxi rank – ‘Station please’ he said as the driver opened the door.
When he reached the station despondency, fear, self-loathing hit him. It was made worse by his mobile ringing. It was probably Julie. He didn’t answer it. How could he ‘face’ her? He had failed.
When the call had ended he played it back. It was Julie. ‘Hello Tim; just wondering how things went. Give me a call when you pick this up. I love you – and little one has just wriggled in my tummy. Bye.’
Tim turned the mobile off; put it in his overnight bag and put the bag in one of the security boxes at the station. He just couldn’t face going home just yet.
He wandered out of the station and meandered along a street he hadn’t seen for years. West Street had changed in many ways since he had seen it last. There was a lot more traffic for one, but it was still recognisable in others. It was certainly more appropriate to his feelings than a stroll through the ancient colleges of the city centre. As he walked, the ‘feel’ of the street began to merge into his mood. He became aware of the tattooists, the bicycle repair shop, an Asian general store and a couple of Chinese restaurants. He stopped and looked at the low-cost furniture shop’s display and thought of the conversation he had with Julie about moving and refurnishing when little-one arrived. There were estate agents – no need of those now, they wouldn’t be moving to this town after this morning’s debacle.
He walked on to a road junction. Across the road was ‘The Blue Boar’ – a sleazy looking pub that told all and sundry that they were ‘open all day’. It didn’t look much like the pub he would normally frequent – but he needed a drink. To his left and right was a narrower – much less busy –street. The one to his left headed to ‘who knows where’. To his right was a street of drab looking houses. Tim forgot about the ‘Blue Boar’ across the road, and his plan to drown his sorrows, and turned up the street of those drab houses. They matched his feelings, so he thought he would join them.
He hadn’t walked far when he began to feel at home – not that it was anything like his home with Julie. This street had a ‘feel’ that suited his present mind-set – depressed, frustrated, yet now becoming determined. All the houses opened straight on to a narrow pavement no more than a single stride wide. He walked on, then, without warning, the pavement did widened. A low wall filled the gap and behind that was a single cottage with grass that needed cutting and some shrubs that had seen younger days. The building was something tangible, cosy in its’ own right yet seemingly unoccupied and lonely; a house saying ‘you’re welcome here, I know how you feel’ to Tim.
Tim stood and looked – something in the back of his mind was trying to get out. Something was beginning to establish itself when an aged man stood behind the window – staring at him. Before Tim could react the man had thrown open the window and shouted angrily in a dialect Tim didn’t recognise. He didn’t need to know what was being said – it was very clear that he was not welcome standing and staring just there. Tim mouthed a silent ‘sorry’ and moved on. The man reminded him of his grandfather who didn’t like people ‘gorping’ at him either.
It also brought back the interview he had attended that morning. The interviewers had not really wanted him. Tim was convinced that they knew the one that they wanted from the beginning. For them Tim – and probably one or two others – was ‘cannon fodder’. They were just going through the motions to make it look legit.
This street – strangely devoid of traffic – was taking hold of him. Was it showing the same depression that he felt? Was it in need of a ‘pick-me-up’ to bring it back to life? Tim mumbled ‘I know how you feel’. He walked on a short way then saw a welcome sign. ‘The King’s Arms’ it said. Tim still wanted a drink and went in. The place was empty apart for a middle-aged woman behind the bar – and she seemed to have the same amount of drive and humour as Tim felt – ZERO. He looked around – the place had seen better days and could do with a clean. He settled for a bottled beer and a bag of crisps. The woman served him then turned her back – she obviously did not want to talk. Tim drank his beer straight from the bottle, finished off his crisps and was just leaving as half a dozen men pushed in. They were obviously regulars as the woman started pulling beer as they walked in.
Outside the pub Tim looked at his watch. He should retrace his steps and get back to the station and his journey home but something in his mind told him – ‘not yet – walk a little further’. He looked again at his watch – ‘ten minutes more he said to himself’ then I’ll head back.
Twenty yards or so from the pub there was a road joining from the right. Sandison Street – a new name as far as he could recall from his past time here – looked like it should head back to the railway station. Tim turned into it. He hadn’t gone far when he saw a house that was so different from everything thing else he had seen.
It stood back a little from the road – there looked as if one or two cars could park there – and had been spruced up. The large window facing the road did not have a domestic look about it. Moving a little closer Tim could see that interior was a workshop – a workshop with a very cluttered bench inside. It may be surrounded on either side by houses, and behind the workshop there may be a house as well – but in front it presented itself as ‘Peter Barker – Bow Maker’. Tim went closer. The workspace was crowded but not scruffy – and the bows were very obviously not for shooting arrows. Lying on a table were five musical bows for strung instruments. On the door hung a handwritten sign ‘Back soon’.
Tim stood there. Hadn’t there been a Peter Barker at his time at the Uni? Hadn’t he been a musician? ‘It can’t be the same guy can it’ Tim thought. With a shrug he looked at his watch and walked on.
The road turned to the left – it wasn’t heading to the station it seemed so Tim turned round and began retracing his steps.
The ‘Back soon’ sign on the door had gone and Tim paused and looked through the window. A man – presumably Peter Barker – was there, putting on an apron. As Tim watched he selected something from his bench before sitting down with a work-in-process bow on his lap. There was something about him – the way he’d walked; the way he held his head – that reminded Tim of the past. Could this be that fellow student of days gone by? Certainly the Peter Barker he remembered was musical with both voice and instrument. This one looked at ease with his work – work that no doubt he enjoyed. He looked up, saw Tim, smiled and nodded to him, then carried on with his shaping of another bow. Tim smiled, raised his hand in acknowledgement and headed back to catch a train. ‘If only I had more time’ Tim thought.
At the station he retrieved his bags and caught the next train heading homeward. Once on his way, Tim tex’d a simple message to Julie – ‘Been here; done it; taken a walk; home soon. Love you – and little wriggly-one’.
Once home he told Julie the whole story of the day. She cursed the appraisal board; said it was their loss not Tim’s; and then changed the subject to what the ‘little wriggly-one’ had been doing.
Tim decided that the board’s decision was their loss, and that the walk round the streets was his gain. There were more educational establishments around that needed staff – and anyway, there were more important things pending. One of these was only three months or so away.
Over the following days Tim found himself having a more positive attitude than he had enjoyed for ages. The forthcoming ‘little wriggly-one’ was a great boost, and if he started to feel down he recalled watching Peter Barker.
He envied that man’s apparent self-sufficiency and every time he began to feel down Tim looked for ‘the Barker effect’. It worked – but he didn’t tell Julie that; she might get the wrong idea. In any case – when little William Timothy Peterson arrived there would be more pressing needs anyway.
One thing Tim never did tell Julie was that he had toyed with the idea of having their little fellow christened William Timothy Barker Peterson in memory of a day that began a change in his daddy’s view on life.