A tale of love, loss, good deeds and street performers.
Tom Nimble could get you lost in the back alleys and cul-de-sacs of his London estate faster than you could pop a piece of bubble gum. His friends at school sometimes said they felt that London was too big to feel like home. Smirking, he would boast about how it didn’t scare him. But when he found himself in central London, Covent Garden, where he currently stood, Tom Nimble felt like a tiny rowing boat caught in a vast storm.
Tom stared into a shop window and examined himself. Only recently becoming aware of what he even looked like, (thin-faced with brown eyes crouched under arched brows) how he dressed was of no concern to him. His complexion, a few years shy of the brutality of adolescence, reflected his clear conscience, and a fresh set of adult teeth gleamed in his mouth.
Tom looked through the window for a moment and noticed a neatly stacked tower of men’s cologne. The world of deodorant and aftershave was one that he had not yet entered into, neither was he old enough to work up a sweat. He smelled sweetly of nothing but his hobbies and the places he had been. A fragrant mix of grass and model glue.
Done with examining himself, he glanced around, searching for the familiar faces of his parents. “Mum?” he called. “Dad?” His high-pitched voice was barely audible over the sound of his own babbling teenage arrogance, let alone the teeming torrent of people around him. Thinking it would be easy to find them again he wandered until he found himself more lost than a pebble flipped into the sea.
People washed over Tom as he bobbed in the crowd, fighting to keep his head above the ocean of faces before him. Shoals of people blocked his view as he twisted in the seething mass, scanning every face for his parents. Tom felt like he was drowning.
Just as he was ready to surrender himself to the tide of bodies a strong hand gripped his shoulder and he was hauled away into the middle of a ring of people. He could breathe.
“Hello son! You look lost?” Tom stared up into the face of the man who had grabbed him. He had maddeningly blue eyes and a receding hairline so severe from the front he looked bald. What was left trickled down the sides of his head and informed a scraggly beard, almost as unkempt as his eyebrows that twitched, rose and fell of their own accord. Tom replied quietly, “Yes, I am, a bit…”
“Perfect,” roared the man, “nobody will miss you when this goes wrong then! Now, what’s your name, where you from?” Tom was utterly confused, and when he tried to open his mouth to speak nothing came out but a thin squeak. “Okay then… Well, I need you to do me a favour. Can you do me a favour kid?” Tom turned his head from side to side as the man talked, inspecting every face, when suddenly the man bellowed, “No? Well, bless my soul, I almost hope it does go wrong now! Right, could you just lay down there for me? Right there on the bloodstain. There’s a good lad!”
Tom felt hopelessly trapped. He knew about Covent Garden street performers, of course, and had always secretly wanted to be roped into one, but not now. The man was snapping his fat fingers in Tom’s face. “Hello? Are you going to lie down or not?” Tom took one last look around the crowd, at the expectant faces of the children and the cynical grins of parents. He lay down. “Good man! Now, son, who are you here with? Where are Mum and Dad?”
Five minutes ago he was being dragged around the market and hinting at getting a McDonalds, and now he was lying on the cold stone cobbles with a strange man in his face and a crowd of onlookers laughing at him. His bottom lip quivered. The man’s face changed from that of radiant showmanship to mild concern. He covered his microphone with a hand and whispered “Kid, you’re not really lost, are you? That’s just a bit I do. Are you lost?” Tears were now pouring freely down Tom’s face. “Oh Jesus, right…”
The man hoisted Tom to his feet and dusted him off. “Ladies and gentlemen, it would appear that Tom here has lost his parents.” A sigh and chorus of “aww’s” from the onlookers reached Tom’s ears. “So we’re going to perform a genuine, real-life, good deed. Enjoy it, they don’t happen often.” He turned to Tom, smiling, and said “What’s your last name kid?”
“Nimble” sniffled Tom.
“Right, on the count of three all of us are gonna’ shout ‘Mr. and Mrs. Nimble!’ Can we do that boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen?” A gentle murmur went up from the crowd. “I said ‘can we do that boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen?’!”
“Yes!” replied the crowd, all nodding and smiling at Tom.
“Okay! Ready? One, two, three…!” The call went up and Tom pushed his fingers in his ears. In the middle of the circle the noise was deafening. “Again! One, two, three! MR. AND MRS. NIMBLE!” Passers-by turned their heads and milled over to see what all the fuss was about, when suddenly Tom heard someone calling his name. He felt as if someone had just thrown a bucket of warm water over him. His mother and father were fighting their way through the ring of people.
“Mum! Dad!” cried Tom, wiping his eyes and smiling broadly. Before he knew it he was in his mother’s arms, being squeezed so tightly he thought she was going to splinter his ribs. Most of the audience was cheering, a few whispering things like “what a scam” as the performer starting asking the crowd to “sponsor a miracle today!” But Tom didn’t care about any of that. He was safe again.
Tom’s mother took him by the hand firmer than was necessary and tugged him away after hurriedly thanking the street performer, who gave a theatric bow. Now that the initial euphoria of finding Tom had worn off she was muttering threats of punishment at him, but he wasn’t listening. He was enjoying the softness of her hand, relishing the smell of her clothes, drinking in the sound of her voice.
As Tom looked around the buildings felt larger, looming over him, making him feel smaller than he’d ever felt before as he was steered towards the tube station. Maybe London scared him a little bit.