General Non-Fiction posted February 27, 2017

This work has reached the exceptional level
My strange life.

Young Harry

by Mabaker

This actual event in my life has remained untold. I can disclose it now as people who it refers to are dead therefore by writing about them can cause no pain.
It was nineteen-fifty-four, and I was thirteen-years-old.

I sneaked along the empty street, furtively every once in a while casting glances behind me. Nobody. That was reassuring, but still, I had to use my brain, or I'd find myself right back where I had escaped from.

Some two weeks before I had been removed from my home in a country town as a juvenile at risk and made a Ward of the State. Until I turned eighteen, I could do nothing of my own volition.

Perhaps, had I been younger it might not have seemed so hard, but at thirteen, having lived a life of freedom, in the space of a day and a half, without being told a word of why locked behind eight-foot-high-walls, seemed confusing and cruel.

This place in which I was incarcerated was a Catholic Orphanage and introduced to the rules and regulations I had no idea existed, I refused to conform. Unwittingly I made life tough for myself. The Nuns in charge were Overseen by Mother Superior an ancient old crone who was close to one hundred years of age when I arrived, so the actual running of the place was left to younger women.

Many of these ladies who wore a black habit, were kind enough, though none ever formed close bonds with the girls in their care and some having met a stubborn teen were downright cruel, determined to knock my smartarse attitude out of me.

I, from the first, explored every avenue possible in a bid for freedom. Finally, I worked out something of how this could be achieved. Nighttime every door that went to the lower floors were locked, so that was out, but I'd had a severe head cold, and my constant coughing kept other girls awake, I was given a temporary bed on a veranda that had no flyscreen just wide open space. This was my way out. I realised that every exact detail must be attended to or everything would fail, then if I were caught the consequences would be dire.

I had heard one girl being punished for some minor infraction and the sound of three nuns striking her unprotected body sent shivers down my spine. She had to be placed in the Infirmary for three days to eliminate the severe bruising that reprimand had created.

I thought the problem through from every angle imaginable. A simple plan perhaps could achieve what I envisioned? Tie my two sheets together, fasten one end around a window post and slither down, then through the grounds until I came to a broken section of wall, clamber my way in pitch darkness and freedom.

If I failed, and being classified as an escapee would finish my life there. They would never trust me ever again, the choice to come and go through the buildings would be curtailed, they would assign another girl to be with me at all times. I had witnessed one girl tied to her bed frame at lights-out after she was found asleep in another girl's bed. This would be my fate.

For two days I made plans and discarded them and created a different version, but my original one seemed the best.

The middle of the night of my intended break-out was moonless, black as velvet and as the tower clock began to chime two am. I tied the laces of shoes together slipped them around my neck and gripping the sheet I slid to within six feet of the ground. Dropping the last little distance, ran to where the wall was lower then up and balanced before falling to the sidewalk on the other side.

Now that I had achieved my goal, what was next? Believing my parents, primarily my mother would not come to my rescue. Known as the town drunk and woman of sexual favours, her attitude to me had always bordered on resentment. My father was weak-willed and gave in to her, he would not help me either. Though free of the eight-foot high walls, where would my plan take me?

I kept jogging as thoughts skittered through my head, but with no money, knowing not a soul in this city and was tired and scared.

Sliding down a shopfront and sitting on the sidewalk the tears at last flowed.
A jab in my shoulder woke me and jumping to my feet stared at the apparition standing behind a supermarket trolley piled high with plastic bags.
"You in my street!"

A dirty filthy old man dressed in an Army Greatcoat stank of rubbish and stale alcohol. Fear instructed my feet to start moving, but quick as lightning he grabbed my arm, and any attempt to escape was halted.

"Had a fight with your dad? Reckon the streets a better place to live?"

Shaking from fear and exhaustion, I just stared at my feet, and mumbled, "Didn't have an argument with no one. Let my arm go, please."
Surprisingly, he did, and we stood staring at each other.
"What you doing on the street then? Should be in bed asleep. Where you live."

In the gummy way adults speak with no teeth, one question followed another, but somehow he didn't seem dangerous, maybe being trusting, I found it easy to tell him what had happened.

"Well Girly, we'd best get you off the sidewalk before a police car starts looking for you. You didn't do all that just to get taken back. Come on with me."

We walked to the nearest alleyway and pushing his trolley he put a finger to his lips for quiet then led the way into semi-darkness. "Best not a good idea to advertise ourselves just yet."

He stopped by a high timber gate and with instructions to help push an opening just wide enough for his trolley to fit through, he pushed me ahead. Once through, we heaved it shut.

In the soft dawn light, the house looked shabby, that was the intention. Inside it was clean and neat.

"My name is Old Bill, you is young'Harry. Now I have house rules, lad. We always go out together, never on your own. I cook our food, you clean up the plates. No funny smoking weed nor 'baccy I'm allergic to smoke. No having anyone else here, no time. Did you understand all that? If none of my rules suits you, just head straight out that gate and pull it shut as you go."

Feeling sick in my stomach I nodded to each of his rules, bar one.
"I'm a girl, can't call me Harry."

Walking to the sink Old Bill opened a drawer and took out scissors and a comb. "Won't be much longer." He gave a raspy old sound that resembled a laugh, "Sit here where the light's good."

Looking at the shears in his hands a feeling of nerves had me hesitate.

'Twas a barber afore you were born, know what a boy looks like."

By the time Old Bill was finished, I was a slab sided boy. He had found me some ragged grey serge pants and a dark sweater a funny shaped cap covered my new short haircut, a scruffy pair of boots topped my changed appearance.

"There you go young Harry."

Old Bill unrolled a canvas stretcher and placed it in the corner of the kitchen explaining he used another room for himself and other places were closed. No more information than that.

Four years I lived with the strange old fellow I called Bill. He taught me to cut hair, also how to find things that didn't have hands holding them. I became his star pupil, and nothing would have changed until Nature got involved.

On my fourteenth birthday, I woke to the sight of blood on the sheet. We hadn't spoken of this event, but frightened none-the-less I yelled out. Bill always a gentleman handed me some clean rags and together the two of us worked out a pattern. Each time this occurred I used rags then when the time was over we put all used material in a bag for the garbage collector.

He was strict about cleanliness, always a hot wash before bed especially feet and private areas.
For another six months, our arrangement worked well, I was still 'young Harry', but then my body changed. I developed breasts, and the ruse of my being a boy was over. At first, I stayed home, but that worried the old fellow. Then we tried nighttime scavenging. However, this was dangerous. Bill was becoming frail and wouldn't have been able to protect himself if thugs turned on us for what we had scored. It was time for us to move on.

We walked to a charity shop, and he knew a woman who worked there, he made me wait while he talked to her. "You do as this lady says. I will be back here in two days young Harry see you then."

Away he went.

The lady's name was Rose, and as it was near the closing time, she took me home with her.
She showed me a beautiful bathroom and left me to soak away the stink of the rubbish we collected. That was the first time I had used shampoo on my hair. Also, there was a pink cotton housecoat to wear and after I cleaned the bath and tidied up followed my nose to the aroma of cooking.

Rose smiled when she saw a young woman instead of a boy. "Tea is ready, hop in, there is plenty."

Old Bill had rules and table manners were one of them, I ate ladylike and never slurped my cup of tea.

"Now Bill has asked me to have you as my niece, and for you to live here as he has business to take care of. Are you okay with that?"

"Yes, thank you, Rose. As long as this doesn't put you to any trouble?"

"Bill is my cousin. So young Harry, you are one of the family. Now to your name, we will continue with Harry, it will be short for Harriet, and you will be a girl."

Rose took me to a spare bedroom where racks of clothes stood in neat rows. It became evident Rose knew what she was doing, I had not a clue. Shortly after I had a nightdress, brand new underwear, a tiny little brassiere, four beautiful frocks, a dark green overcoat and a beret on my head.

I laughed at the stranger in the full-length mirror, and Rose hugged me.

"You are a sweet girl, Harry, but don't get too comfortable here, we are leaving the day after tomorrow."

Ever since my breasts had developed, it seemed all I had done was move.

"You don't say a lot, do you?" Rose made this observation later.

"Bill wasn't a big talker. I didn't do what he had a rule against."

"Oh, that's okay, we will get on like a house on fire." Rose smiled. Then she put four suitcases on the floor and gave me instructions on what to pack for the journey. I did as I was directed.

The following morning Bill arrived and smiled at me in a dress.
"Fine job Rose, young 'Harry looks a treat."

He sat at the table and fishing around in a cavernous pocket pulled out a leather wallet.

"Here is your half of what I got yesterday, and young Harry here's your share."
I looked in shock at the pile of Pound notes. Rose wasn't asleep, in a flash her stack disappeared into a pocket.

"What does this mean Bill?"

"Look, young Harry, it's simple. I sold the house yesterday, and this is part of the sale price. The rest went into a Bank for you and Rose after I die. You have to live young Harry, so put that in a safe place."

After he had left Rose and I counted the cash Two Thousand Pounds. Never had I had this much money. I had only seen a Pound note once.

I was never to speak to my friend again. He finalised the house money into my, and Rose's bank accounts found a Hostel for homeless men and died peacefully several weeks later.

Rose put the house in the city up for Rental while we left for country Queensland. She had a holiday house there that had been owned by their family for sixty years. It was on the beach and very nice. I stayed with Rose until I turned eighteen and though somewhat unusual my life with old Bill and later Rose was joyful.

I never went back to my childhood town and had little contact with my parents after I turned eighteen.
This soul purge may continue later. Or not.
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