Story -

Harvest Moon

Harvest Moon

That year, 1965, Harvest Festival Sunday fell on the tenth of October, 
which coincided with a big, bright orange Harvest moon, the first full
moon after the autumn equinox.
       As Tom applied another two-fingers-worth of Brylcreem to his
slicked-back, Billy-Fury-style, black hair, in the bathroom of his
parents’ house, halfway up The Way, the dimming dusk transformed
into an auspicious night sky filled with stars and planets. 
       “That’ll have to do,” he bawled, “Off now,” to whichever family
member was within earshot before rushing out, slamming the front
door behind him.
       He had to be at best friend Dick’s house by six-thirty. From there,
they’d collect their pal Harry on the way to the Youth Club at
Wheatley Methodist Church, in Halifax.
       They’d volunteered to help distribute food hampers to old people
living in the vicinity.
       Tom ran the distance to Dick’s house, in the bottom Gardens, in
two minutes. “A record,” he mused.
       He knocked on the door. Knocked a second time, and a third time.
       At last, Dick answered. “Come in! The next time, don’t knock so
 loud!”
       “You’ll have to hurry, Dick, or we’ll be late!” Tom warned.
 “Remember, we’re calling for Harry on the way!”
       Harry, lived in the top Gardens. 
       Soon the three lads were striding through Jack’s field to the top of
Slippy Bank where steep sandstone steps, accessed through a stile in a
dry stone wall, led down from an old gas lamp, providing little useful
light to pedestrians, to the bottom of Edge Lane which stretched, like a
diagonal of the red saltire, from City Road to the top of the Edge.
       The alternative was a half-mile detour in the dark along a muddy,
rutted, old farm track before turning left down Edge Lane.
       Before they’d even started to squeeze through the stile, Harry
whispered, “Shsh! I heard something. Sounded like a baby.”
       “I heard it too,” the others confirmed.
       “Along the track, on the right,” Tom suggested.
       They soft-footed along to a gap between the dry stone wall and an
old, derelict house with its roof falling in.
       Dick stepped through. Startled by the sight of a dark-skinned man
and a woman, holding a baby, sitting on the ground, he blurted out,
“Harry! Tom! Come quick!”
       “Please, no hurt us!” the man begged, in faltering English. “We
lose way.”
       “We’ll not harm you,” Dick reassured him in a slow, soft-toned
voice. “We heard your baby crying. Where are you from?” 
       “We Pakistanis, “ the man replied, “from Kashmir come.”
       “What’s your name?” piped up Tom.
      “Mohammad. This my wife Mariam and this our baby boy,
Ismael.”
       “Where are you going?” Harry asked. “You can’t stay here! You’ll
die of cold.”
       “We walk to house of brother, Ibrahim. He live Keeley. I do job in
cotton mill.” 
       Mohammad handed Tom a piece of paper with an address written
on it. 
       “Ah! You’re going to Keighley.”
       “That’s fifteen miles away,” Dick calculated. “If I were you, I’d
spend the night at an Inn and continue your journey tomorrow.“
       “We try do this but people say go home. We not want you here.
And we not have plenty money.”
       “What about Wheatley Wells Inn, across from the Youth Club?” 
Harry suggested to his pals. “My dad’s a good mate of the Landlord. 
I’m sure he’ll not charge too much for food and a bed for the night.”
       The lads led the family the long way down to the Inn.
       The Landlord gave them a room and something to eat. “It’s on the
house. It’s about time Parliament passed that Race Relations Act. It’s
disgusting the way people treat immigrants.”
       Mohammad and Mariam, bowing, smiled their thanks.

       “We thought you’d got lost,” greeted the lads’ ears when they
arrived, an hour late, at the Church.
       “Had to sort something out on the way,” Tom replied.
      Churchgoers, and Youth Club members, had been very busy
filling paper shopping bags with a healthy variety of fruit and
vegetables.
       Minutes later, they set off with four bags each. 
       Soon they were banging on doors and ringing on bells, eliciting
responses of “Who’s there?” and “What do you want?” and “What the
bloody hell!”
       As doors opened, the Harvest Moon’s reflected brightness shone
on the faces of the old ones, highlighting their pleasure and gratitude
for the gifts they were about to receive from the three, latter-day Magi.
       “That’s it!” declared Harry. “A job well done.”
       “Looking forward to a good night’s sleep,” confessed Dick.
       “I’m off to catch up with the Top Twenty on Radio Luxembourg,”
bragged Tom.
       They made their way up Slippy Bank and through Jack’s field
before parting company where the top and bottom Gardens meet.
       “See you first thing down at the Wells tomorrow,” they
intoned at the same time. “Not unless I see you two first,” they joked
in reply.

       The lads arrived at the Inn, as planned, early the next morning. Not
long afterwards, to their surprise, Tom’s dad arrived in his old, black
Austin A8.
       “Thought, as I was off work today, I’d drive Mohammad and his
family to his brother’s house.”

@ rowland paul hill  19 September 2019

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