‘The Baboo and Two Empty Sacks’ by Eric David Radcliffe

Fingers bleeding, heaving barnacles, we hang the bow like tears on the cheeks of jilted lovers, scrapers screaming, Banshees singing, who’ll be the next to fall to their death! I remembered the words to that song, and they still send a chill down my body as I stand at the dock gate – being picked for work has always been the difference between survival or just living.

This morning, with the last slice of bread and a piece of cheese too mouldy for the mice to eat, I left for the Canning dock, with my pass for work on the Baboo grasped firmly in my hand.

I passed a group of men arguing loudly. One waved his hand in the air shouting to me – there’s no work today mate! Puzzled, I turned the corner with the graving dock in view, now I understood. The Baboo lay there sprawled on her side with small groups of men standing around her waiting with disbelief and despair on their faces. The silence broke when a horse drawn carriage suddenly appeared, pulling up sharply. A person who I now understand was the foreman, removed his cap, nodding apologetically to the opened carriage door, so whatever was said, he quickly responded. Yelling, before the carriage pulled away, “you lot can get back to work, now! The owners will be paying a farthing an hour extra as they want this ship up and sailing for the next high tide!”

I worked till it was dark, and made my way home cold and hungry, but a proud man with the thought of earning a day’s pay and thinking of being greeted with a smile, instead of a face that was lined with grief.
There is not much in this life that makes you happy or even gives you hope, but what happened next, made me forget how tired and hungry I was – I had to look twice, not believing my luck! For there in the gutter lay two empty sacks!
Look what I found on my way home. You’ll be able to make a rug with my old socks and jumper, the other side of the sack will do as a curtain and with what’s left over, you can make me a pair of gloves, those barnacles are razor sharp, just look at my hands they’re cut to pieces.

Oh! I pawned your suit today, so at last we have some food in the larder. Now go and wash up, you stink of barnacles!

Did you say there was work for you tomorrow?