‘The Boy With The Red Scarf’ by Matthew Booth

The boy with the red scarf was dashing out of the warehouse before Jacobs could even open his mouth to yell “stop!” He leapt up from his squat wooden stool, knees creaking from the effort.

For a moment, Jacobs hesitated: was it worth the effort to chase this boy through the bustling streets, noisy and bubbling with the day’s trade? But the hesitation was temporary; Jacobs had been hired by the Foreman only three weeks ago to help guard the warehouse against theft. Failure this soon into his employment, he expected, would bring his time as an employee of the Stanley Dock to a very definitive end.

Lurching into motion, unsteady steps became strides which became leaps as Jacobs’ limbs reconfigured themselves to the art of movement.

Beyond the colossal door of the warehouse lay a buzzing hive of activity – the small street was packed with stalls, and so heavy with the smell of spices they danced in the air. Already the boy had disappeared amongst the crowd, and so Jacobs had no choice but to guess as to the direction the boy had gone in. Pushing past a grasshopper of a man with beaming round spectacles, he managed to bowl the man over into a nearby pile of coffee beans held in cloth sacks. Leaning down to apologise and help the man up, his head found its way between a gap in two stalls. Jacobs’ eyes were suddenly drawn to flash of red into an alley across the street.

Jacobs was up in an instant, the bespectacled man abandoned to scramble for himself. The heat rose in Jacobs face, now red with fury. Turning the corner into the alley, he found himself confronted with a thin, narrow corridor the end of which was punctuated by the figure of a small child.

Only upon approaching the boy did Jacobs truly see him for the first time. He was short, shorter even than Jacobs had first realised. His eyes were concave shells sunken into his face, and his cheeks curled inwards to press against bone. It was no wonder Jacobs had caught up to the boy even given the child’s head start; he must have exhausted every last ounce of his remaining energy to make it this far.

The wet eyed boy said nothing. He simply reached into the deep pockets of his oversized coat and removed what he had taken; he did not produce any riches, no mother of pearl buttons or brandywine. Instead, the boy had removed a small tin of dried fruits.

Jacobs weighed the tin in his hands. It felt light as air, and yet in the hands of the boy it had seemed to have an immense weight – he had watched the boys entire upper body rise up as he had handed over the tin.

For a moment, Jacobs hesitated. Then he handed the boy back the tin, and began to slowly walk back to the warehouse, leaving the boy behind.