The Stations and the Cross
Philip Walford

The Stations and the Cross

The strange thing is that Giles would be nineteen now, the soft paunch of his cheeks probably bearded, a little of the liquid brilliance of his eyes dried out. But his father is still looking for a fourteen-year-old child. The resemblances that stop his heart and fill his sinuses are those of children who remind him of a Giles who isn't run away or missing but has gone forever.

David watches a boy of about thirteen, readying himself for sleep. It isn't quite dark yet, but he has learned that homelessness is exhausting, even if his own experience of it is only the proxy homelessness of the away-day runaway. Beneath the film of filth and layers of bulky, formless clothes that the blessed mother would never have allowed him to wear, the boy could be Giles. There's a grace to the way he winds himself in a tattered blanket that reminds David of the sweet, nimble movements of Giles running to evade capture and reprimand. He's been mistaken before, approaching someone else's lost son, their faces either contorting with fright or their smiles beckoning and somehow forgiving, emboldened by the prospect of earning a little money. His apologies in these circumstances have been profuse to the point of causing a scene. The police were involved once, but he showed them the photo, and they let him go, warning him that these kids were more of a danger to him than he was to them, that maybe he should take himself home and try to move on.

Victoria—David falls for the second time.

The boy seemed to know that David was watching him, and he returned the attention, as if waiting for the moment when the stranger would inevitably come shuffling over.

“Hi,” said David. “Are you hungry?”

The boy nodded, his long hair too matted and greasy to fall in the soft curtain David was expecting.

“Can I buy you something to eat? What's your favorite food?”

The boy gestured towards the distant glow of a fast-food place, beyond the station facade: the kind of place they'd never have gone to when they were a family.

“Whatever you say. You're the boss.” David tried out what he hoped was a guileless and reassuring smile and hopped back up off his haunches, hoping the boy would unwind himself from his cocoon of blankets and plastic sheeting. The boy stood up slowly, as if it were something he wasn’t used to doing. Before they could leave, he made a great show of stashing his bedding beneath a wheeled dumpster. When he had finished, none of it was visible, neither a corner of blanket nor a shadow.

The restaurant interior was plastic. Its atmosphere had probably once been one of comfortable sterility, but that had long gone, and now the plastic fittings were discoloured with age or accumulated dirt, and the harsh light only served to heighten the feeling that eating there was somehow a sin. The boy didn't seem to mind, his eyes alive, his pupils dancing over the pictorial menu bannered above the counter. He pointed to a banquet of chicken and fries and onion rings and a milkshake whipped to an impossibly static peak. David ordered a black coffee.

When they sat, the boy regarded David with a look that reminded him of the way the blessed mother had sometimes looked during the fights that preceded their divorce. He seemed preoccupied with the impossible task of making himself smaller, cowering from an anticipated blow. David understood this but realised there was little he could do. After so long apart, Giles would probably be terrified of him. He nudged the cardboard boat of the boy's chicken banquet, pushing the food towards him, letting him know it was okay to eat.

The boy ate, noisily, and David restrained an urge to remind him of his manners.

“Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” David asked as the boy finished the last of the onion rings. The boy nodded, bending the straw in his milkshake as he did, creating a permanent crease in the tube that momentarily arrested the flow of liquid.

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Philip Walford

lives in London. More of his published work can be found at