You have no items in your cart. Want to get some nice things?Go shopping
We sit on the bench by the statue of Eric, and I tear open the multi-pack of Kit-Kats. I tell my eldest to take two; the twins one each. They stop chattering immediately, licking their lips as the packet rustles in my shaking hands, and diving in when I empty them out, like starving seagulls scavenging chips. Afterwards they pick the chocolaty crumbs off their T-shirts and trousers, dabbing damp fingers against the cloth to get every last bit. Lick, dab. Lick, dab.
I had to look away.
I’m not a religious man. I felt cheeky going into the church like that, accepting their charity. But they said that you don’t have to believe, that’s not a condition. It just happens to be based in a church that’s all, in fact most of them are, but that doesn’t mean that you need to pray or anything. You just show your voucher and get your food. You could stay, if you wanted to, have a brew and a biscuit, talk to somebody, discuss things, maybe get some advice, but I just wanted to get outside and feed my kids. Besides, we had a long walk home, and I wasn’t planning on going back. It was just a one-off, that’s all, a helping hand until payday on Thursday.
My eldest woke me up on Friday morning. I was on the floor by the living room door. Didn’t make it up the stairs. She got the younger two ready for me. Faces splashed with cold water, back into yesterday’s clothes, then split the last crumpet, dry. I didn’t mean to drink it all, I just needed something to take my mind off the nasty letters, the threatening texts. I watched her from my bedroom window as she walked them to school, one in each hand, the spring gone from her step.
The snap of the letterbox woke me up again, eyes wide open, adrenaline flowing. I always think it’s the bailiff’s battering ram, but it wasn’t, it was just a letter, formal-looking, brown envelope, red franking, my name on the front. Private and confidential.
We write in respect of your claim for housing benefit.
They’ve agreed, it said. They’re giving us some money. The hairs on my neck stood up in shock, legs like jelly. I’ll buy batteries first, I thought – get the clocks ticking again, the radio blaring, inject some life back into this house – and light bulbs, whatever wattage we want. Then shopping – regular, once a week – putting things in a trolley. No more instant mash – I’ll make spaghetti bolognese, like their mum used to. Garlic bread to go with it, and those little yoghurts that they like for afters…
But then I kept on reading, right down to the bottom. Six weeks. Six weeks before they’ll start helping us. I’ve got two more rent payments to make in that time. Delays with back-office processing, the letter said. Apologies. My landlord won’t wait, he’s told me before – he’s got other tenants lined up, ready and waiting. Doesn’t even have to give me notice if I miss again, I’ve already had my written warning. Last chance.
So I sold our telly, worked more double shifts. I had to beg the factory manager to give me a sub. Not normal procedure he said, but, in the circumstances, what with me having kids and all, he’d bend the rules just this once. Keep it quiet though please, we don’t want everybody asking. As if I’d tell a soul. As if I’d tell anybody about this mess, my mess.
Hello again, said the lady in the church, have you come to collect another food parcel?