“’Ere, what’s your name, then?” the scruffy boy asks. He gazes up at the pompous looking podgy man, who stares at the empty road and wills the bus to appear. “Why’ve you got the stick? And what’s that funny ‘at all about?” the child continues. “I bet your name’s Bob, innit? Is your name Bob?”
“Goodness me child!” the man booms, turning to face the impetuous boy. “Did your mother never warn you of the dangers of blatant inquisitiveness?” His eyes are wide and questioning beneath the rim of his top hat.
The child steps back dramatically. “Phew-ew! I was only asking your name, Mister! No need to be so touchy!” Quiet fills the air for a moment or two and the man leans back into his original position, before the boy starts again. “What is your name anyway?”
The man sighs and turns to face the child once more. “Mr. McCavity. My name is Mr. McCavity.” He peers at the boy as though over half-moon spectacles that don’t exist, and he gages the child’s reaction. The boy, he observes, is suitably impressed.
“My teacher’s got a cat called Mr. McCavity. Says he’s mysterious but don’t know why. Are you a cat, Mr. McCavity?” the child asks with perfect sincerity. He has barely paused for breath.
“A cat, boy? A cat?” Mr. McCavity repeats incredulously. “Do I look like a cat?” His puffy red face is a confusion of anger and amusement.
“Well…not much, no,” the boy admits, “but that don’t mean nuffink really. I mean, Spiderman don’t look much like a spider neither, do ‘e?”
“Hmmm,” Mr. McCavity says with a grimace and returns to his willing of the bus, secretly smiling to himself. The boy, meanwhile, swings his legs and blows spit-bubbles through his lips.
They sit like that for some time, McCavity periodically glancing at his watch and the boy using his hands to fly imaginary aeroplanes through the air, his mouth the engine. Eventually, McCavity sighs and turns, yet again, to the boy.
“So, child,” he begins, looking at the child with grave seriousness. “Since you now know my appellation, I suppose it would be polite to ask yours.”
“Appellation, Mister? What’s that when it’s at ‘ome then?” The boy’s eyebrows furrow quizzically and his aeroplane stops mid-dive. He tilts his head to one side, in the manner of a curious puppy.
“Gosh child, do they teach you nothing, these days?”
“’Course, sir. Just yesterday we learned all about fractions, we did sir. No appleplations though. What’s one o’ them then?” Mr. McCavity can’t resist a tiny guffaw at the boy’s mistake.
“Not appleplations, boy. Appellation. It means name. What’s your name?” The man’s face softens. He is quite taken with this boy with whom he patiently waits for the bus. He reminds McCavity of his own son, McElroy, when he was younger (and admittedly, somewhat less rebellious).
“Oh, well why didn’t ya say? John’s the name, but all me mates call me Sharpie. Me mam ‘ates it of course but that’s mams for ya. They ‘ate everyfink, they do.” The boy gives a gentle nod as he explains.
“She must be jolly well fat then young man,” McCavity replies, a look of genuine confusion across his face.
“What you sayin’ about our mam? Why you sayin’ that Mister? I thought you was a nice guy, I did! God, just shows ‘ow wrong ya can be about a person, that does!” Sharpie’s little face grows red with anger as he prepares to defend his poor mother.
“Oh, oh no! Oh gosh, it’s just that you said she ate everything and I thought…oh my, I’m sorry my dear boy. I didn’t mean to upset you!” McCavity stumbles over his words in his desperation to put things right. Sharpie begins to laugh.
“Oh no! Mister, I don’t mean she ate everyfink as in food, I mean she ‘ates everyfink as in, she don’t like it like, know what I mean, Mister?” The boy’s animated arms fly around him as he tries to put the man at ease, a broad smile condensing his hamster-like cheeks.
“Oh, haha! I see, yes. I think you mean ‘hates’, my dear boy. She ‘hates’ everything.” McCavity smiles before a more serious look falls over him. “Tell me, Sharpie, do you like living here?”
Sharpie shrugs. “It’s okay like, innit. Bit borin’, what wiv me mam ‘ating everyfink and everyfink, and ‘avin to go to school all the time, but it’s okay.” McCavity nods encouragingly and the boy’s eyes dart around the bus stop as he tries to think of more to say. “I suppose, like, it would be quite cool if I were a super ‘ero or sumfink.”
“A superhero? What about…” McCavity feigns trying to think of something, his hand rubbing his chin and his eyes pointing to the sky. “What about magic?”
Sharpie’s eyes light up excitedly. “Magic, Mister? Can you do magic?”
“Of course, boy. The world where I live is full of magic.”
He gasps excitedly. “Really? Can I come and live with you, Mister? Where is it you live?”
McCavity giggles knowingly. “One day, son. One day you can come to live in The City and you never know, maybe you’ll be able to do some magic too.” His smile is broad and loving as he looks down at this boy who reminds him of his son.
“’Cor! Thanks Mister, I can’t wait!” His grin threatens to overtake his entire face. “Can you show me some magic now Mister?”
“Why yes, my boy. Why not. You close your eyes, and I’ll make the bus appear,” he says as he watches the bus trundle around the corner.
Sharpie, eyes closed, hears the squeak and pressure of the brakes as the bus pulls up to the stop and he opens his eyes. “Naw, Mister. You just saw the bus…” he stops mid-sentence as he looks around to discover that McCavity has completely disappeared with no sign that he was ever there. Sharpie’s face sags with disappointment. He stomps onto the bus and the driver waves him to a seat. As he sits down and rests his head forlornly against the cold window, moist with condensation, he puts his hand in a jacket pocket and…he feels something. He jumps up excitedly and pulls from his pocket a small, toy cat, along the side which reads ‘Remember me’. It’s then that he knows he’ll treasure that cat until the time that McCavity returns for him, and takes him to the magical world he had promised.
And so he will.
You can meet these characters again in the book John Sharpe: No. 1,348, a fantastical, riotous, whimsical ride through McCavity’s world. Available now for the bargain price of 99p!