Dark Coat and Smoke Rings


Professor Lichtenstein brought us to the London Metropolitan Archives. We had the chance to visit the whole place, and I will write one or two posts about the experience. She asked us to conduct a research and to write a creative piece inspired by our findings. I flipped through some beautiful pictures of the boys and girls living in a Foundling Site at the beginning of 1900 in London. The Institute was called Mary Ward and still exists today as an Education Centre. This is my piece.



It’s him. I know it. I know that it’s him, I don’t know why, but I’m sure of it. He has his hair combed backwards and he’s smoking a cigar, blowing smoke rings. He’s talking to Mr. Jenkins. He’s young. I guess he’s like thirty or something like that. He’s wearing a long, dark coat and he seems like he perfectly knows what he’s doing.

I don’t. I am only a 10-year old child living in a foundling site. Of course I don’t know what he’s doing, why he’s here, and what I should do. I know that he’s here for me, I can tell it. But I have to fight now, and his presence should be the last of my problems. Johnny is getting ready. Mr Morris is telling the rules again, since Johnny is a bloody freaky fighter. He always starts blowing and striking like a madman, despite anything else. It’s like he’s angry all the time, from the beginning to the end of the fight. He broke some chaps’ noses (including mine) and he smashed someone’s cheekbones once or twice, so Mr Morris is telling him off again. Still, I’m not sure if I’ll end up with both of my nostrils still working today.

They didn’t tell me anything about him coming today, but I knew it. I don’t mean Johnny, I mean him. I knew this was going to happen. Some days ago, Mr Jenkins told me “to fight well on Sunday”. This morning he made sure I washed my face and wore clean trousers. That’s when I knew that something was happening.

I tried to ask him, but he didn’t answer. He handed me the blue trousers, which had just been washed after at least six months, and scratched his moustache without saying anything. I looked at him. He seemed absent.

“Just do your best.” he said, without even looking at me. Then he went out of the room. I put on my trousers and tried to take a deep breath. It was the Sunday boxing match. Always a special occasion for me. I put a hand under my old, yellowy mattress and took my good luck token. I carefully wrapped it around my wrist. The worn out woollen scrap tickled my skin. It wasn’t a bad sensation. It’s familiar. And I had been longing for anything familiar for too much time. Before leaving me, my mom told Mr Jenkins that that scrap was all I had to be identified, one day.

But Mr Morris’s voice brings me back to the boxing ring. “Johnny, Stephen. Get ready to fight.” I turn to look at my enemy. I wouldn’t say “enemy” about everybody else, but Johnny has such an evil look in his eyes, that I know I have to do my best to end this fight without breaking any body part of mine.





As I expected, Johnny towers over me and doesn’t wait for a second before pouncing on me. He grabs my shirt with his left hand and raises his right fist. It happened in like half  a second and I am already up to surrender, but Mr Morris stops him.

“Johnny, please, stick to the rules!”

I hear the other boys screaming and insulting him. For once, they are supporting me. Everyone is united in their hate for Johnny the madman. Everyone hopes that he will be  defeated one day. But judging from the fact that he has just pushed me on the ground and he’s already approaching to give me his famous “nose-breaking kick”, I guess that day is not today.

“Johnny! Stick to the rules! I’ll throw you out!”

Johnny stops, panting loudly. Damn, he’s a freak. He looks at me like he wants to destroy me. I bet his family used to beat him before leaving him here. I don’t know, but it may be true as hell. While I am lying down on the boxing ring, I try to glance at him. I catch a glimpse of his dark coat and the smoke of his cigar. I am sure he’s watching me. I am sure he’ll make something out of this fight.

I would like to say that I can’t lose this match. Not today. Not now.  But I can’t even hope it. I know I will lose. Mr Jenkins knew it, when he told me to fight well. He didn’t tell me to win, he told me to fight well. But he knew that it is impossible to fight well with madman Johnny.

I hear Johnny panting again. Mr Morris is shouting something at him, but I’m sure he’s not listening. If I get up, he’ll crush me. If I don’t get up, I’ll be called a craven until the end of my life. And he‘ll see.

“Get up, lurid piece of shit!” screams Johnny. I try to get up slowly, feeling my bones aching and my guts shaking, but he grabs my arm and pushes me on the ground again. He’s laughing like crazy. I don’t even have the time to think about what to do next, because he immediately kicks my knee. It’s so bloody painful I could cry, but I try not to scream. This is not the right moment. Not now. Not in front of him. Please.

“Johnny, you’re out!”

I’m desperately trying to avoid tears spilling out of my eyes when I see Morris grabbing Johnny’s shoulder to take him away from the ring.

“You’ll never fight again! I promise! This was the last time!”

The other boys are all looking at me. I hear some nurses approaching, but I try to get up by myself. I gaze up at Mr Jenkins and him.

But I can’t see my father’s dark coat and smoke rings anywhere.







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