The Urchin

The crumpled newspaper flapping against the wall caught the eye of the small, undernourished urchin who had just furtively emerged from the back door of the cinema. It was the movement that had first drawn his attention to it, but it was the picture of the aeroplane that captured his imagination.

He retrieved the sodden broadsheet and smoothed it as best he could, feasting his eyes on the smooth lines of the amphibian. Avidly, he read the caption: "Flying ace Major James Bigglesworth and his cousin, Captain the Honourable Algernon Lacey arrive in Georgetown."

He wondered where Georgetown was. The scene looked tropical. The amphibian rested on clear water, floating lightly on its own reflection. Two bronzed, fair-haired young men in shorts looked confidently back at the camera as they made their aircraft fast.

The boy read the accompanying article, wishing he could have been part of such an exciting expedition. The two adventurers had been involved in a revolution taking place in a South American state and had narrowly escaped with their lives, the newspaper announced dramatically. He gasped, engrossed in the story. It was not the first time these intrepid airmen had had a brush with death, he noted. They were both Aces from the Great War and had been travelling in South America for several months, according to the article.

The lad shivered as the bitter north-easterly wind sliced through his threadbare clothing and brought him back to reality. Visions of a tropical paradise vanished to be replaced by a bleak Northumberland street. The rain dripped off his tousled red hair and splashed onto the newspaper. He dashed an errant lock out of his eyes and folded the paper carefully, tucking it safely into the pocket of his ragged jacket.

He had been captivated by aeroplanes ever since he had seen Sir Alan Cobham and his flying circus land in a nearby field. Since then he had read everything he could get his hands on about aviation. His determination grew that he would have to do something to get away and realise his dream. He knew that as soon as he was old enough to leave school his father would force him to go down the pit and he had no illusions about that sort of work. It was hard, dirty and dangerous. The thought of being shut underground, never being able to see the sky or feel the breeze on his cheek filled him with horror. He realised that his only choice was to run away.

One day, he promised himself as he patted the newspaper in his pocket. One day he'd learn to fly.