As he turned onto Juniper Drive, the evening sun cast long shadows over the brooding tenements, and his mood plummeted. He had been in dreamland. What was the point of wishing and hoping when this was his reality? He felt the buildings press in on him: the grey verandas with their shabby shirts and tattered trousers hanging lifeless in the still air; the coal smoke oozing sullenly from soot-blackened chimney pots high above; and the wild grasses and weeds crawling from untended gardens, spreading their long green tendrils across the footpath.
Children were playing on the road like urchins from a Dickens tale, wearing hand-me-downs too big for them or fit only for the rag-man. Girls chanted ‘Blue Bells, Cockle Shells’ whilst leaping from square to square, oblivious to everything except the rough chalk lines of their hopscotch. Stephen trapped a wayward ball and tapped it back to some lads playing three aside with goalposts marked on the road by cans and jackets. Some toddlers peddled tricycles past him, their bare knees angled outwards, backs hunched over handlebars, and bells and hooters clanging. They might be poor, he thought, but these kids are happy. He knew that would change by the time they reached their teens. He had seen it happen often enough before. A few would escape their surroundings and make their way in the world while others would remain imprisoned here forever.
He vowed not to let that happen to him.
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