The Boy in the Subway
by Tony Webb
I met my wife for breakfast.
in the bookshop café at the Dylan Thomas Centre.
A peaceful haven amongst books and old pictures.
I ordered hot chocolate, knowing this would bother her.
The cream on my lips and other parts of my face
were bound to annoy.
‘Why can’t you drink it like normal people?’ she said.
Who is this normal person who stands invisibly behind
my shoulder, setting examples I can never follow?
I bit into my sandwich.
‘”Masticate discreetly” the menu should say,’ she said.
That was it.
I got up and left the building, and headed for town.
Down into the stinking subway:
‘Built in 1966’.
Half-way along, I noticed the youngster.
Knees under his chin, squatting and begging.
I normally would have given him a pound,
but I was angry.
Someone was going to cop it.
I let rip:
‘What you need is a job instead of scrounging!’
‘I want a job,’ he answered. ‘I can’t effing get one.’
I set out to expose him.
‘Follow me, then. I own a shop in High Street.
I’ll give you a job right now,’ I said.
I was out to reveal his fakery.
‘Great!’ he said, jumping to his feet. ‘I’ll do anything!’
We were nose to nose.
he was already four steps ahead of me.
I wasn’t the first to try this ruse.
What now? Apologise?
‘Sit down. Who’d employ you, you scrounger.’
‘Eff you, you’re not effing normal!’ he replied and sat back down.
I walked briskly out of that putrid chamber,
Escaping the clammy town air.
Two weeks later, I was back in the Dylan Thomas Centre.
Books on the shelves, the same pretty pictures.
I ordered hot chocolate and sat down,
alone and unhindered.
Someone had left a copy of the local newspaper.
There was a headline:
‘MAN, 19, FOUND DROWNED IN MARINA’
There was a hazy photograph; his school prom.
It looked like him,
the boy in the subway.
It looked like him,
but I can’t be certain.
I can’t be sure.
Tony Webb is a poet and singer-songwriter, based in Swansea, Wales. Brought up by his Communist grandparents on the East Side of Swansea, his values were forged in a hotbed of socialist debate. These working-class roots continue to imbue his writing with a heady mix of the personal and political.