Friday, 2 November 2012

Oh When The Saints

A Short Story by Gary Walker.

Everyone in Lowestoft knew Jimmy.
He could be seen on most mornings hurrying round the town, head down, chattering to himself, carrying his brown attache case. If anyone spoke he nodded, pointed repeatedly to himself and grinned: 'Me, Jimmy.' Otherwise he bothered no one.
He was small, with black spiky hair and darting eyes set in a tiny nut-brown face. Winter or summer, he wore the same blue suit, red pullover and bow tie. His widowed mother had looked after him all his thirty years and saw to it that he appeared on the streets every day clean and tidy, with three pound coins in his pocket. Jimmy never needed it. There wasn't a shopkeeper who hadn't at one time treated him, or a citizen who hadn't gone out of his way to help. If they laughed at him it was in a kindly, tolerant way, looking on him, not as some halfwit, but as one who's mind was different from theirs. Almost, they envied him, he was so happy with his lot.
His little case contained three items only: the first a tin of polish, the second a brush, for Jimmy loved nothing better than to shine his shoes. It was the third article in his case, however that gave Jimmy the most joy. He wouldn't let anyone touch it. Not even his mother. It was his. 'Me, mine. Me' Jimmy,' he'd say. Lovingly he'd show it to anyone - his telescopic silver-plated bandmaster's conducting baton.
Jimmy's greatest delight in all the world was to go down to the Market Square, or across to the park, and imitate Bandmaster George Fuller leading his men. If the band played Oh when the saints go marching in, Jimmy entered into seventh heaven. It didn't matter a scrap to him that he'd beat time so fast his stick would become a silver blur in the air; he just kept on going furiously until the band caught up with him and they could all finish together. When the applause came it was as much for him as the bandsmen, Jimmy thought, and no one begrudged him such private glory.
One day Jimmy lost his baton - stolen for a giggle by a group of youths as he knelt to polish his shoes in the High Street. A second only, off guard, and the stick and the thieves were gone. Jimmy went wild. He tore his hair, and ran round in circles, shouting what he believed to be bad words. For two days he was inconsolable. Mile after mile he ran round the town, searching everywhere, his little body full of terrible despair. Then he saw a man with a case similar to his own and attacked him. The police were called and they took Jimmy home to his mother. The policeman promised Jimmy he would leave no stone unturned in searching for his stolen baton.
Within twelve hours the baton was found and returned, and Jimmy's agony was over. No names were mentioned and no one was prosecuted, but Danny Snyder, and his mate over the following weeks had more flat tyres in their scooters than the rest of the town put together. After that Jimmy was more careful than ever. He slept with his baton under his pillow.
Two months after Jimmy had seen his baton returned it was to be the night of The Grand Festival of Music, held every year at the Church Hall. Jimmy sat with his mother at the back of the hall, resplendent in a new suit, with his precious case safely stowed between his legs. He realised it wasn't proper on this occasion to conduct with his own baton, but was content to help the band along by beating time unobtrusively in his lap, using both fore-fingers and a lot of concentration. In this way the band got through Selections from Showboat and the James Bond Theme Tunes. Then it came time for the big finale with George Fuller as Bandmaster. George called upon Danny Snyder, as the youngest member of the band to conduct his fellow bandsmen in the playing of Oh when the saints go marching in.
Danny Snyder stepped from his seat in the cornet section, but no further.
Someone in the gallery shouted: 'Never mind about Danny Snyder. What about Jimmy? What about Jimmy? Give him the honour!' For a moment there was stunned silence in the hall.....then just as suddenly everyone started clapping and cheering, simultaneously struck by the brilliant rightness of the suggestion. 'Yes,' they all cried, turning round in Jimmy's direction, urging him forward. 'Come on, Jimmy, bring your baton!'
The vicar didn't like the idea, nor George Fuller, but it was difficult in an instant to do anything without appearing less than Christian. And in seconds it was impossible. When it became clear to Jimmy that he was being asked to conduct the band for real with his own Bandmaster's baton, there was no stopping him.
He was now in the aisle, and marching forward. Cheers carried him all the way to the platform on the stage, and not one person in the hall could doubt this was to be Jimmy's finest hour.
He had watched George Fuller often enough to know how to start by tapping the music stand for attention, and this gesture he copied perfectly.
Instruments at the ready, tongues prepared, the band and everyone in the hall waited.
Jimmy started.
Oh when the saints....he brought the basses in. Go marching in....the brass trombones. Oh when the saints go marching in. Oh Lord I want....to be amongst that number. WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN!
It was a glorious moment for Jimmy. Taller than he had ever been in his life, he was in control of his band. Full control.....until Danny Snyder's tiny revengeful pride became evident. With a wink in his mates direction, Snyder started slowing some bars, then rapidly increasing the tempo in the next, and in no time the whole band was playing chaotically out of rythym and out of tune. The more they tried to correct themselves the worse they became.
Jimmy didn't know what to do. It was beyond his comprehension. All he knew was that his beloved Saints shouldn't be sounding the way it was, and he could only think that he should beat even faster.
Someone at the back of the hall started to giggle, then another, and soon the whole hall was rocking with laughter. The braying band in front, and the bellowing laughter all around was the worst noise that Jimmy had ever heard in his life. He pushed his little fists into his ears to block out the bedlam of the world around him.
As suddenly as they had erupted into laughter seconds before, the hall froze to a silence. The Vicar stepped forward and led Jimmy from the platform, and his mother took Jimmy home.
Jimmy spent the following day sitting silently on a chair, his arms folded - as if he were cold.
Try as she might, his mother could not get Jimmy to speak, or to move. He showed no interest in his case, or in polishing his shoes. In the evening George Fuller came round to apologise on behalf of the town, but Jimmy showed no sign of knowing who the Bandmaster was.
Jimmy doesn't spend his days on the streets of Lowestoft anymore, he sits in his chair with his fists in his ears.

The End