Heaving myself over the wall, I caught my jeans on a stone that was jutting out; cutting the denim. Safety had come at a small price. The position I had acquired looked over the last junction in the neighbourhood which had not been vandalised. The streetlights illuminated every sign, so there was no place to hide. Every other junction’s signs were missing letters to spell inappropriate words and the culprit needed to be caught. ‘Frome’ had been turned to ‘Rome’, ‘Shepton Mallet’ to ‘She Male’ and most crudely of all, the c and s had been removed from Canal Street.
I took the last red bull out of my bag and slurped from the can as I peered through binoculars which had previously hung around my neck. The reason why I was here is because I had been the target of the blame. The town had chosen their scapegoat in the form of a fourteen year old boy and were not going to change their mind. Not at least without any convincing evidence. To which I felt particularly bitter as I had been given a guilty sentence without any trial or evidence. I was guilty before being proven innocent.
Their reasoning was that I had the heavy influences of Bart Simpson and Dennis the Menace, and I had chosen to create a prank of my own; defiling the signs and the dignity of the town. I would take credit for anything that I had done, but I had not committed this particular crime.
The blame had come in the shape of one particular old man; Mr Binks. He had stated that he had seen me and claimed that I had even threatened him when he told me to stop. I had stayed quiet when even my parents asked me to take responsibility for my actions and to stop bothering ‘that poor old man’. I gritted my teeth as I remembered; a slight adrenaline surge pumped through my veins and returned me from my memories. It was my third night in a row here, watching. I had the idea of a stakeout after watching some old police movies and I thought it would be the perfect way to clear my name.
Although my eyes stung and I felt drowsy I kept my concentration up by watching for any movement, the occasional passing car breaking my daydreams. I mused on the idea that I was some sort of vigilante, taking the law into my own hands, taking after Clint Eastwood and John Wayne, although I soon settled that I was closer to Bill Oddie or David Attenborough waiting in the bushes.
Movement on the other side of the junction had stirred me. A hunched over figure with a large brown coat and a hat pulled down over his face ambled down the pavement. However, he wondered off and into the darkness leaving no trace of his ever being there apart from the slight excitement in the pit of my stomach.
The sun was about to rise on yet another unsuccessful night. Disappointment hung in the air and I wondered how much longer I could lie in wait, how many more nights would it be as it was not even clear if they would strike again. These thoughts were dismissed with a wry smile as I clutched at the binoculars to see old man Binks hobbling along the pavement with a walking stick in hand. To take away his support just as he had done to my credibility, however tempting, would be too easy. It would also lead to my final condemning and my name would be forever doomed.
I was just about to reveal my hiding place when he turned and looked ever so shiftily around him, just before the sign. He had lifted his walking stick to the sign and was using whatever device was on the end to scrape the letters off, all the time giggling at his work. I could not believe it, although he was the person I least expected. I pulled my camera out from my bag and started to take some undeniable evidence.
Caffeinated anger coursed through my veins, whilst my body tempted me into action, but I willed myself to wait. I had to change my plan. Rather than taking the pictures to the police in the morning, I would confront the old man at home. I may as well get a little of my own justice out of the old man.
I kept my eyes on him and waited for him to leave not paying any attention to his vandalism. He was soon returning home, and I slid the camera into my bag, being careful to turn it off so there was no danger of it accidentally deleting in my bag.
I trailed the criminal home careful to stay out of his view. There was little chance of stopping me now, and as I watched him enter his house he seemed to have a skip in his step. He could enjoy this as much as he wanted as he would soon get his comeuppance. After composing myself I waited ten minutes and walked up to his front door. I knocked, and waited. I knocked again louder and he finally opened the door, looking very grumpy and in a dressing gown.
“Do you know what time it is?” He blurted out the door.
“Yes, yes I do. It’s a lovely time of day for a stroll wouldn’t you say, although it does tend to get a bit chilly if you don’t wear the right clothes. You wouldn’t be so kind as to let me in?” I tried to hint that I had little purpose about what I was saying. I saw a grimace and a snare contort on his face as he saw the complete arrogance and annoyance in me, which could only be distinguished after seeing his actions and mood less than half an hour before.
“No. Bugger off.” He went to close the door, but I put my foot in the way, similar to that in an 80’s cop show.
“I asked nicely because I believe that you need to let me in, you see, I saw you. Tonight. In a place where you shouldn’t have been, doing an act which you shouldn’t have been doing.” I saw his face change in a split second, the creases falling and then scrunching up to cover the lapse in his mask. He stuttered in his reply.
“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about. Get out. You have no right and no proof.”
I quickly replied, pleased that the situation had played out just as I had planned.
“You made a mistake coming out tonight didn’t you? I got the right when you wrongly accused me, and chose to dump the blame upon me. I have the proof in my bag. In the form of pictures, but I don’t suppose you know about this new technology do you old man?” The last quip added sting to its tail, that part wasn’t rehearsed but it seemed appropriate. I was expecting him to let me in and deny everything, with bitter retorts flying my way, what came instead was, somehow unexpected, and different.
He stepped back into the darkness and let his head hang, shame appearing to permeate him.
“I am sorry. I did not mean to siphon the blame on to you. It’s just; I have not been able to escape this place for anything other than the garden deck chair. My carer, she just…” He stopped. “I am sorry. I shouldn’t unload my problems; we do not know each other, apart from through accusations, false accusations. Please just forgive me. I thought a prank would liven this place up a bit; confuse those boring sods in the neighbourhood watch.”
I loomed in the doorway, unsure what to think, this bit never happened in any of the movies and I just had not imagined that I ever would confront the person, a pang of guilt slithered over me. I felt like a boy in front of a sorry old man and that was exactly what it was. It was not hard to put myself in his position and I had a glimpse into the loneliness and helplessness of his life as he drifted back. Old family photos of lost loved ones hung down the hall; in his home he was left to swim among his memories.
“It is so easy to be forgotten and yet so hard to be remembered, I am glad you caught me, but sad that I could not carry on my late night adventures. When you reach my age you will realise that there is little to look forward to and too much to look back on. I decided to change that view and remember with laughter the nights I defiled those signs. Who cares if people discover they are turning towards Bat, or Wit? I’m sure it puts more of a smile on their face to find they are travelling towards Frome rather than the capitol city of Italy. If I were you I would clear my name. But just remember me when you do it.”
His face had become enthused as I had never seen it before. His speech had gone from rasped to almost clear. It had been a mistake to confront him, but I would have never learnt his motives. I remember leaving his garden gate with muddled thoughts and a newly empty camera. On my way back home I started to rehearse a new speech, one part that was familiar and one that was not. It was an accumulation of apologies, one in case I got caught sneaking back, the other for the crime that I did not commit.