Thursday evenings were the worst, mainly because all the other evenings had something to set them apart.
On Monday and Tuesday evenings it was half price at the local cinema. We could not always afford to go both days, but when a good action film was showing every effort was made to earn the money.
Wednesday was card night for our parents, so usually all our younger brothers and sisters were taken to Bobs parents house, and we would all baby-sit. This had its perks in the form of drinks, crisps and a variety of board games to play, not to mention the essential cinema money for at least one day of the following week.
Friday and Saturday were special as there was no school the following day, and our parents were extremely flexible with our curfew times, requiring only that everything was ready for the following school week. This last chore was generally reserved for Sunday night.
This left only Thursday - boring Thursday. It was made to seem all that much worse because Friday still stood between us and the weekend. The normal way to spend Thursday was to roam the streets in an attempt to find some form of excitement before having to be home at nine.
We did not consider ourselves as a gang, though looking back now I am sure that is exactly the impression we gave. Whatever we may have seemed, we were not violent, cruel, bullies or thieves. This explained the lack of fear shown by the old man when we met him one night.
We paid him no mind at first, but when we drew level it was him that spoke first, a simple "Hello Boys."
We stopped and returned the greeting, noting by his clothes that though he was not exactly a tramp, he was certainly not a rich man. He was a black man, though that in itself would not have caused any special interest - half of our group were black, and we lived in an area of very little racial tension.
The old man asked us what we were doing, so I told him of our Thursday night problem. "I will tell you a story if you like." He replied.
John told him we were too old for stories, but some of us argued that there was nothing else to do, so the old man started to talk.
The story was of a boy growing up in a far away land, a place of pure beauty. Though we had all seen pictures of holiday resorts in magazines, the old man described the place with such clarity, the golden sands, the clear blue sea and the cloudless sky, that we all felt we were there for a time. We could barely believe it when Bob told us that an hour and a half had passed.
"We have to go." I told him and he simply nodded. "Is the story finished?"
"Oh no," he said, "Not nearly finished."
We all met up after school on the Friday. We had told the old man that we would see him the following Thursday, but we all had to admit that we were so gripped by the story that we would go and see him tonight.
We jogged through the streets to the bench we had seen him on the night before. To our utter disappointment he was not there. Neither was he there on Saturday. And so it was that for the first time since we could remember, we found ourselves looking forward to Thursday.
Over the following weeks we would cram ourselves onto the bench, or simply sit on the pavement and listen as the story continued. We must had looked an odd bunch, sprawled there with vacant expressions on our faces, simply listening and imagining as the old man talked.
The boy he told of was growing up. Times were hard in the small village, but everyone was happy and worked hard. By the age of ten the boy was a proficient fisherman and would fish before going to school. After lessons he would help his father, struggling to grow crops in the dry, dusty soil.
The man was a born storyteller. We were always so transfixed by the tale, by the way he told it, that curfew would always arrive too soon.
The story changed course one evening. The boy was turning into a man. What was more, the boy was in love.
Nagita was a girl from the same village, and there were tears in the old mans eyes as he described her beauty and how much the boy and the Nagita were in love. Unfortunately nothing was to become of this love.
Home time came too soon once again. Another week was to be spent wondering what was to happen next.
When the old man did not show up the following week we became worried. Shortly before nine we went to the police station and spoke to PC Burke, telling him of our concerns about the old man.
"Old Ben?" He asked. "I am afraid old Ben has gone. His father died the other day, left Ben some money."
"He had a father?" I asked.
PC Burke laughed. "Old Ben is not as old as he seems. In fact I knew his father. He used to tell me a story about how he was in love with a girl back in his home village, but Bens grandfather brought him here in search of his fortune, and they never saw each other again. As far as I know Ben has never been to the village. I think that is where he is now though."
We had all begun to think that the old man was the boy in the story, but we were wrong. It broke our hearts to hear how sad the ending was, but in this case the cloud did have a silver lining - the old man had finally been able to go and see the village his father must have told him of so very often.