The Library of Fire and Apples
“Single file!” The librarian shouted. “Best of manners – it is 1936 and the opening of the Children’s Library. Behave!”
Well-dressed children in suits, overcoats and woollen tweed hats tried to be good, but waiting was too hard. Boys and girls knew each other and were counting down the moment until the doors opened for the first time. Kenneth stood alone in the queue. He knew no one in London and it would be an hour until he met his dad inside the library and headed back to the farm. The wind was bitter cold and his legs shivered. His dad said there would be a roaring log fire to sit by and he didn’t want to miss out.
“You heard her. No pushing,” said the boy in front of him. He was with another boy and both looked posh in city clothes. They ate Penguins chocolate biscuits and looked Kenneth up and down. Kenneth felt out-of-place in his worn-out country shorts and woollen pullover. He lowered his felt cap, so as not to look at their smirking faces. He’d never had money to buy those biscuits. He dug his hands deep into his pockets and gripped the home-grown apple.
“Oh look, George,” the posh boy said to the other. “He’s got something in his pocket.”
George nudged his friend. “Let’s see what he’s got, Arthur. Maybe he’d like to share it with us? Got some chocolate, have you?”
Kenneth ignored them.
“Don’t they teach you how to speak in the country? Probably can’t read either,” one of them said.
The adults were shushing and reminding them that there was to be no running, throwing, shouting or laughing. Finally, it was Kenneth’s turn to enter inside.
The room was amazing. It had wooden wall panels with stained-glass windows, dressed in golden velvet curtains. Books lined shelves in rows and chairs were tucked into small tables with lamps. A picture of the famous book: The Story of Doctor Dolittle was framed. Kenneth smelt a vase of fresh sweet peas. Then he saw the magnificent fireplace. He grabbed a copy of the Magnet and Gem comic and sat down on a big cushion by the fire. His legs felt the warmth. It was such a special place for children.
“Oh no. You’re not sitting there.” The two posh boys stood over him. They grabbed the comic out of his hands and threw it across the floor.
“Go and fetch it,” one said. The other boy up-turned the big cushion until Kenneth fell off, and sat on it himself. Kenneth wasn’t going to be bullied. He pushed the boy off. The other boy went chasing after the comic.
“See George,” he said to the boy. “He looks at pictures. He can’t read.” With that, the boy threw the comic into the fire.
The librarian saw what happened and immediately came over.
“Get out this minute!” She marched George and Arthur outside and then returned to Kenneth.
“Kenneth,” she said. “Those boys are nothing but trouble and you ought to stay away from them.”
Kenneth stood up. He wondered how she knew his name.
“You can help me make a display of books. I have a delivery coming in and you need to find some books for me.” Kenneth was happy to know that he was not getting thrown out of the library. He found the books and brought them to the table. He wondered why the books were about the countryside. Kenneth’s dad arrived with two big baskets of apples.
“Oh that’s great, Fred!” The librarian said to Kenneth’s dad. She turned to Kenneth. “Now young man, take one of those baskets and stand at the entrance. Every child that leaves, gets to take an apple home.” Now Kenneth knew why his dad wanted to meet him at the library –- they were helping with the display.
A long line of children left with an apple in one hand. Kenneth felt proud of his farm. He looked across the road and saw Arthur and George, staring back at him –- they were now the ones who were missing out. Kenneth decided that they had been punished enough. He threw them each an apple. They nodded thanks and walked on.
It was time to go but Kenneth’s hour at the library was so much more than a warm fire and shiny apples –- it was a place in the city for any country boy to belong.