Socko’s First Day – Sample

The day I became a man didn’t go quite how I expected.

Oh sure, it started out the same as every other, except for one thing. The Choosing. This was the defining moment in every boy’s life, when he stepped over the threshold from childhood to adulthood. My name is Socko. I’m fifteen years old, and yesterday I was just a gawky kid from the projects — the run-down houses in the streets beyond the wall on the east side of Oxford.

Socko’s not my real name, but that’s what everyone calls me. It’s because of my socks. When I was little, I only ever had two socks; a red one and a green one. They weren’t even the same length. So all the other kids used to tease me, and yell ‘hey Socko, where’s your other pair?’ They yelled other stuff too, but I don’t want to talk about that. The name kinda stuck. I don’t mind, in fact, I rather like it — it reminds me of where I’ve come from. My real name is Andy Garrett, but nobody calls me that.

We weren’t rich. Mum took in laundry for pennies, and Dad… well I never did know what Dad did. One day he said to me, ‘Socko,’ — even he called me that — ‘Our days of poverty are nearly over. When I come home tonight, we are going to celebrate, just the three of us.’ That was the last I ever saw of him. Mum reckoned he’d gone off with another woman. Mum never was what you’d call a ‘looker’, and there were often blazing rows when Dad got home late from the pub, or if she thought he was looking at some other woman in the street a bit harder than she thought he ought to. Then the rumours started, that he’d been ‘disappeared’ — taken by the Kingsmen, who knows where, and tortured or put to death or any number of other gruesome things that adults tell their kids will happen if they don’t do what they’re told. Some even said he’d been caught selling contraband electricals. Truth is, no one really knows; one day he was there, the next he was gone.

This year, three kids from our street were up for the Choosing: me, Bert Stumble from two doors up, and a girl called Edwina Mott. We were all fifteen, and went to the same school, everyone did; there was only one school in the projects. Bert’s dad was a baker. Had a small shop over on the Cowley Road, and Bert helped out with the baking most mornings before school. Sometimes he’d bring fresh-baked bread in with him and share it out with some of us kids. It was usually burnt or the mix was wrong, but we ate it anyway. Bert was great.

Edwina was a funny one. Her skin was dark. Not proper dark like some people, but a kind of light dark, if you get me. But her mum was as fair as anything, and so was her dad. She got teased a lot at school, and sometimes when they’d been teasing me too, we’d just sit together and stare up at the wall, or go down to the river and throw stones at the fish. I liked Edwina.

Every town does it different, but in Oxford, the Choosing happens at the annual St Giles’ Fair in September. There’s always been a fair here, even before Oxford became the capital, and everyone goes. There’s stalls selling hot food and drink, and pony rides for the kids, and a helter skelter and a carousel and a big wheel that takes you high up over the rooftops. It’s always on a Sunday, so there’s no school, not that that’s a worry for us this year, and it starts off with the mayor making a big speech, then there’s the Choosing, and afterwards it’s like a big party until late into the night.

Me and Mum were ready first thing, and I was nervous as anything. I had my Choosing suit on. Mum had been saving up for it ever since I was little. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was properly tailored and the only thing I owned that actually fitted. It was the first time ever, I think, that I actually wore matching socks! Mum wore her best dress, although it was hidden under her best coat. We had enough money for a visit to a few of the stalls, but that was the last thing on my mind, to be honest.
I looked around my bedroom, at the faded wallpaper and the slowly rotting window sill, with its loose fitting windows that rattled in the wind and let in the draughts, at the bed, with its sunken threadbare mattress and springs that didn’t spring. I said goodbye to my room; for all I knew, I wouldn’t be coming back.

As we walked into town, I got more and more nervous. The wall loomed high over the city, dominating the landscape, a thirty metre tall edifice of concrete, steel and barbed wire, it circled the city, roughly following the course of the Cherwell on the east, and the old railway track on the west. Only the rich and privileged lived inside the wall, the rest of us had to make do in the projects or the ruins of the old outskirts.

End of sample


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