When I was in second grade we lived in a little street in Plumstead, East London. It was the sort of place where the houses were all joined together and everyone knew everyone else’s business. For the most part everyone was in the same boat with little money to go around.
Across the street lived a chap named Clem. Clem was one of the few people that we considered successful since he ran a construction business and owned both a van and a Jaguar when most people had neither.
Clem was well regarded and generally considered a decent sort. His wife was a permanent fixture hanging out of the upstairs window and surveying the street. Nothing much escaped her eyes.
With limited resources improvisation was the name of the game and one day I found a large piece of elastic and used it to fashion a simple catapult. To say it wasn’t accurate was a huge understatement, but what it lacked in directional ability it more than made up for in power.
I spent a happy few hours dropping stones into the little cup I had and flinging them up the street with gay abandon.
But then I pushed my luck a little too far with the size of one of the rocks. It was a little large to fit in the cup and was quite a snug fit. I figured with sufficient power it would easily fly out and, as I had done dozens for times before, aimed up the street and let fly.
Unfortunately in this case the rock did not immediately fly out, instead staying in the cup just long enough to fling around sideways and exit at a very acute angle, right into the side window of Clems van. There was a pop and the window was immediately transformed into a million small fractures, rendering it almost opaque.
I did what any self respecting 7 year old would do. I ran! I shot into our house, ran up to our bedroom at the back of the house and sat on my bed in a panic. What should I do? Did anyone see me? Could I get away with this?
Knowing that we didn’t have the kind of money available to repair a window like this I was sick with worry.
But, as I sat there, it slowly dawned on me what I had to do. It took a while, probably 20 minutes or so, but I eventually found myself walking across the street and knocking on Clem’s door.
Clem answered and I slowly stammered out. “I’m really sorry, but I was playing with my catapult and I broke your van window.”
I waited for the anger, the righteous indignation, and the demands for reparations that neither I nor my Mother had any means of paying. In those days a good whooping wouldn’t have been out of the question either, and when my Mum found out I’d get the same from her.
Instead he just looked at me and said “I know. Don’t worry about it.” And, without another word, he went back inside and closed the door. He never told my Mother and it was never mentioned again. A few days later the window was repaired and life went on as though nothing had ever happened.
I often wonder what would have happened if I had not come forth. Would the result have been the same? Would I have been the same? I don’t know, but I do know that i felt an enormous sense of relief and gratitude at how things turned out.
I never expressed my gratitude to Clem for the kindness he showed that day, so I’ll say it now.
Thank you Clem, you were a real gentleman.