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The Walk to School
'Come on then Thomas, we'll have to go right now if we're walking.'
'I'm coming, just giving James a kiss and a cuddle.' Every time Thomas says 'cuddle' I smile and remember that 'culloo' was one of his first words.
We step outside, and shut the door on the Mad House, and both pause just by the car to put our gloves on. My mum often talks about how my brother and I were always the last to emerge from school because we liked to put our scarves, hats and gloves on properly, and button up our coats right to the top. It seems that I have passed that little trait on to Thomas, who is invariably the last one to come out of his classroom every afternoon. Last week Miss Grime gave him a class point for not being the last one out. But Thomas is also a good deal different to me, because it's not only his obsessive winter clothing ritual that causes him to be the last to leave - it is also his chattering: he loves to talk to the teachers. I never much liked talking to anyone, I was such a shy child. That's where we differ enormously.
We set off up the road, hand in hand.
'Sorry mate, but we've got to walk pretty quickly today, because we've set off a bit late.'
'That's okay. I can walk fast. I can walk the fastest of anybody.' Thomas begins his morning chatter.
'Can you?' I prepare myself for a barrage of questions and delightful comments.
'Yeah, do you know how fast I can walk?' He looks at me so seriously, seeing no reason for me knowing the answer to this very difficult question.
'How fast can you walk?'
'I can walk one hundred fast.'
'Mmm-hmm. And d'you know what?' I shake my head. 'I can scooter even faster than anybody.'
'Well, you couldn't bring your scooter today because there's nowhere to leave it at school,' and I'm too lazy to carry it.
'Mmm, I know. But anyway, I don't like my scooter right now, because, d'you know why?' I shake my head again. 'Because it always makes my ankle bleed.' Thomas looks at me with his great big blue eyes, to see if I have any spare sympathy this morning.
'Oh dear.' I give my mildly sympathetic look. 'Is that when you catch your ankle on the brake at the back?' Thomas nods, and wipes his gloved hand across his nose. I pass him a tissue from my pocket, and he grins and then chuckles, and blows his nose.
'D'ooh, I forgot to wipe my nose properly. Sorreeeeee.'
I smile at him. He is hardly ever naughty anymore. I am so proud of him, he strives so hard to be good, and to be healthy too. Sometimes he tells me that he didn't like his tea, because it wasn't healthy because it didn't have any fruit or vegetables with it.
'Grandad's not in this morning.' Thomas always tells me whether or not Grandad is in when we walk past his house.
'No, he'll be on his way to work already, out before us this morning.'
'Yeah. Do you think he would like to come for a cup of tea when he's finished working?'
'I don't know Thomas, he might finish too late.'
'Can we ring him and ask him?'
'Well, not right now because he'll be driving, won't he?'
We cross the road in front of Grandad's house. Thomas has nothing to say for a good thirty seconds. Then,
'Mummy, the lollipop lady isn't there this morning. Where is she?' Thomas thinks I know the answer to every question, despite the number of times he has heard me say that I don't know.
'She's perhaps running a little late today.'
'Like we are?'
'We're going fast today though aren't we?'
'I'm nearly running!' he laughs. I laugh too when I realise that his little legs are struggling to keep up with mine.
'I think we can go a little bit slower if this is too fast for you.'
'That's alright, I'm bigger now, and that means I can go as fast as you.' I know what's coming next. 'You're not as fast as Terry though.'
'No?' Terry is my brother.
'No. He's the fastest. And he's the strongest.'
'And is he the cleverest?'
'No. Grandad Pete's the cleverest.' Thomas knows this to be true.
'What about Daddy?'
'Daddy's the cleverest too.' He pauses for a second, 'and you are as well.'
'Oh thank you.' Thomas grins up at me.
We carry on, walking fast, talking all the way, and arrive at school just in time. And even though Thomas has been at school for two years, I still feel a tightness in my chest when he waves goodbye.