The new arrival

Jimmy Ryan knocked upon our front door one morning just before Christmas in 1947, snow clinging to his black moustache like icing on a cake.

“Room to rent have you, me darlin’s?” he said, taking off his shiny leather cap and winking at me as I clung on to Ma’s apron.

Ma quickly pushed me behind her. “It’s nine and six a week. Breakfast served at seven sharp, and I will be needing references,” she said, her mouth set firm as she folded her arms across her chest.

The new arrival’s swarthy face creased into a wide smile. “I’ll be paying in advance,” he said, taking out a wallet from the pocket of his grey tweed jacket. “As for the references, that could be a mite difficult, seeing as I have been what you might call ‘unwillingly detained’ for the last few months.”

Ma looked Jimmy Ryan straight in the
eye. “I keep a respectable house,” she told him, and I could see she was about to close the door in his face when he pulled out two crisp five pound notes from the wallet and held them out to her.

“What do you say then Missus – are you willing to give me a try?” he said, stamping the snow off his boots before he stepped on the coconut mat in our hall.

“We’ve got a new arrival,” I told Dad as I ran down the street to meet him from work that evening.

He picked me up and set me on his shoulders and 1 told him all about Jimmy Ryan who had moved into our back room.

“What does ‘detained’ mean?” I asked him, remembering that the new arrival had said that morning. “It’s being somewhere you don’t want to be,” he replied.

Well, I knew all about that – being at school was a place I didn’t want to be every day. “I’m like Jimmy Ryan then; detained,”

I said, rolling the word around my tongue as I ran up the path.

Our lodgers came and went quicker than I could count in those early days after the war but Jimmy Ryan stayed longer than most, right up to when my sixth birthday had come and gone. Ma developed a soft spot for him and Dad had finally found someone he could show off his pigeons to.

I loved everything about Jimmy Ryan. His thick Irish accent, the smell of the pipe that Ma let him light up for an hour every evening and the way he laughed -clasping his hands to his stomach when he rocked back and forth in the old fireside chair.

We didn’t ever find out what kind of work he did, but Ma said it must be a good job because he was the only lodger who gave her three ration books.

Then one day when I came home from school, I saw Jimmy Ryan coming out of our front door between two large policemen.

“Don’t you fret me darlin’,” he said to me with that familiar twinkle in his eye as they marched him away. Although our backroom didn’t stay empty for very long, no one ever filled it like Jimmy Ryan.

Loretta Smith, Dagenham, London