The Winners 2005 Under 26 Winner

I was only about eight or so when he first did it. I stood outside the school office peering through the window, judging my moment. I already knew this was not quite the right thing to do. Everyone else just seemed to bring an envelope.
I didn’t want to ask the blonde one with the sharp face, she was always so grumpy about everything. I waited patiently, one eye on the clock, smiling weakly as people passed. The chubby secretary suddenly appeared, plonking her large backside down on the swivel chair.

I whipped in and stood waiting next to her. She turned slowly, head and backside coming at the same speed. 
‘Yessss Thomas. It is Thomas isn’t it?’ she smiled broadly, waiting.
‘Um, I was wondering, well, it was my dad actually, um, could we pay our school fees in cash?’ I spat it out as quickly as possible and then waited. Chubby looked around at the other secretary and widened her eyes. 
‘I’ve got it all here with me.’ I offered. She shook her head and raised her eyebrows like a very bad soap star actress. 
‘Where exactly? In your locker perhaps?’ she questioned 
‘Oh no, it’s here Miss, in my bag with my swimming things.’ I answered. 
She groaned quietly. I thought she didn’t believe me and tipped the contents out onto her desk. My dad had neatly banded the notes together in hundreds. The smell of chlorine wafted up from the empty bag.
‘He won it at the races yesterday Miss’ I explained. 
She sat looking at the pile of notes on her desk as though they were something deeply offensive. 
‘It’s all money Miss.’ I assured her.
She scooped up the notes, cramming them into a plastic bag as quickly as possible. 
‘This is a bit unusual Thomas. Did your father drive you to school?’ she asked, her eyes narrowing worryingly.
‘No Miss, I came on the school bus. I always do.’
She groaned, more loudly than the last time. 
‘It’s ok then is it?’ I asked. 
She looked at her watch pointedly.
‘I’ll have to go to the bank, I wasn’t planning on it’ she said, rolling her eyes in that ridiculous fashion.
I was just about to leave, when I remembered what my father had said. 
I turned smiling hesitantly.
‘A receipt, Miss, my father said to get a receipt’
Snatching up a piece of paper, she scribbled and signed; her plump cheeks reddening in anger.
‘Thank you Miss.’ I smiled and ran. Outside my friends were waiting, laughing. 
‘Bet you’re the only one that pays cash Tom, bet they’ve never seen so much in one go!’
Sniggered Jamie. They all laughed.

I remembered the first day at school; we had to say what our parents did for a living.
It was becoming quite boring really, until they came to me.
‘Gambler’ I said quietly.
‘Speak up Thomas, didn’t quite hear you, what did you say, thought you said gambler.’
‘I did’ I said smugly.
Everybody went quiet for a second and then simultaneously began asking questions. 
‘Quiet’ shouted Mr Galloway. 
‘Thomas, what exactly do you mean by gambler?’
I frowned, shaking my head, what did he think I meant.
‘My father gambles for a living, he is a professional gambler. He goes to the races, reads the papers, studies the form and places the bets. If he’s lucky he wins lots of money. Sometimes he loses lots of money, but generally he has great fun.’
Mr. Galloway sat looking at me in disbelief, what was wrong with the man. He didn’t seem to understand. 
‘Thomas you are telling the truth, aren’t you?’
‘Yes, Sir. Why would I be making it up?’
‘No reason Thomas, no reason.’ He muttered.

Sometimes my father would take me with him to the races. I loved it; the whole day; the journey down, the people, the clothes, the noise, the jockeys and most of all the horses. They were immaculately groomed, beautiful creatures, their coats gleaming in the sunlight. They pawed the ground beneath them, snorting with boredom as they waited for their moment. I loved the jockey’s silks, although sometimes I suspected a blind man must have picked the colours; pink, turquoise and yellow, with stripes and spotted sleeves too, didn’t they have a mirror? My father knew everybody and everybody knew my father. The tic-tac men smiled and joked with him as he went by, patting me on the head with their tobacco stained fingers. Sometimes they gave me sweets, horrible old fashioned boiled ones. I smiled and thanked them. I gave them to our dog as soon as I got home; he loved the red ones the most, crunching them up three at a time and leaping up for more. Well, at least they didn’t go to waste.

I loved my father. So what if he was different. His money was the same as everyone else’s and we had more of it than most people. 
‘At least our fridge is full!’ he would laugh, as he rummaged around for something to eat.
‘Same as working in the City’ he would say, when my mother moaned. 
‘Buying, selling shares, it’s all gambling isn’t it, just has a different name.’ I liked that one, I used it at school. It’s a different time now, anything goes. Nothing shocks anyone.

It was my son’s first day at school last week. They asked the boys what their parents did for a living.
‘Film producer’ 
‘Party planner’ 
‘Rock star’
‘Fashion designer’
‘Personal trainer’
‘Journalist’ my son said quietly, ‘but my grandfather was a real character, he was a professional gambler, he was a racing man’ he beamed proudly, hiss voice becoming stronger by the minute. I’m not a betting man myself, but I bet he was smiling somewhere up there.