The stern faced functionary regarded Charlie in the manner you would regard something stuck to your shoe. Her hair was tied back in a tight pony tail which lent her face a hawk like quality. ‘You were 15 minutes late Mr Donnelly and under the rules that means we have no option but to sanction you.’ Charlie looked at her with incredulity, ‘Sanction me? I’ve got a wee wan at hame, ye cannae stop my money. Have a heart for God’s sake.’ Her face didn’t change as she continued in a monotone voice, ‘I don’t make the rules Mr Donnelly, You were late so we have no option.’ Charlie looked at her, ‘I telt ye I was late because the wee yin was sick. I had tae take her tae her granny’s. How will I feed her wi nae money for six weeks?’ She handed him a leaflet outlining the sanctions process and the right to appeal. ‘You can appeal but it takes a few weeks to go through the system’ Charlie looked into her eyes before speaking in a more shrill voice ‘You people have targets for this don’t ye? Ye leave people with fuck all and go home tae yer warm hoose with no regrets.’ They woman nodded towards a security man hovering in the background. ‘John, can you escort Mr Donnelly off the premises as he is being abusive.’ Charlie looked at the woman, ‘I hope yer happy.’ She didn’t reply and looked to her paperwork as Charlie was escorted from the building. The security man sighed as he opened the door for him, ‘Sorry about this pal, I hate this crap as much as you but I need tae pay the bills.’ Charlied nodded, ‘No your fault pal, it’s those heartless bastards in there.’
Charlie Donnelly walked towards home in a slow Glasgow drizzle which seemed to reflect his mood. At Parkhead Cross he could see his old school pal Rab standing with some shady looking types. Rab, face like a jigsaw with scars, had got involved in dealing the poison which blighted the lives of so many in Glasgow’s east end and although he usually had money in his pockets he had a haggard and permanently worried look on his face. He had asked Charlie to store some of his ‘gear’ the year before and offered him £50 but Charlie knew that was a slippery slope and politely declined as he had a young kid in the house. ‘Aw right Mucker!’ Rab called to him, across the busy road. ‘How ye doin’ Rab?’ Charlie responded with a fairly fake smile as Rab’s mean faced associates looked on as if assessing Charlie. It was best to keep on good terms with such people. He headed for home and the prospect of six weeks with no money to feed himself and his daughter.
That night as he tucked his daughter into bed he told her all her favourite stories. ‘Rapunzel again!’ smiled curly haired Caitlin Donnelly as she lay, her head on her ‘Frozen’ themed pillow. ‘No more the night wee yin, time to sleep.’ He clicked out the lamp and pulled the quilt up to her chin. ‘I love you,’ he said as he kissed her lightly on the forehead, she smiled and settled to sleep clutching he dolly close to her. As she drifted off he sat for a while watching her, listening to the rise and fall of her breathing. She was everything to him and raising her on his own had been a challenge but also the greatest joy in his life. He sat on the bed regarding her for a few moments, still a little amazed that this beautiful little girl was his. ‘Night ma wee angel’ he said quietly before he slipped from the room.
Charlie laid every note and coin he possessed on the kitchen table and it wasn’t a princely sum. He had £38.45 to his name. In his wallet was his bank card, he could run the credit limit for another couple of hundred but that would need to be paid back. He could eat more at his mum’s too but the next six weeks were going to be tight and right in the middle of it was his daughter’s birthday. He glanced at his wallet noticing the green, plastic Celtic season ticket. His one extravagance was his season ticket and as he regarded it he figured quickly that it was still valid for 15 league games. He could sell on and maybe get another £150 for it. He could sell it at each individual home game and perhaps make more? He sighed, muttering to himself, ‘Oh well, can’t be going tae the game when there’s nae food in the cupboard.’
The following day Charlie dropped Caitlin off at his mum’s before heading to the Job Centre. Sanctioned or not he was still expected to look for work. He could drive and had a clean license and scanned the data base on the PC for driving jobs. The trouble was each job would have 40 or 50 applicants but he wanted to work and typed up three applications there and then. He then headed to the Forge shopping centre to pick up some groceries. Even buying the cheapest food in the store left him almost penniless. On his way out of the Forge he met his old friend Rab on his way in. ‘Aw right Charlie, getting the messages I see?’ he rasped in a voice made rough by too many cigarettes. Charlie nodded, noticing the angry red scar on Rab’s cheek which spoke of his hard life. ‘Aye Rab, no getting’ any cheaper.’ Rab nodded, ‘Mind ye can always make some good dosh doin’ a few we deliveries for me.’ Charlie shook his head, ‘I’ve got the wee yin tae look after Rab, couldnae risk it, ye know.’ Rab nodded, ‘Well the offer stands Pal, it’s easy cash and it sure beats living on dole money.’ Charlie replied quietly, ‘It’s no for me Rab.’ Rab looked into Charlie’s eyes and surprised him by smiling a little and saying, ‘You were always a good cunt Charlie.’ As Rab wandered off Charlie watched him thinking to himself that it was a strange thing to say. Charlie was sure of one thing though, getting involved in that trade was definitely not for him. The cost, to all involved, was too high.
The following Saturday Charlie pushed open the door of one of the many Celtic Pubs lining the Gallowgate. He looked around until he saw a few familiar faces in the corner and pushed through the green shirted throng. ‘Aw righ Charlie boy, left it a bit late today?’ Big Joe had the seat beside him at Celtic Park and Charlie was going one last time before selling his season ticket. ‘Aye, help up wi the traffic Joe. My Bentley broke doon.’ Joe grinned and handed Charlie a bottle of beer. He knew Charlie was rooked and arriving at the Pub so close to kick off time meant he could save face by not having to buy a round. Everyone knew he was having a hard time but no one mentioned it, he needed to keep his pride, sometimes that’s all some folk had left.
As the fans started to drift out the door and head to the game a stout man in a Celtic shirt clambered onto the stage and spoke into the microphone. ‘Right lads, the fitbaw card for the foodbank is all signed up so we can rub it oot and find oot who wins.’ The white fund raising card he held had the name of 40 UK football clubs and each club cost £2 to buy. At the top of the card was a small grey rectangle which was rubbed off with a coin to reveal the winner who would receive half the money raised. As the stout man theatrically rubbed the grey rectangle with a coin Joe turned to Charlie, ‘Bought ye a turn before ye came in. Ye never know.’ The stout man adjusted his glasses before announcing, ‘Right, the winner is York City and it’s signed up tae…’ He squinted at the name before shouting, Charlie D.’ Joe looked at Charlie, ‘Ye won ya jammy basturt! Haha. I took Celtic but I’ve never heard of them ever winning on one of those cards’ Charlie, rather shocked walked to the small stage and had £40 thrust into his hand. It was just about enough to pay for Caitlin’s birthday party with her wee pals at McDonald’s. As they set of happily for the match Charlie was smiling from ear to ear. Maybe things were going to get better.
Joe was happy for him too and Charlie would never need to know that Joe and the boys had bought every team on the card and filled all 40 boxes with Charlie’s name.
That’s just what mates did when a pal was struggling.