Being a sunny day in South London and having been released early from work, I availed myself of this opportunity for a stroll around the borough which I call my home. In the neighborhood of Camberwell I chanced upon a downcast urchin, sitting on the pavement and sobbing. Inquiring as to his plight, and after the usual torrent of abuse, I was able to ascertain the following. Said youngster had been saving up his pocket money to buy a companion animal. An excellent idea, I thought and related this to him. Through a pet one learns responsibility and those lessons that are so important in adulthood. The urchin just stared at me as if I were speaking Mandarin, 'Nah,' he said, with twisted mouth, 'You is chattin shit. I just wanna ickle doggie.' I have yet to fully parse this sentence but I assume it expresses some doubt as to the validity of my statement.
In any case, having recently come into some money, by means fair or foul I was unable to determine, this boy and his yet smaller brother had taken it upon themselves to visit their local pet emporium, Camberwell Pet Supplies. At this point the tale became confused but suffice it to say that he emerged from the shop without a pet, his money or his small brother. Being of kind heart, I was so taken by his plight that I offered to venture into the shop, outside of which we happened to be standing, to retrieve his pet and his brother.
The shop is of redbrick construction as favoured by the local peasantry. The windows are grey and dirty. Tanks of what appears to be water block out what little light might penetrate into the dingy corridor that winds its way from the door to the counter. Squamous things lurked in the depths, I assumed these to be in vogue as the pet du jour. It all seemed rather far removed from my childhood companion Toby, a rather vicious little hamster. I was struck by a peculiar smell, at once animal and metal, that seemed to emanate from everywhere and nowhere. I was so taken aback that I almost neglected my errand but having made a promise I pressed on to my goal.
Behind the counter stood a slack-jawed local. His bulbous eyes, no doubt enfeebled by the lack of illumination, either interior or exterior, passed dully over my countenance. What was left of his hair, grey, lank and thin, was scrapped over his dull pate. He spoke in some barely comprehensible dialect, even more removed from English than that of the boy. I explained my dilemma and required that he return the smaller boy and either the money or the pet. He neither appeared to understand nor to hold any interest in what I was saying. Being made of sterner stuff than such a vague dismissal could deter, I made indirect threats as to may standing in the community, my work with the Rotarians and my close personal friendship with the local MP. Vague stirrings crossed his brow and he seemed to make some kind of apology. Reaching into his pocket he extracted a greasy note that he proferred and gestured in the direction of one of the tanks. I turned and faced it.
In the gloomy halflight of the shop it was neigh impossible to distinguish my reflection in the glass let alone anything in the liquid contents of the aquarium. Taking my handkerchief, handkerchief which I have subsequently had destroyed so tainted it was by the opprobium of that place, I wiped across the glass.
There looming at me from the lightlessness of the aqueous substance were the tentacles of some kind of cephalopod, engaged in the process of devouring some kind of snack, a fish no doubt. Not being familiar with this particular epibenthic creature I leaned closer, only to recoil in horror! For clutched in the tentacled grasps was not, as I had first devined, some small fish, but the shoe and foot of a small boy!
As I fell back the pet shop owner leered at me and realisation dawned on me that the shop was not for supplying pets. Indeed it was not a shop at all. Those very things in tanks that I took to be the future playthings of small boys from South London were in fact being supplied themselves with urchins as food!
I fled in terror and as I ran up Camberwell Road I glimpsed back in horror. If only I had looked up at the sign above the shop door before I had entered.