There was a little boy in junior school we will call Billy. One day the teacher said, "Now children, tomorrow is 14th February, Valentine's Day. What is a suitable gift on Valentine's Day?"
All the children thrust up their hands, beaming. "Well Mary?" asked the teacher. "A sweet perfumed card." suggested the little girl. "Very good", replied the teacher.
"Tony, what do you think?" "A nice box of chocolates." said the boy. "Yes, that's also a very good idea. What about you Billy?" to which Billy replied "Red roses."
"What!?" said the teacher as she staggered back in disbelief. She lunged forward, grabbed little Billy by the ear and sent the poor lad off to the headmaster's study.
"Come in" said the headmaster as Billy tapped lightly on the door. A kindly gentleman, the headmaster had many years' experience dealing with children. "What's the matter Billy? You look a little upset." he said soothingly. So Billy explained that in class the teacher had asked what a suitable gift might be for Valentine's Day, and that his answer had somehow caused offence. "And what did you suggest, Billy?" asked the headmaster. Confident that the headmaster would see there was nothing but innocence in his reply, Billy said "Red roses.”
The headmaster's face turned purple with rage. He leapt to his feet screaming "YOU ARE EXPELLED! GET OUT!"
Very distraught, Billy set off home. Mum was rather puzzled why Billy had arrived home so early and saw that he wasn't looking very cheerful. "Billy my sweetie, what's the matter?" So Billy related the whole story, but hesitated before saying the offensive words. "So what did you say Billy?" enquired his mother reassuringly.
Now Billy knew his mother for the loving woman she was, but still thought it better to avoid mentioning those two words that had, for some inexplicable reason, caused all the trouble. "Come on Billy, you know you can confide anything at all in me." "OK" said Billy, "I said 'Red roses'."
As fast as a gnat being splattered in the windshield of a National Express bus on the M62, Billy's mother gave him the most heinous spank he had ever experienced. Bruised and whimpering, he skulked up to his room. He lay trembling on his bed, wondering what would happen when his father got home. Two hours later, he heard his father calling "Come downstairs Billy, your mother tells me you have something to say." He crept slowly downstairs, still not understanding why he should be receiving so much grief over a simple, and innocent, thing.
His father waited patiently while Billy composed himself, and then quietly retold the tale. "So what did you reply?" asked his father. By this time, Billy was sure that the past must have been all a bad dream. In any case, even though Billy was still a young boy, he had had many man-to-man talks with his father and felt really quite comfortable that his father would understand. "Red roses" said Billy.
Yes, you've guessed: His father's response was explosive. "LEAVE THIS HOUSE! YOU ARE NOT MY SON!"
Poor Billy. His life was over. No family, no home, no hope. Clutching his teddy bear (to whom he had not yet confided) Billy left the house and trudged the streets all through the night. So tired, so weary, so sleepy, he curled up on a park bench to sleep.
The hours passed and the sun came up. Birds started singing, and a soft gentle breeze wafted across the little lad's face. He slowly woke up and opened his eyes, squinting in the sunlight. The fresh morning air filled him with hope as he rubbed his eyes and stretched his little arms.
"I wondered when you would wake up." said a soft voice behind him. Billy turned to see the face of a wizened old man. His clothes were in tatters and clearly destitute, but through the grime, his face shone with love. "Are you an angel?" asked Billy. "No", said the tramp. "I'm a wizened old man with tattered clothes and destitute." (You see, we were right.) "What brings a little chap like you into the world of poverty, sadness and despair?" asked the man. So Billy once more related the sorry story - without of course, uttering the fatal phrase.
"So what did you say?" asked the man. Billy thought for a while. He had lost everything. He had nothing more to lose. This stranger also had nothing, and Billy felt a certain affinity with the man. So Billy drew a deep breath and said confidently to his new friend, "Red roses".
Barely had the words left his lips and the man raised up his stick to beat the child. Billy ran. He ran as fast as he could, straight across the park as the man pursued him, leapt over hedges and through the flower beds straight to the park gates. He dashed into the road...
...and there is the end of our story. He was hit by that speeding National Express bus and died instantly.
So Dear Reader, please remember...
Before you cross the road, always look both ways.