Harry is ten years old. Every day he wishes he could earn money and buy food. Perhaps then his Mum, Mel, wouldn’t be so sad; she always tries to be cheerful but he hears her crying every night. During term time Harry eats at school but, in the ‘hungry holidays’ they use the St Giles’ church food bank; it’s that or starve.
One day in the Easter holidays, as they’re leaving church, Father Coyle approaches them. Good morning. Spare me a moment, please? This is Ros; she’s a photographer, and she’s documenting food poverty. I thought you could help her. You can always say no, of course. Just have a chat and see what you think. I know you’ll do the right thing, Mel. God bless you.
Bit pushy, isn’t he? Ros asks as Father Coyle walks away.
He’s my priest.
Anyway, will you help me tell the story of food poverty?
Why did he suggest us? Mel asks.
He said that through no fault of your own you’ve fallen on hard times.
That’s not his business, Mel sighs. But you don’t cross Father Coyle. What’s in it for us?
You’ll have pictures to look back on when the hard times are over.
Please, will you help me?
What do you want us to do?
Could I come to yours a couple of days each week for a few weeks?
That’s a lot. Will we have to do anything, like pose?
No, nothing. After a few days you won’t notice me.
Please, Mum. Can we? Harry pleads.
Okay. I’m trusting you. Remember that, Mel says.
You can. I’ll bring a permission form with me.
It allows me to take your photographs.
After one of Ros’ visits, Mel asks, Can we see your photos?
You will soon, in the exhibition.
My photographs of you are going to be up in the church.
I didn’t know anything about an exhibition.
Sorry, Mel, but it was on the permission form you signed.
Mel is nervous and only goes to the exhibition’s opening because of Harry’s excitement. Ros’ monotone photographs are heavily manipulated to produce the most dramatic effect.
An almost life-size portrait of Harry, dressed only in underpants and gnawing a bread roll, his every rib starkly visible, confronts mother and son. Gaunt and hollow cheeked, he has deep bags under his eyes. Holding Mel’s hand, Harry’s eyes fill with tears and his shoulders sag. Mel squeezes his hand. That isn’t you, Harry. God forbid, I’d ever let you get like that; I’d die first.
Ros approaches. What do you think?
I trusted you! This is poverty porn. We live here. We worship here. What will everybody think of us? You’ve defiled us with your lies.
They’re not lies, Ros protests.
Seeing Father Coyle, Mel shouts, Father! Have you seen this?
Father Coyle stares in horror at Harry’s photograph. God forgive me, Mel. I never thought … I’ll take them down myself.
You can’t, Ros objects.
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© Phil Cosker 2021
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.