Chimney sweeping is what I was born to do since I have no arms or legs. Doctors called my missing limbs a pity or a travesty, but my parents called them chimney brush slots. I was put to work immediately.
All the other kids have to use both hands to brush, the suckers. I brush everywhere that I walk or climb or exist. I’m the most popular chimney sweep in London – not only do I have the most brushes, but I do it for free. Partly because of a love of the trade, but mostly because they refuse to pay orphans.
Good sweeping starts with the uniform. I wear only a dirty cap, marking me as a grade-A sweeper and a quadriplegic. Once in the chimney, other kids waste time with two-handed brushing or suffocation. Instead I wriggle upwards while waving my arms and legs and convulsing. I got better than the older kids by studying the inchworm, nature’s chimney sweep. I may have the mind of a 9 year old, but I have the lungs of a much unhealthier 9 year old.
My least favorite days are when the constable is about. He’s always after us street kids – not to grope us or anything. That was the last constable. This constable just wants to see us rot in prison. I always rely on my brush-feet to carry me to safety; I don’t need to be faster than the constable, I just have to brush faster than the other kids. While I am always the fastest brusher, the other kids can actually run, so I always spend the night in prison. The fluttering of my brushes in my escape attempts leave the cell impeccably clean – every time.
My brushing skills come from my training. I was dropped into my first chimney as a baby, and whatever chimney-cleaning secrets didn’t come naturally to me were very quickly learned as I tumbled down that chimney. This was a rite of passage. What fell into that chimney was a baby, but what emerged was a man, covered in soot. We don’t know who that guy was, but I emerged right after him, a limbless baby covered in soot – and a damn-good sweeper.