Is there a future for a boy with a past?
The closer I long to be with mum, the further they take me away. It was such a long drive to here, how will I ever find my way back? As I kick into the gravel, I see a woman bouncing over towards me.
“Hello, Aaron … I’m Rebecca, I think you’ve heard about me.”
Another home, another adult getting paid to take me on.
“I’m your keyworker,” Rebecca continues in her posh voice. “And I’m going to be looking after you.”
I don’t need looking after. Her smile is too big, we’ve never even met before. Her hair is a mess of bushy curls, she should tie it back. I look past her to the massive building that stands all by itself surrounded by grass, trees and mud – so this is Templewood Community. My social worker was meant to bring me here on a visit two weeks ago but she got out of it by saying she was ill. Being here is all social’s fault – they’re the ones who split me and mum apart in the first place.
“Oh look, Aaron, fellow Chelsea supporter,” my social worker says pointing to Templewood.
I look and see a cracked window that’s been filled in with cardboard, next one along there’s a Chelsea scarf hanging down. I go to the back of my social worker’s car and stare at my bag. I feel so tired, I yawn as I pick up my bag.
“Let me help with that,” Rebecca says.
My bag’s not heavy but she barges into me and ends up snatching the bag. Now I don’t know what to do with my hands so I just start scratching my legs even though they weren’t itching. Then I think of my stick insect so I go back to the car and find that his jam jar’s knocked over. I grab the jar to me. I stare in at Bramble, his leg twitches. I bring the glass to my cheek. Me and Bramble, we’re in this mess together but I’ll find us a way out. We’ve always stuck together ever since I bought him with some money mum gave me.
I follow my social worker up these large stone stairs at the front of Templewood towards a door. We come to a space where the walls go up forever to the highest ceiling. There’s a boy leaning against a big table with his arms crossed.
“That the new little one coming to live here?” the boy says.
He’s older than me, must be eleven or twelve. I’m ten and eight months.
“Take my advice, get away from this dump while you’ve still got the chance.”
“Liam …” Rebecca says. “Stop it. And why aren’t you at school?”
It’s clear that Liam isn’t bothered by a telling off from Rebecca.
“I’ll send someone out to deal with you, Liam,” Rebecca moans on. “Now come on, Aaron, there are five groups in different parts of the main house and, as you know, your group is Sunbeam.”
My hands are sweating against Bramble’s jar. I can feel Liam’s eyes on my back as we walk over to this green door. It’s a strange door – like another front door even though we’re already inside. Rebecca puts a key in the lock just as the door is opened from inside. A dark-haired man steps out, he nods at me then marches past straight up to Liam.
“Up … Now … Get going,” he commands.
Liam curses but he does get up and walk ahead of this man out through the front door.
“That was Ben, you’ll get to meet him properly later,” Rebecca says. “Now, welcome to Sunbeam.”
Hot air smelling of fried onions covers me as we go into a dining room full of little tables covered in plastic cloths with pictures of fruit on them. On the walls are photos of children and adults acting happy. I see Liam squeezed into a go-cart with some adult, a girl stood by a pond and a boy dressed as a pirate. I’m looking from one picture to another but I can’t see Rebecca in any photo.
Derek, the boss of Sunbeam, turns up to say hello to me. He’s seen where I’ve come from because he came to visit me at my last foster home. I give him a half smile – it’s best to neither be too friendly nor totally unfriendly with men.
Rebecca says she’ll show me my room. We start up a long staircase that stretches above me. The squeaking of my social worker’s shoes against the stairs spreads out through the big empty house. My room’s small and it smells of paint. It’s mostly yellow – who’d want a yellow room? My social worker’s going on about this huge painting of Tom and Jerry on the wall.
“Did you really paint that?”
Rebecca nods. That’s not right, she shouldn’t have painted straight onto the wall.
“You are talented,” my social worker continues. “I can’t draw to save my life.”
“Well …” Rebecca says turning to me. “I have been told how you like Tom and Jerry.”
Tom and Jerry are for little kids. I was watching The Simpsons this morning, she could at least have done me something good like that. I’ve had loads of bedrooms. Small ones, large ones, noisy, quiet, bunk bed, single bed, bag on the floor, shared bed, lots of toys, no toys. Sometimes rooms with everything from beds to a fridge and cooker packed in. Homes with mum … and houses without.
“Have you seen all your cards?” my social worker says.
I’m not blind, they are right there on the bed next to some fluffy tiger.
“Looks like they’ve been drawn by the children here to welcome you.”
They’re not proper cards like you spend money on in a shop. My social worker starts reading one out, like she thinks I still can’t read.
“Well maybe I’ll go and get some drinks ready,” Rebecca says. “Follow me down when you’re ready. What do you want?”
“Cup of tea for me please,” my social worker says even though Rebecca was talking to me.
Adults are always drinking tea.
“And for you, Aaron?”
As she turns, Rebecca’s hair gets swept back to show this brown patch with hairs growing out of it on her neck – it’s the creepiest, ugliest thing. I turn away from her, I look down through the window on a person way below. I see the blocks on the window frame that mean the window will only open a crack. I realise my social worker’s following Rebecca downstairs and leaving me alone in this room. I go to Bramble and bring him out, I let him walk over my hand and up my arm. I wish there was a way of stroking him. I put him back in his jar, then place him on the bed next to the pillow.
When I go downstairs, I see two cups of steaming tea on the kitchen side. I hear my social worker’s voice coming from the living room. I put my head towards the tea’s steam and gather the saliva in my mouth. I spit into first one cup of tea, then the other. I see my gob spreading on the tea’s surface, then its edges start to slip and sink.
Suddenly footsteps are coming towards me, it’s my social worker and Rebecca. Did they see me over their drinks? Can they see the bubbles of my spit around the rim?
“Sure you don’t want a drink?” Rebecca asks me.
“Um, no … nothing.”
Rebecca hands a tea to my social worker then picks up her own. At exactly the same time, both adults bring their cups to their lips then take a sip. Yes, they’re drinking my spit. Now I’m the one who is grinning.
“You’ll get to meet the other children soon,” Rebecca says. “They’ll be back from school in about ten minutes.”
“And I’d better be making a move,” my social worker says. “It’s a long drive back.”
My social worker drinks up her tea then she throws an arm around me. My face bumps into her jacket and it feels all scratchy, I pull away. She’s going off and leaving me here with Rebecca.
At night, I lie in bed listening to people talking in whispered voices outside on the corridor. My night-light makes ghostly shapes of the things in my bedroom. Rebecca’s told me that an alarm will go off in the upstairs lounge if I open my bedroom door. I’m a prisoner.
I hear coughing, a door opens. A groan, a sound of some distant machine, a scratching. I chuck the tiger that Rebecca’s given me out of the bed and hold onto Bramble in his glass jar. I curl tight around him. Me and Bramble are trapped in a strange bed … in a horrible yellow bedroom … in a house of strangers. There are so many children and adults here, I hardly remember any names. Most of the children are total morons who play along to all the dumb rules of this place, like going to bed at 7 o’clock. Don’t they get that 7 o’clock is for babies, like the little six-month-old at my last foster home?
Rebecca says she’s sleeping-in tonight, and so is Ben. The settee in the upstairs lounge turns into a bed. It’s horrible to think about Rebecca and Ben lying on a bed so close to my room, Ben will be in charge. Christ, we then have to sit on that settee in the day-time.
I hate this place, I can’t stay … me and Bramble won’t stay. Anywhere is nearer mum than here. Any adult is better than Rebecca.
I get out of bed holding Bramble in his jar. A floorboard creaks, I stop ready to leap back into bed. I wait but hear no-one coming. I wonder if anyone cares that I’m up anyway, I wonder how they punish in this house. I put Bramble down on the table then slide open the drawer where I’ve put my special envelope. In the shadowy light, I take out the envelope and carefully open it. Curled up inside is one strand of mum’s hair, I stole it from her sweater while we stood silent with my social worker on a contact visit a few weeks ago. I put my nose in the envelope and try to breathe mum in. I close my eyes to try and see her, to try and feel her around me. I need mum, give me mum. I feel tight breathlessness in my chest and it makes me shiver.
Rebecca’s filled the rest of the drawer with coloured pencils and paper. She’s already trying to buy me with presents like these pencils and that stupid fluffy tiger I’ve thrown on the floor. I see her teeth, her grin. Her fake friendliness. Mum would hate her.
I put the envelope down, turn on the main light and take out the pencils and paper. I draw a round circle then add thick curls of hair. I draw in eyes. What colour are Rebecca’s eyes? I don’t remember. I draw in a nose, an enormous madly smiling mouth. Why’s she always fucking smiling?
Rebecca likes that I’m now even further from mum, she told me that she was glad to have me here. She’s stuck around me all day. She thinks I can be brought to her here and then she can just step into being in charge and bossing me around.
I draw in Rebecca’s neck, remembering to give her the ugly hairy mole that proves she’s some blood-sucking witch. I draw her shirt then pattern its front with a drawing of two dangling tits, like balloons filled with water. I laugh at my picture, laugh at Rebecca. I add a high turned-up collar to her shirt. I draw some fangs sticking out of her mouth then take the red pen and draw some blood dripping from her lips.
I take a pencil and sharpen its point even further. I look down at my drawing, I spear into Rebecca’s face. Then again, harder. Again and again. She’s still smiling. Cunt, fucking cunt.
As I stab on with the pencil, a chant I heard these boys shout as they did over some kid beats into my head. I make it my own now.
Build a bonfire,
Build a bonfire
Put Rebecca on top
Put social in the middle
And burn the fucking lot.
Lifting my arm higher, I stab down harder into Rebecca’s face. The point of the pencil breaks. I screw the broken stub into Rebecca’s eye. She will not survive me, she can’t keep me here. I can always think of something to break bitches like her. I fractured my last foster mum’s jaw and she was even bigger than Rebecca, I burnt another mum’s hair. I can bite, I kick, I can use knives, I can put pillows over sleeping faces.
I punch my fist down onto Rebecca’s face. I spit on her. I look at her covered in my stabbings.
I’ll wipe that smile off Rebecca’s face … forever.
Aaron arrived today with just one flimsy holdall containing the requisite pyjamas, slippers and dressing gown (all new and still in their wrappings) along with a T-shirt, two pairs of socks and three pairs of pants. No cuddly toy, no toothbrush, no comb. No photos. He says his things always get lost with all his moving about.
He’s got sticking out ears and a crooked smile, he’s got a severe crew cut. He’s got these really dark, creased lines under his eyes – how little sleep or much stress does it take to achieve those in a child? It’s surprising how much he sucks his thumb – even in front of the other children. Sometimes I look at him and he appears hard and tough then I’ll look again and he seems so vulnerable. As I read a space odyssey book to him at bed-time, he had this gorgeous big smile and seemed to really enjoy the story. He’s obviously in desperate need of attention and nurture. He doesn’t seem frightened to be here, in fact it’s odd how he’s basically just slotted into Templewood’s routines. Coming to yet another home must have become normality for him.
I obviously realise there’ll be plenty of challenges to come, but at least I like Aaron. I’m so grateful to get him as my keychild – he’s not got the chillingly threatening eyes and manner of a Liam. God, I don’t know how I’d cope with keyworking Liam (that lot falls to Ben). So, yes, my main emotion is one of relief on meeting Aaron and certainly now I have more purpose and focus at work.
I’m on a sleep-in tonight but Ben’s in the lounge with the alarms. The kids don’t tend to mess up so much when he’s around so the night should be okay.
Pete’s coming tomorrow. Yippee!
Chapter 2 will follow next month.