It happened when Ma and I were having dinner in the front room. Well, if you grew up in a poor, single parent family in fucking East London, you were lucky to have a sitting room separate from your bedroom. Mum always said that the flat cost her half her salary, and “don’t you complain”. I didn’t. I had a box room, a single bed and I could never fault my mum for feeding me. After all, I was not even sixteen and nearly six feet tall and I ate like an elephant all the time, which was down to my father’s genes apparently. My mum should hate the way I reminded her of my dad because he walked out on her when I was only five.
Anyway, this night we were in the sitting room with our dinner hot on the table. It was only October but the sky had darkened early in the late afternoon. A loud squeak cut through the thick blackness outside. We could hear a car stop; a tyre skidded across the road right in front of our place. Two or three men got out and loudly threw something heavy in our front lawn. They shouted to each other incomprehensibly and got back in the car, the doors slamming with brassy bangs. I called it our lawn but it was a patch of grass that’s basically part of the pavement. That’s why we had all kinds of crap being dumped there all the time. The car sped off, tyre screeching with the friction. Mum and I looked at one another. If you lived in our bit of London, you kept your nose out of other people’s business.
“What the fuck!” I exclaimed and stood up to look out, expecting to see fly tipping in our front garden again. The bastards.
“Language!” Ma never failed to remind me.
Now that the men had gone, I wasn’t afraid to go and investigate. So I lifted the curtains and peered out onto the dark front, my breath misting the window up instantly. I assumed that they had left a bag of rubbish, a piece of old furniture or something like that but it was not. I screwed up my eyes to see in the dark, to make out the shape of the thing that they tipped. I could see a person’s arms and thighs that were oddly white, almost shimmering, in the night.
“Shit, mum. There’s someone out there. They dumped a body.” My heart pounded. Perhaps I grew up watching too much TV drama about crimes and detectives because my mum loved them. I did not imagine it. It was a person – a man – and alarm bells rang loudly in my head. It’s entirely possible that it’s a dead man, around our part of London.
“A corpse?” Mum was a nurse which was a good thing because she sounded curious rather than scared or panicky.
I ran out first. The man, well, a boy about the same age as me, lay there, legs drawn up. My heart thumped when I saw that his trousers were down just below his knees, his bare ass was bloody and his balls were black, like someone literally had kicked his nuts. The rest of him was the same, black and blue everywhere; his face was covered in blood. In the pale yellowy lamplight he looked dead. The boy had only a short sleeve T-shirt in the wintry frost. He had to be freezing. I could make out that he’s pale and his hair colour was light, probably blond. My eyes were drawn back to his ass and the limp penis. I couldn’t help it. I wasn’t frightened or disgusted but fascinated by the boy as if the scene put a spell on me.
My mum had come out by then and stooped next to me, watching with weariness. I could practically sense her concern vibrating in the air as she came closer to inspect the boy. She touched the side of his neck for pulse and declared simply, “He’s alive, just.” Thank fuck for the nursing profession, I silently declared, and thanks for my mother’s presence. My mum and I were solid. It’d been the two of us forever so I didn’t have a choice but to be part of the team.
She drew his trousers back up as gently and carefully as she could. Okay, yes. Give him some dignity.
“Come on, we’d better bring him in before calling an ambulance. Don’t want him to freeze to death out here.” Ma asked me and together we lifted him up. I didn’t expect him to be so heavy. As his body uncoiled, I realised he was probably as tall as me, though his arms and legs were very skinny, and his skin was freezing like we were carrying a bag of ice. With much difficulty we carried him through to our warm room.
Ma told me to put him down on the couch. I got a better look at him now, his hair was a bit long, messy and dirty but it was beige blond, and his eyelashes were so long, they formed half-moons over his eyes. Well, his eyes were both black and swollen but I could still make out the blond lashes. His thin arms had these marks on them that were just as bruised as the rest of him. I felt angry even though I didn’t know who he was. Who were the men who did this? How could they beat him so badly? What could he have done to deserve this? I didn’t even know why but I was sure he was a nice guy and he was only my age, so how come these people were so cruel to him?
I turned to see that mum was examining him too but for a different purpose, her eyes running past every exposed wound. She lifted his left hand. One of the fingers looked bent.
“Jay, we’ll have to call an ambulance and the police.” She shook her head.
“Really? We don’t even know who he is and what happened.” I reasoned. I had my fair share of troubles at school but never experienced something this bad. I just gathered that if I were him or if he was a friend, I wouldn’t like the police involved without knowing what went on. Even though mum’s white, I grew up with the black kids in the area and my schoolmates were almost all black, so I didn’t have a particularly strong trust in the police. Deep down, despite the fact that I just met the boy, I knew he’s in trouble and I wanted to protect him. If he turned out to be a mass murderer, which I doubted, we could always do something about it then.
An ambulance, perhaps.
“He’s a heroin addict. We can’t keep him here.” Her brows were drawn down, all the worries clearly written on her face.