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At dinner, he was more cooperative. I put some pies and chips in the oven and mum cut some up for him. He tried to eat it but he clearly was still in some discomfort and didn’t have much appetite. And he glanced up with his blue eyes. Now that he was better, I could see that they were large and beautiful while one of them was still half shut and puffy with a yellow and black bruise around it.
“Thank you, Maggie.” It was the first normal thing he had said to my mum. She smiled.
“That’s more like it, ah, what’s your name?” She was not going to give up.
His eyes lowered again and he didn’t reply. Mum sighed and went back to her food. Afterwards, she made tea and offered one to him, which he took, his long pale fingers wrapping around the handle of the mug, well, except the broken one that should be setting straight about now.
“You know, I can’t force you, and you don’t need to go for as long as you’re still ill. But I don’t want you to go straight back to what you were doing before.” She made the little speech like a good sensible adult would. I wondered what she knew about what he was doing before all this started. Okay, he was on the street, he took drugs. He got beaten up. But that’s not all. That’s not who he was. I wanted to know everything about him. What happened to him to put him on the street in the first place? What did he really like and dislike? I somehow knew there was an essence of the boy that was hidden beneath the battered body.
She continued, “When you feel a bit better, in a few days, I want to see if a social worker can find you a place to live and a school, you know?”
She was not going to force him. It was only an offer of help. That’s all. His face was expressionless but I knew by instinct he would leave, he wouldn’t want any help from social workers. I wished my mum did not push him too much because he would only go sooner. He seemed passive enough for now and I was quiet. He still took the Codeine tablets that were offered and didn’t speak, watching my mum with his suspicious and guarded eyes.
On Monday I had to go to school but mum was around. I didn’t know how they got on but when I went home, he was sleeping, the blanket drew up high and Ma was on her way out to her late shift. Mum gave me some cash for fish and chips from the chip shop down the road. Then she rushed out. She was always rushing, from work to the flat, to the shops. She used to drive me to football practice and every kind of sport event as well. At least now I could go around by myself. After she left I asked the boy what he’d like me to get for him.
He blinked several times, “Mushy peas.”
I laughed, “Really? That’s all you want to have?”
He shrugged, “I used to like them. But if you’re getting chips, curry sauce would be nice.” So the man had little appetite. He liked Chinese food but only if it was good and authentic. He drank tea and ate toasts and liked mushy peas. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I took off to the chip shop.
He was cute the way he ate his plate of chips, his injured hand holding onto the plate and his right hand with the fork struggling to put one chip at a time into his still swollen mouth.
I smirked, “You want me to feed you?”
He looked up and grimaced, “Fuck off.” Ha. I knew I would see more of the real him come out every day. He’s no victim even if the circumstances were not good for him. I told him more about myself. How my Ma’s a single parent and she worked so bloody hard to raise me but I kept getting into trouble at school. My “brothers” at school kinda looked down on me because I was not quite as black as they’re and I couldn’t really stand the music they liked and the clothes they wore. I played sports with some of them though and they were all right. I smoked dope and didn’t do very well in many of the subjects. I wanted to get into sixth form so I could make Ma proud of me. There will be no job for you if you don’t go to college, she kept telling me.
He finished most of his chips and all his peas. I guess that’s a good start. I raised my left eyebrow and mocked him. “You’re fond of your greens.” He shrugged. I hated vegetables but mum went on at me, so I had to finish them if she was around. She worked nights a lot, so if it was down to me, we mostly had frozen meals and pizzas and more cup noodles.
I made tea and gave him a mug while I drank my glass of coke. He tilted his chin towards the photo on the mantelpiece. There weren’t so many photographs in the house. “Is that your dad?” He asked.
The photo was taken when I was only one- or two-year-old with my parents. One of the very few of him that Ma kept and displayed. “Yeah, the bastard.”
He raised his eyebrows as if to ask why but he understood anyway. I added. “That’s before he left.”
He was gentle, “When?”
“I was five. I just started school.” I replied. I didn’t have much memory of him as a result other than that he was gone one day. Ma rarely spoke of him and somehow I knew not to ask questions. He hurt her and me, and that was all I needed to know. I watched the boy and wondered whether he knew where his mum and dad were and why he was on the street without a parent to look after him. I also understood he wasn’t going to tell me, not now anyway because he was still guarded. I wanted to change that somehow.