I considered her, “How do you know?” Heroin, as in the hard drug. I smoked pot with friends. I thought mum knew but I was scared of anything harder like heroin and crack. There’s enough of it going around the estate and we knew families that were drug addicts and my friends and I stayed away from them, our parents’ warning deeply ingrained in the better kids on the estate. Like I said, I wasn’t a straight A student by any means but I wasn’t so bad. My mum made sure of it.
She sighed, “The track marks.” It dawned on me then, the signs on his arms. Hard drugs scared me. I assumed drug addicts were all old and shady men though, not someone with a frail beauty and this young. “Besides, he needs urgent medical care. I.” She hesitated, “I don’t know what happened to him. What those men have done but I can’t take the responsibility.”
I read her face and I knew she was hiding something to protect me. She would have guessed what happened to the boy but didn’t want to say it out loud.
“I am going to call the hospital.” She turned to find her mobile phone.
I believed the boy had passed out but now he mumbled. I wondered if he had heard the whole conversation all along, “No. Police.” His voice was low and croaky. He flopped back after that like he was exhausted to get the two words out. He then struggled to move off the sofa, “M goin.” He couldn’t even talk properly with his mouth and face so swollen and as he tried to get up he fell onto the floor in a heap.
“Fuck!” Here I went again. I tried to manoeuvre him back onto the couch but he continued to struggle and thrash about, trying to get up. I pleaded with my mum, “Please, you’re a nurse. You can help him. He’s hurting himself to try and get away.”
Mum was paralysed for a minute watching the boy fight against me. Then she knelt down and placed her hand on his arm, “Okay. I’ll see what I can do. I’m not promising anything.” On hearing this he all but collapsed into my embrace. I could feel how thin his arms and wrists were; I liked being the one who he held onto, like he trusted me already and he was dependent on my help. I thought for a second that his frail arms would snap if I put any force on them. When he settled back on the couch, he seemed to lapse back into oblivion.
Mum told me to get the first aid kit. She put on a pair of surgical gloves and started with his face, using gauze and saline solution to clean off the blood. I could see then his eyes were swollen shut, his left cheek was puffy and black and he had a terrible split lip. All I could tell was that he was gaunt and pale, his skin almost translucent in the few places that weren’t covered in bruises. The night hum seemed louder than ever as my mum concentrated over him and he laboured his breaths.
She then asked for ice and used it to set his deformed finger in a splint, telling him at one point that it would hurt but he didn’t move and didn’t flinch. I hoped he was just so out of it that he couldn’t feel the pain too much. Or he was simply a very brave and stubborn victim. Mum carefully lifted his T-shirt that was threadbare and ripped in places. There were more ugly bruises all over his torso. The men clearly kicked the shit out of him as he lay defenceless, which made my blood boil. Mum pressed on his chest, “Can you breathe in, please? Does this hurt a lot?” He only managed some hardly audible noises.
Mum muttered to herself, “God help us. I hope you haven’t got any broken ribs.” That sounded painful. She hesitated and turned to me, “Go and get him a pair of your boxers, Jay, and a clean shirt.”
I knew where she was about to treat and she sent me away to spare me the nasties. I was not embarrassed though. I had seen boys naked lots of times when I played sports and we changed together in the locker rooms. But I didn’t argue. My mum had a stubborn streak as bad as me. In my room, I randomly picked out the underwear and top as I reckoned they would be loose on the skinny boy anyway. When I returned from my bedroom with the clean clothes, my mum was speaking to him in a hushed voice that sounded almost calm and soothing. “You need to report this to the police. What they did was a serious crime.” I assumed she meant the beating because I was pretty naïve then.
He pleaded again, like he did earlier but he was quieter now, resigned. “No police, please.”
Mum shook her head. “If I clean you up, I’ll destroy the evidence, you understand that?”
He sagged back on the couch, submitting to being at my mum’s mercy. “Please.”
Mum asked me to help turn him round so he was face down on the sofa. She tried again. “If it’s not the police, do you have relatives, mum and dad, a social worker?”
He shook his head. Ma didn’t look happy but she cleaned his asshole. I might have blushed. Okay, I did know why because I had fantasised about assholes and searched for gay porn online. Mum didn’t know that, so I hoped she didn’t see the colour surging on my face. He was not in a good way down there and it was still oozing. Mum pressed gauzes on it to soak up the blood.
She half turned to me and told me off, “Don’t stare.” Was I staring? Was it bad to want to see what wounds the boy had? It had to hurt quite a bit as my mum cleaned him up but he didn’t moan or move. Since he was now facing down, I could only see his right cheek and eye, which was wired shut.
When mum finished, she said gently to the boy, “I hope you have yourself tested when you get healed up.” He didn’t respond. I was confused about what sort of test she meant but the way she told him, she had assumed that he knew. I made a mental note of checking that out.