“Why don’t you have a dad?”
“I do have a dad, he’s just busy. He’s going to come back one day and I’ll bring him to school and then you’ll all stop laughing at me. He’s big and tall, he has a gun too, if you laugh at me he’ll beat you all up.”
I turn and run away to the sounds of laughter and my classmates imitating my voice. It doesn’t happen all the time, only sometimes. When they are bored and want to pick on someone different they choose me. The rest of the time it’s the fat kid whose clothes don’t fit him properly. I’m thankful for the fat kid. If it wasn’t for him it would be me all the time. I hope he never goes on a diet or his mum never wins some money. I sit in the corner of the playground and watch. Watch and wait until they forget that they were picking on me.
They are right, I don’t have a dad. I have never seen him, I don’t even know what his name is. I don’t want to admit that to them though. If admitted then they would tease me more. If I lie it might make them think, maybe some of them will believe me and be scared. Mum says that I shouldn’t listen to what the other kids say. She says they are only jealous of me because I can tell such good stories. None of them want to listen to my stories though. If they only listened for ten minutes they would like them, they would stop teasing me then.
I hope mum hasn’t gone out tonight. I have a new story that I want to tell her. She hasn’t been home in the evenings for weeks, when she gets back I am already in bed asleep. I know we need the money but she spends it all anyway. If she isn’t home tonight I’ll just go and see the nice old lady that lives in the block next door. I wanted mum to be the first to hear it but I just can’t keep it in anymore, if I don’t tell anyone I’ll forget it. The other kids have started to tease the fat kid. I think it’s safe to go back out onto the playground.
As I walk towards them I kick a stone that’s lying on the floor. Pretending to be a football player. Pretending I am at Wembley and about to score a goal in the cup final. One of the other kids comes over and joins me. He’s not my friend but he doesn’t tease me. He talks to me about football and what he does at the weekend. If none of the other kids see him, he sometimes walks back home with me after school. He lives on the floor above me. He said his mum doesn’t want him to walk back with me but he doesn’t care. Just don’t let her see us together.
As we kick the stone back and forth he asks me what I am doing after school tonight. I tell him that I need to go home and see my mum. She’s been busy working recently. I can see a smirk on his face as I say it. One of the other kids calls out to him and he runs off, leaving me to the stone and my imagination. The teacher told the old lady, Mrs Smith, that I have a vivid imagination. Mum was busy so she couldn’t go to the parent’s evening. Mrs Smith said she would go instead. I don’t really know what a vivid imagination is. I do like to dream though, even when I am awake I still try to dream.
Back in the classroom the teacher gives us some work. It’s boring. I wish she would give us something exciting. If she gave us something exciting she wouldn’t have to tell me off for daydreaming. I look around the classroom at all the other children. Some of them are sleeping and some of them are doing their work. The teacher isn’t paying any attention. The fat kid is playing with his ruler. I sometimes wonder if one day he’ll go crazy and kill us all. I hope he doesn’t, maybe I should make friends with him. Then he might not kill me, just kill all the others.
The bell rings and the teacher lets us go. I run out the door as fast as I can, the quicker I get out the further away I am from the kids that walk the same way home as me. I look back and can’t see any of them. I walk slower, if I get home too quickly mum might not be there, the later I am, the more chance there is that she’ll be home. I wish she would take a holiday like some of the other kid’s mums. I don’t think she has ever taken a holiday. As I walk across the park our estate comes into view. I can see the windows to our flat. It doesn’t look like anyone is home, I don’t know why but just by looking at the windows I know if someone is inside or not.
Our estate is big. Big tall, long buildings. We live on the bottom floor so I can play football outside the door if mum is at home and busy with work. There are ten floors above us. I always wanted to live on one of the higher floors, if I lived on one of them I could look out across the city. I can’t see anything from my window, only trees. The boy in my class who lives above me said at night you can see all the lights from the other buildings. I asked him if I could come up and see it one time but he said his mum doesn’t allow anyone inside their house.
There is a park just outside the door too. We don’t use it though. At night some of the older kids hang around there smoking and drinking. There is broken glass all over the floor. One of the little girls that lives next to Mrs Smith went in there one day and her hand got pricked by a needle. They had to take her to hospital. Mrs Smith said the needle could make her very sick. She has to wait for three months before she knows if she is okay. Now none of the other children will play with her. Even my mum said don’t play with her and my mum doesn’t care who I play with.
Next to the park there is a newspaper shop, an off license and a fish and chip shop. Sometimes when mum has come money she lets me go to the fish and chip shop to buy dinner. I buy a battered sausage and a large portion of chips. If I have enough money I buy a coke too. Mum sends me to the newspaper shop to buy her cigarettes, I am supposed to be 16 to buy them but the man doesn’t care, he knows they are for mum. When he gives me the cigarettes he winks at me. I feel bad because sometimes I steal a chocolate bar when he turns round to get the cigarettes.
I’ve only been into the off license once. They only sell beer in there and the man wouldn’t let me buy it for mum. He said if she wants it she’ll have to come and get herself. I know he sells it to the other kids though. I see them at night when I am kicking the ball against the wall. I’m not sure why he doesn’t like me. After that day I went home and wrote a story about the man and he got eaten by a lion. I told it mum and she really liked that one. I hope she likes my new one, it doesn’t have any lions but it has a dinosaur. Mrs Smith will definitely like it.
Our flat is right in the middle. There are nineteen on our floor and ours is number 9. Last year mum stopped working for a few months. She said she needed a rest. She painted the door red and put some flowers on the windowsill. When she went back to work I tried to keep the flowers alive but they died. I gave them water every day but it didn’t seem to work. The door is dirty now too, one of the windows has some cardboard in the corner, someone throw a stone at it. I don’t know why. I remember it frightened me. Mum said not to worry, it was an accident, I am not sure it was though.
I open the door and call out. There is no reply. The house is empty. I look into mum’s room to see if she has been home recently. Her clothes are all over the floor and I can smell her perfume. Her room is different from the rest of the flat. The walls are a dark pink colour. There is carpet on the floor too. It’s clean, the clothes just making it look messy. There are mirrors on the wall and she has a lamp on the table next to her bed. I’m not allowed to go in but when she is out I always open the door to have a look.
The living room doesn’t have much in it. There is one sofa, a wooden chair in the corner and a small table with the television on top. We used to have a coffee table in the middle but it disappeared one day. Mum said she threw it out because she didn’t like it but I looked in the rubbish tip outside and couldn’t see it. Maybe someone came and took it away. The floor has no carpet, only black tiles that are freezing cold in the winter, especially if she forgets to pay the electricity bill. Last year when she forgot I could see my breath in the air. I took some sheets from my bed and pretended I was on an expedition to the Antarctic to find some penguins.
My room is the smallest. I have my bed and a small wardrobe to keep my clothes in. There is no carpet in my room either. The walls are painted white, I want to paint them blue but mum says I’ll have to wait until next year. Underneath my bed I keep some of the books that I stole from the library. I push them right into the corner so that she can’t find them. Not that she comes in here anyway. Just in case, though. If she found out I was stealing books she would never let me go to the library again.
It’s nearly summer time so the house isn’t very cold. It doesn’t get dark until very late either. When it doesn’t get dark until late I can stay outside playing football for longer. I can stay at Mrs Smith’s for longer too. She doesn’t like me to walk back home in the dark. I am not scared but she says some of the older kids might cause trouble and she is too old to walk back with me because she’d have to walk back on her own then. I think she doesn’t want to see mum, but maybe she is right, it isn’t very safe around here at night.
Looking out the window I see some of the other kids playing football. I really want to go out and play with them but they won’t let me. They call me names and say bad things about my mum. Instead I just watch them from the window, hoping that they can’t see me. Every time I watch them playing I hope that they will stop playing and call out to me to come and join them. I can show them how good I am then, I could even tell them about myself, if they knew about me they wouldn’t hate me anymore.
As the light begins to fade their mum’s call out to them from the windows above. None of them wanting to hurry inside. If it was my mum calling me I would come in as quick as I could. They don’t seem to care though, they see their mums all the time. I only see mine when she isn’t busy at work and that’s not often. When they’ve gone back inside I think about sneaking upstairs to one of the balconies and looking out over the city. I hear a loud bang from outside, one of the older kids is playing with a firework. I change my mind.
I think about the presentation that we have to do at school tomorrow. We have to think of a place that we’d really like to go to and describe it to the rest of the class. I still can’t think of somewhere that I’d really like to go to. The teacher says it has to be real, I can’t make it up. One of the books that I stole from the library is the Jungle Book. I’m not sure if it’s real or not. Mrs Smith said it’s in India but I don’t believe that there are animals that talk in India. I think I will choose the jungle in India, I just won’t talk about animals that talk, I can have animals though, especially tigers, I love tigers.
I don’t know what the jungle looks like, I can only think of it as how I imagine. I close my eyes and pretend I am there in India. I can see really tall trees, the top is completely green, the sky is covered with only small bits of light coming through. It’s hot, really hot. I am wearing only a t shirt and some shorts. Above me I can see monkeys swinging through the trees, screaming out loudly, telling all the other monkeys that there is a small nine year old boy walking through their jungle. They hold their babies close to their bodies as they swing through the trees.
In front of me there is a river. I can see a crocodile waiting. Patiently waiting for something to come along that it can eat. A small deer is next to the river drinking water. The top of the crocodile glides along the surface silently, the deer unable to see or hear him. As the crocodile is almost upon the deer one of the monkeys above lets out a loud screech and the deer turns and runs back into the green forest. The crocodile angry that he has to wait longer to have his dinner. The monkeys above laughing to themselves having ruined the crocodile’s plans.
Across the river I spot a tiger. She moves slowly through the forest, frightened of nothing. The monkeys stop laughing and swing back through the trees. The master of the forest has arrived and everyone is making way. From across the river she spots me, only looking briefly before carrying on her way. Not bothered about the strange, small boy walking through her home. Maybe she thinks I am not enough to eat, she wants something bigger. Even the crocodile has swam away. Away from the beautiful cat to find somewhere he can wait in peace, away from the monkeys too.
As the tiger walks off to find her dinner a large bird flies down from the trees and perches on a branch next to my head. A parrot. He looks at me with curiosity, his look asking what am I doing here. Am I lost? I shake my head in reply. He lets out a loud sqwuak and flies away again. It is so peaceful here. Only the sounds of the animals and the water flowing. I’m in a place where nobody can tease me. I wish I could wait here all the time, each evening I spend on my own waiting for mum to come home I wish it was here in this forest.
I jump to another loud bang. This time it’s not a firework but the sound of the door closing. It has gotten dark without me noticing, mum has arrived home. I haven’t turned any of the lights on so she probably thinks I am asleep. Her footsteps sound clumsy, as though she is tripping over. I know she isn’t wearing her high heels because I saw them on the floor when I looked in her room. She goes into the kitchen and I hear the sound of her lighter. The same sound for the next ten minutes. I quietly take off my clothes and slip underneath the covers of my bed. Hoping the door will open just a crack and she’ll look in.
Another twenty minutes pass and there is still no sound from the kitchen. Maybe she is tired, sometimes she falls asleep on the kitchen table. I hear the sound of the chair moving against the floor and my heart jumps. Her footsteps get closer to my door and then stop just outside. The door opens slightly and I can just see her face from the light coming from outside. She is smiling, but her hands are shaky, the door wobbling slightly back and forth. I pretend to be asleep. I’m annoyed that she didn’t come home in time for me to read my story.
Silently she closes the door. I hear her footsteps go into her own room, the sound of her falling onto her bed. Tonight she is back early, I hope she will be awake in the morning. I want to tell her to take some time off, she looks tired lately. She won’t listen to me but I can try. I drift off to sleep, flying back to the jungle that is my new safe place, where even the animals won’t tease me or eat me. Where I don’t have to wait each night for mum to come home. Where I don’t have to pretend that I have a dad.
I’ve let him down, I know that. When I look in at him at night I know he’s still awake, I can’t bring myself to talk to him, what am I supposed say to him? I don’t think he’s as innocent as he makes himself out to be, surely he must know what’s going on. The kids at his school, I knew all their mums when I was at school, they like to talk, but what else can I do? I can’t take him out of school, he can’t be hanging around here all day. Anyway, I want him to be at school, I want him to do well for himself, I can’t have him ending up like me.
I am getting more and more tired of all of this. Standing around on lonely street corners every night, when it’s all finished going to some manky old squat and then coming back home. What kind of life is it? There ain’t anything, if I was on my own I reckon I’d just end it all, but I couldn’t do that to him, I might not give him the best life but it would be better than the life he’d have in some home or with some family that don’t really care about him. I’ve tried to get out of this circle before but I always fail, I don’t know how to live any other way.
The road is dark, next to the old canal, the streetlights aren’t all working, I’m used to it, I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be scared. Well scared like most people think, you know? Scared of being murdered or raped, I don’t ever get scared like that no more. What’s the point? If I was I might as well stay at home and then we definitely wouldn’t have nothing to eat. When I say I’m scared, I’m scared of myself, scared of what I am doing to myself, scared of what I am doing to the boy, how is this all going to affect him when he’s older?
At the end of the dark road I turn onto the high street, there ain’t anyone about at this time of the night apart from a couple of homeless old boys. I suppose it could be worse, I could be one of them. I have something I can hold on to. The walk back every night is the worst part, the shame is all over me, my body constantly feels dirty, sometimes I walk back slower, just to make sure that he’s not awake to see me come in the door. I know that’s what he wants, but I can’t face him, it’s too difficult.
If his old man had stayed around I wonder if it had all of turned out like this? I doubt it, I wouldn’t have to do what I do. It was all different when he was around. He looked after me, I’ve never been able to look after myself. He’d of looked after the boy too, the day he walked out, it was the day that led us all to this. I still don’t blame him, I can’t, he didn’t know what to do, he couldn’t handle it all, he was scared and he ran, if I had the choice at the time I think I would have ran too. I didn’t have that choice though, I had to stay.
I remember looking into his big blue eyes as he lay in my lap. I knew I couldn’t leave him, I couldn’t give him to no one else. I promised myself that day they I would do the best I could for him, try to give him the best life I possibly can, it ain’t really worked out like that, I’m still trying but I’m starting to give up hope that things will ever work out the way I wanted them to. People will probably say it’s my own fault, it’s because I am selfish, but I don’t know any other way to handle life. I was too young, they don’t think about that though do they? They just want to put you down all the time.
There’s a couple of kids in the park, not sure what they are doing but it’s probably not something good at this time of night. I know some of them going in there to do gear. When I see them in there I want to shake them, I want to ask them what the fuck do they think they are doing, why are they wasting their lives going down the same fucking road that I went down. They probably think it’s one of them roads where you can just turn around and walk back, but it ain’t, it’s nothing like that, it’s a long straight road where a brick wall follows right behind you.
The house is quiet, he must have gone to bed because none of the lights are on. I wonder what he does in the evenings? I don’t ask because it makes me feel even more guilty. It’s always so fucking cold in here, I really must buy us a heater so he can keep warmer at night, I meant to buy one last week but I forgot. I sit down at the kitchen table and smoke a cigarette, and another one. I’m starting to feel sick, the goose pimples rising on my skin. I’ll wait until I’m in my room though, it feels better when you tease yourself, it’s the one rule I have as well, only in my room.
I stand up and look at the small mirror that’s on the kitchen wall. My eyes are dark, my face skinny and pale even with make up on I look ill. How must he feel to have this come home to him every single night? I light another cigarette and sit down, I’ll take that mirror down in the morning, I don’t want to have to keep looking at myself when I get in. One last cigarette before I go and check on him, I have to smoke at least three, I’m nervous, I keep waiting for the day where he isn’t there when I get home, that he’s had enough and ran away.
I look through the crack in the door, he looks asleep but I’m sure he is awake. There’s a small smile on his face, he knows that I’m here. I’m feeling a bit shaky so I hold on to the door handle, I don’t want to walk away just yet. I can’t believe that such a complete waste of a fucking life like me could have created something as beautiful as him. I don’t know where he got his intelligence from either, I doubt it was from me, well it can’t of been. I kiss my finger tips and blow it towards him, smile and walk to my room, the sickness is coming fast and I need to stop it.