Just his name set something inside me ticking.
We hadn’t had one of those before. After years of Johns, Stephens and Pauls, he sounded exotic, unique. He looked it too. Blond. Not the yellow of the
straw in my rabbit’s cage, but the shiny vanilla of the Milky Bar Kid.
I showed him up to his room whilst his social worker went into the office to talk about him with the staff. He stared at me as I walked by. His eyes were
blue. Bluer than mine.
‘Hello,’ he said quietly. One of his front teeth was chipped and I climbed the stairs, delighted with this tiny flaw. Our feet squeaked on the grey lino,
his footsteps echoing mine.
‘You’re in here,’ I said, opening a door at one end of the corridor, ‘with the others.’
Each wall had a single bed, draped with an orange counterpane.
He put his suitcase on the bed right by the door.
‘That’s Kevin’s, that’s Tony’s. Patrick’s got the one by the window and the radiator as he’s been here the longest.’
‘I’m down the other end of the corridor. I’ve got a room all to myself.’
‘How long have you been in here then?’
‘All my life.’
I couldn’t help smirking at his wide eyes.
‘How old are you?’
‘Nearly ten,’ I said, cautiously.
‘I’m ten already.’
We both straightened up. I was taller by an inch or two. He looked away, missed my triumphant smile.
‘Do you want to see my room?’
He nodded and followed me down the corridor. I stopped at the door to each room. Caroline and Kate’s, Pauline, Laura and Sharon’s. They all had the same
sour air, the same beds with identical orange counterpanes. I pointed out the airing cupboard, the hatch to the loft, the medicine cupboard. A narrow shelf
ran around two walls of the bathroom, plastic beakers lined up on top, the flannels on the hooks below like limp flags.
‘That’s where yours will go,’ I said, pointing to a gap in the middle.
I didn’t let him into my room, just opened the door. Neatly spaced pictures of T-Rex and Slade covered the wallpaper I’d chosen to match the red of my
counterpane. A transistor radio stood on the windowsill alongside books arranged in height order, from a large Collins Atlas to a pocket-sized guide to
Indians. I held the door open long enough for him to be impressed then closed it quickly.
‘What’s in there?’ he said, nodding at the next door along.
‘A bathroom - but you have to use the other one.’
I stepped into the bathroom but kept the door open and unzipped my jeans. Pee splashed back from the toilet seat onto my jeans. I zipped up and wiped my
hands on a bit of toilet paper.
‘You can’t go in there either,’ I said, pointing at the next door. ‘That’s where the grown ups sleep. Auntie Peg and Uncle Derek you have to call
‘Why, what do you call them?’
‘Mum and Dad.’ I let the words fill my mouth. ‘I’m not in care.’
He blinked several times and I thought for a moment he was going to cry.
‘David!’ Mum called up the stairs. ‘Can you bring Ivan down? His social worker’s going now and she wants to say goodbye. Bring the suitcase with you too as
she needs to take it back.’
We walked back to the boys’ room.
‘You’ve got the bottom drawer, of course.’
I pulled the drawer out. The slip of paper sellotaped to the rim says ‘Christopher.’ I picked at the edge and pulled; it came off easily. Christopher
hadn’t lasted long.
‘You’ll get a label later.’