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Forever On The Streets - Chapter One
We were always running away. I still remember, back when I was five, I was sleeping in a sleeping bag which was like three times the size of me, when I’d be shook awake by my mom or dad and told to pack up our things. “We’ve got to go move away again to nicer place” they would tell me. So I’d pack up the little stuff we had – sleeping bags, a saucepan, spoon and my only toy, a little teddy called Mavis – and we’d run off again and again, my mom and dad well ahead as I struggled at the rear carrying my sleeping bag and trying to keep hold of Mavis. Each time this happened, every single time, I could hear sirens coming closer. I had no idea what they were, only that we were running from them.
But one day, on my 10th birthday, my dad was waking me up urgently as usual when the door came crashing down behind us and two men in the same clothing came into our little garden shed that we were living in. Then two others came in, then another two, and another two: twelve men and women came barging into our home like nobody’s business. Three grabbed my dad, who struggled violently. Two grabbed my mom, who also struggled. And one man grabbed me, so I struggled as well. I didn’t know what was going on but I could tell from my dad’s roars and my mom’s screams it wasn’t good.
I held onto Mavis as my mom and dad were taken away in a car, and I was put into another car. It was a long, long journey to the building we went to. I didn’t say anything on the way, just cuddled Mavis and sucked on her left ear – a thing I did whenever I was nervous. I was taken into the building and into a huge room…well, it was huge to me anyway after living in a garden shed all my life. I was sat down on a chair for the first time ever and that was it. I was then left alone, cuddling Mavis and sucking on her left ear anxiously.
About three hours later a man came up to me. I looked up, my great blue eyes looking into his grand hazel ones, my hair of messy auburn dangling like a dead animal all the way down my back. His features were gentle as he spoke to me:
“Hello,” he said. “My name’s Mr Kensal.” I looked back down at Mavis, saying nothing. There was a long pause. “What’s your name?” I looked up at him again, making eye contact.
“Kia,” I replied.
“That’s a nice name,” he said. I looked back down at Mavis, not saying anything. There was another pause, a longer one this time, before I gazed at him again.
“When can I go home with Mommy and Daddy?” The man looked troubled by my question and turned away from me before saying:
A woman at the desk a metre or so away came up to us while he was saying that and asked if she could have a word with him a sec. Her hard-rimmed glasses and wild carrot-ginger hair gave her a stern, intimidating image. The pair walked a couple of steps and I listened to their hushed whispers, just about making out what they were saying:
“What are you doing?”
“What do you mean?”
“Getting her hopes up.”
“You are. You’re making her think she’ll be able to go back on the streets with her mother and father when -”
“Well I couldn’t exactly tell her that she’ll never see them again. That they’ve been sentenced to -”
“I don’t care! It’s not fair on her!”
“Well what should I’ve said, eh?” There was a pause where they took a quick glance at me.
“I don’t know.”
“I didn’t know either! I couldn’t exactly say that her mom and dad were to be hanged on Thursday – and I had to say something.”
The woman went back to her desk and Mr Kensal walked out of the room in a huff. A few minutes later another woman with a bright white coat came and knelt beside me. She seemed really nice: her dark skin glowed by the light of the sun seeping through the curtains and her brown eyes shone with such gracefulness she was like an angel.
“Hello Kia,” she said in a kind, tender tone. “My name is Doctor Johnson, but you can call me Tilly if you want. Now if you would just like to come with me…”
I followed Tilly to another room, all the time cradling Mavis in my arms. The room was smaller than the first room, and had a lot of shelves and tools or instruments, not like hammers or trumpets and things like that, like wires and tubes and machines that beep a lot. She sat me down on a chair and went to her little desk as I sucked on Mavis’ left ear again. After a while, Tilly spoke.
“So Kia,” she said. “How old are you?”
“And where do you live?”
“I don’t live anywhere really.” She looked up, shocked. “We’re always moving,” I continued. “We’d be sleeping in a shed or something and then suddenly we’re moving out. We never lived somewhere for more than three days.” Tilly was clearly surprised and disgusted with this news.
“Well that isn’t going to happen again,” she said, sorting out some papers on her desk. “You’ll be safe with us.” There was a pause.
“Why are my Mommy and Daddy being hanged?” I asked. I didn’t know what hanged was but I could tell from Mr Kendal’s conversation with the woman at the desk and by Tilly’s look of astonishment that it wasn’t good and I wasn’t supposed to know.
“How do you know about that?” she gasped. I shrugged, looking down at Mavis. “You know what’s going on then?” I nodded, still looking down at Mavis. “And you’re okay with that?”
“As long as we can go back home afterwards.” I mumbled, smoothing Mavis’ fur down.
“‘We’? Who’s ‘we’?”
“Me, Mommy and Daddy of course.”
Tilly stood up and walked over to a chair beside me and sat down. “Kia,” she sighed. “Your Mommy and Daddy are being hanged. They won’t be able to go home.”
“What do you mean?”
“They,” She searched for words to explain. “They’re going away…up there…” She pointed to the ceiling.
“You mean they’re gonna be killed?”
A pause. And then, “Yes.”
And that’s when I first understood my parents’ fate. I started screaming and crying and yelling as Tilly held me close and tried to calm me down. I tried to run away from her but in no time at all, five men rushed in to seize me and hold me down as I kicked and punched with all my might. I was having a fit, and the more it scared me the worse it got. My breathing wasn’t its normal, steady speed – it was now rushed and heavy, as if I had ran a thousand miles. I was becoming light-headed, and it was getting harder to breathe. Tears were streaming down my cheeks, and my throat was sore from shrieking, but I carried on.
“Her blood pressure’s rising rapidly!” I heard Tilly bellow above my screams. And then suddenly the screams died upon my lips, my eyes fluttered for a few moments and then I knew no more, only that I went limp and everything went black.
I woke up in a bed – not a sleeping bag, a bed – looking straight into Tilly’s face, which was filled with worry. I was still dozy from the anaesthetic, but when reality hit me, I shot up out of the bed. I grabbed Mavis off the bedside table and headed towards the door to find my mom and dad. Tilly’s words stopped me:
“It’s too late, Kia.” I looked at her in disbelief. Her face was sad and mournful. “It’s Friday morning. You’ve been asleep for three days – you must’ve been exhausted.”
“No,” I said, my eyes watering. “No they can’t be. They…they can’t be dead. Can’t be. No.”
“Yes,” Tilly replied. “I’m so sorry. I tried to stop them.”
“No!” I shouted at her, backing away from her, getting closer and closer to the door. “You’re lying! They’re not dead - they can’t be dead!”
“Kia!” Tilly cried after me as I bolted through the door and ran from the room. I ran and ran, not knowing exactly where I was going. I just needed to get away, find my parents. I opened the door to a room hastily and went inside, locking the door with the slide lock behind me. When I turned to face the room, I found it to have a load of plain wooden coffins on the floor in the middle of the room, their lids still off. My stomach churned from the sight of them, as if I knew what, who, was in two of them. I walked past them, peering in them, praying that what I knew in my gut was right wasn’t. My prayers went unanswered; my mom looked as though she was sleeping, only she was paler than usual and she had a bluey-black mark all the way round her neck. My dad wasn’t too far away from my mom; he, too, had a bluey-black mark round his neck. It was too late after all. I was still sobbing when three men kicked the door down and carried me back to Tilly.
The first couple of weeks in Tilly’s care were hard. All my life I’d been running away, moving from here to there, back and forth, with my parents. And now I was an orphan, suffering from depression. I’d just stare out the window of my room, hardly saying anything at all. I’d cry myself to sleep at night and I stopped eating all together. I was prescribed anti-depressants, but I didn’t take them. I was finding it hard to cope with my parents’ deaths; they were all I had, and now they were gone. I wouldn’t have been able to get through it eventually without Tilly though. She was there for me when I really needed her. She was the one who welcomed me into her home and I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for her.
Eventually I started making progress. I started to talk to Tilly more, about who the people who took my parents away were and why they took them away and hanged them. Apparently my mom and dad were wanted criminals, who were accused of many cases of theft, armed robbery, fraud and even murder. The people, police, had been searching for them for years. Talking about it sometimes reduced me to tears, but it made me feel better to understand why we were always moving, and why every time we moved I could hear sirens after us, and a few weeks on I was completely settled in. Tilly taught me to read and write, as I’d never had time to learn how to do so when I was on the run with my parents, and soon she adopted me. She bought me a silver and mother of pearl watch, with my name engraved on the back for my eleventh birthday. She spoiled me as I’d never been spoilt before. She was amazing, and I will never forget her for as long as I live. But then something tragic happened, which changed my life completely.
Tilly was like a mother to me at this time rather than just an adoptive parent, and we were really close. It was nearing Christmas and so she went out into town to get some decorations to put up. She was gone ages, hours. Then there was a knock at the door. I thought it must be her, forgotten her key again.
“What are you like?” I sighed, opening the door. “When you’ve got a key you’re supposed to use -” There were two policemen standing on the doorstep. “C-can I help you?” I stammered. The memories of police officers barging into the garden shed came flooding back.
“Is this where Doctor Johnson lives?” one of them asked me. He was extremely tall, with jet black hair and sea-green eyes, and was wearing the same grim expression as his fellow officer.
“Y-yes. Yes.” I replied shakily.
“And you are…?” the other officer asked me. He was shorter than the first one, his hair fair and his blue eyes dull, even with the sun shining on them.
“I-I’m…I’m her adoptive daughter.” I was trembling from head to foot, shuddering at the memories swirling round in my head… capturing us… my mom’s screams… my dad’s roars… the two of them lying in their coffins…
“We’re very sorry,” the tall officer said glumly. “Doctor Johnson was in a car accident earlier this morning. I’m so sorry – she didn’t make it.” My brain just seemed to shut down from the news. I was numb all of a sudden. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think. This couldn’t be happening. “Doctors tried saving her, but she suffered a fatal blow to the head,” he continued. “I’m sorry.”
I woke up in a bed – not my bed at home – staring into the kind face of a young woman with dark skin and brown eyes. I tried to get up, so that I could give Tilly a huge hug and tell her the terrible dream I’d just had, only to find it wasn’t Tilly. It was just a nurse that looked like her. The nurse stopped me sitting up and tucked me in.
“Don’t get up,” she told me. Her voice was gentle. “You need to rest.” I lay there, tears silently sliding down my cheeks onto my pillow. Oh Tilly, why did you have to go out to get decorations? Why did you have to die?
I went into depression again. I wouldn’t talk to anyone; all I did was lie there, day after day, cuddling Mavis while everyone fussed over me. I stopped eating again, and lost over two stone in just three weeks. Yet again I was prescribed antidepressants, and yet again I wouldn’t take them. They tried to make me take them - watching me to make sure I took them, put them in my food and drinks, stuff like that - but I always found ways not to. But then one night I dreamt I was telling Tilly all about how I felt and how much I missed her. And she said just one thing to me:
“Be strong. Let them help you.”
And so I did. In no time at all I was fit and healthy and back to my normal self. I did still have times where I wept for Tilly and my parents, but I got on with life. When they felt I had completely recovered, the doctors discharged me from the hospital and I was taken to social services and put into care. I hated it. The children there already knew one another and so weren’t interested in the likes of me. I clung to Mavis as I was lead to my room by my carer. She seemed really strict, and kept a firm grip on my upper right arm, digging her long sharp nails into the flesh. When she finally did let go of me, I had bright red scratch marks all down my upper arm.
“This is your half of the room,” she snapped, spraying saliva everywhere and pointing to a little corner with a bed, table and notice board. “You’ll be sharing with Robertson… OI! ROBERTSON! GET HERE NOW!” A tall, beefy looking girl came over. She was about three years older than me, and didn’t seem the type to mess about with. “This is your new room mate, Robertson,” the carer spat. “Kaya, ain’t it?” Before I could correct her, she stormed out, leaving me with my room mate.
“So,” I said. “My name’s Kia. What’s yours?” The other girl just grunted, shoved me out the way and sort of waddled off. Sighing, I put my rucksack with my clothes in and my sleeping bag that I’d been able to retrieve from the police when I’d left to live with Tilly under my bed and went to get some dinner.
I went to bed feeling sick; the food was supposed to have been shepherd’s pie, but it was more like baby food. It was all mashed together and slapped onto my plate as a pulp, and tasted like sick. My room mate’s snores echoed round the room, preventing me from getting a wink’s sleep. The bed was hard and lumpy, digging in between my shoulder blades, vertebrae and other places. I unrolled my sleeping bag and lay on that, but it didn’t seem to make that much difference. It was horrible, even worse than sleeping on the cold hard floor, like I did most of my life.
Over the next two months I went through hell; Robertson threw food at me at meal time, and knocked me while I was walking to a table with my tray so I spilt my food and drink over me. I’d get to my room to find my clothes all over the floor, all wet and soggy and trodden on by muddy feet, my week’s money for the tuck shop stolen and my bed turned upside down or taken apart – I even once found Mavis stuffed down in one of the toilets. Everyone laughed when these tricks were pulled on me; no one stuck up for me. It was the last straw, though, when Robertson and her gang getting physical; I’d wake up to find a hand clamped over my mouth as they burnt me with lighters and stubbed their cigarettes out on my neck. When it was my twelfth birthday, my carer made everyone sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me, and so the gang gave me digs, so hard that they left bruises, and then just before teatime they tied me up to the door of a toilet cubicle in just my underwear, stubbing their cigarettes out on my arms, legs and tummy. When I was finally found by my carer; she went mental, but not at the gang – at me. She ranted on: what did I think I was doing and that I’m a disgrace to the care unit. It wasn’t fair. They were getting away with it all and getting me into trouble. I’d had it.
That night, while Robertson was snoring as usual, I tiptoed out of my bed. It was 10 o’clock, so we weren’t allowed out of bed at this time. I quietly got dressed and packed the rest of my clothes, and Mavis, into my rucksack and rolled up my sleeping bag. Then, thinking it would be a good idea to do so, I unrolled my sleeping bag again and put the bed clothes and pillow, on my bed, in my sleeping bag, folding them, and then rolled it back up. I slipped it into its bag, opened the window wide…then turned back. Robertson and her gang had always stolen my money… why not steal theirs?
I knew for a fact that the gang kept their goods under the floorboards of our room – I walked in on them once, stashing away their money and candy – and the cigarettes that they ordered from friends outside the care home. Two of them had once pinned me against the wall, while Robinson threatened that if I told anyone about the stash or dared to try and nick some they’d kill me, and the other three sniggered at the terror reflected in my eyes. They thought their stash would be safe. Ha! – they thought wrong!
Robinson was a deep sleeper, so if I made the slightest bit of noise I wouldn’t need to worry. I crept to the middle of the room and started taking out floorboards. And there it was. I grabbed my rucksack and started, as quietly as possible, scooping all the goods into it. I made the slightest rustling noises at times, but Robinson slept like a baby… well a snoring, drooling troll of a baby. When the hiding place was completely bare, I replaced the floorboards, tiptoed to the window, and climbed out into the gloom.