I turned into the entrance way to the block of flats I now called home. I stopped dead. There was a pile of black plastic sacks at the bottom of the steps, awaiting refuse collection. I had one of those uncomfortable flashbacks which could still be triggered after all these years.
Black plastic sacks were always the indication that another move was about to take place in the Assessment Centre. Strange really when I know now that moves were always supposed to be discussed and planned in advance and explained to the young people concerned. Somehow nobody who I met who ‘cared’ seemed to know that.
Black plastic sacks had another sinister memory for me as well. When I was six, the chopped up bits of my mother’s body had been found in one beside the disused canal, but I didn’t find that out until I was sixteen! When I was six somebody decided that it was better for a small boy to think his mother had gone away and had left him and his bigger brother and two sisters.
Whoever that was could never have known what it felt like to think that your mother had thought so little of you that she could walk out one day and never send you another birthday card, or get in touch at Christmas. How could you feel worth anything, or have any confidence in yourself, not to mention any trust in anybody else in your life?
This got even worse for me when I finally found out what happened and that my older brother and sisters had known for most of the time. And of course, when the full tale of how my mother had been on the game to try to make enough money to keep us together and that it was one of her customers who had first beaten her to death and then hacked her apart to fit her into a bin bag was told to me, I fell apart. What sheltered sixteen-year-old would cope with this news, especially since it was not told kindly, but in a spiteful way by my long time foster mother, who had finally got exhausted by my demanding behaviour?
It started with her red in the face screaming, “Who do you think you are? Your mother was a common prostitute, boy.” After a deathly silence I turned to my brother who was still in the foster home with me. “Tell her, Kev.” I pleaded. “Tell her Mum was beautiful, but she just got tired and went away for a bit of a rest. And she’s still looking for us, but since they let our flat to somebody else and moved us here she can’t find us. I always said we should wait at home for her to come back. Tell her.”
‘Mum’ as she had always wanted to be called snorted. “Oh yes, boy, we all know what you think. You’ve not stopped telling us for the last ten years. We know that according to you your beloved mother was a perfect lady and that you are all really members of the upper crust, roughing it with us poor people. Well, sonny, it’s time you heard the truth.”
It wasn’t a pretty story, but Mrs Green delighted in giving me the full details. I could never think of her as ‘Mum’ again. I lost it completely and flew across the room at her. Punching, kicking, lashing out. I was letting out all the hopes and fears of the last ten years. In my heart I had known that, if she had really wanted to, our Mam would have found us. But I had always hung on to the hope that one day she would come back. She could not simply have cared so little that she dumped us. Especially since she must have known that Social Services would move in and grab us once they found out we were on our own. Even though I was only six the last time I saw her, I still remember that this was something which worried her. She was driven by the idea that she had to keep up our standards, so that ‘they’ had no excuse to move in on us.
Over time I came to realise that this was the main reason for her going on the game. To keep us all fed and clothed, - and we always had nicer clothes than most kids we knew, - she had to get more money than her shifts cleaning offices brought in. She was truly beautiful and looked after her appearance even in that cramped little flat. So how she came to go with the rough man who killed her was a puzzle, except that she needed more money for school uniforms for my sisters when she got them into a really good school. Otherwise she would have been more likely to have the Headmaster of that school for a client than the man who got jailed for her death.
But all this knowledge would come later. Just at that moment I was raw and angry. I left Mrs. Green cowering in the corner and moved on to wreck my bedroom. They had provided for me well over the years and there were lots of things to break up and throw out of the window.
Apparently Mrs. Green called her husband home from work and a man from Social Services came so that they could have a meeting. Only this time I was included. I’d been there nearly ten years, and over that time there had been lots of visitors before, including this man, but I had always been sent to my room, or outside to play, or to one of the Greens’ relations for the afternoon, or later given money for the cinema. None of these visitors had ever spoken to me, or asked to see me.
When it was too late, I found out that there should have been somebody there for me. If there had, maybe they would helped me with my fantasies and explained the truth is a kind way, - if there could ever be a kind way to tell a growing boy that his mother had died in the most appalling circumstances.
Even now I can’t bring myself to use the words ‘prostitute’ or ‘prostitution’. Somehow ‘on the game’ doesn’t sound so bad. And knowing that she did it for us kids is better than her doing it to get money for drugs or drink.
Anyway, in the meeting the Social Services man told me the outline of the story. My brother Kevin, who was also there said it was true, as far as he knew, and that my sisters had known from the start and that he had known for ages. When had they planned to tell me? I asked. The man said frankly he had always thought it was a mistake not to be honest with me from the start. It was also a puzzle because the Greens had said they wanted to adopt all of us at the start, so it would have been better for them to have me not believing Mam was alive and would one day come back. But I suppose those who had to deal with things at the time were in shock too and didn’t stop to think it all out. Also I have come to realise that people aren’t always logical, or consistent, especially in crises.
That day, if I had flung myself at Mrs. Green’s bosom and cried and wanted cuddles, the rest of my life would have been quite different. But when you have just been wounded in a most terrible way you don’t think ahead, especially at sixteen. Now I feel a bit sorry for Mrs. Green, but she was the grown-up in the situation and she had behaved like a spiteful child. Maybe I was one member of the family too many for her. After all, she and Mr Green had seen my sisters to the end of their ‘good school’ and into jobs, places of their own, marriages and even acted as doting grandparents. Kevin was nearly finished at university and had always been a model ‘son’ in their eyes.
On the other hand, I can see that I had been a restless, unrewarding child, always waiting for my Mam to walk up to their front door and scoop me up. When she didn’t come year on year I became more frantic and my behaviour got more extreme and unpredictable. I was sulky and resentful round the house and a nightmare at school. All Mrs. Green wanted was for me to be warm and cuddly towards her as she tried to be to me. Mr Green wanted me to be interested in some of the range of hobbies he tried to share with me and not to have to come home from work to a war zone every night. If I had known the truth then, would it have been easier for me to be what they wanted? Or would it indeed have been too much for a little boy to cope with? Too late now.
Anyway, after the meeting it wasn’t long before my relationship with black bin bags started. Mr Green took me upstairs to start to rescue some of my room, but Mrs Green decided we needed to go to the park. While we were out she packed up everything of mine, broken or not and bundled it all into some bin bags. They were waiting in the hall when we got back.
So was a social worker, who smiled too much and was obviously fearful that I might launch myself at her. She said she had come to take me to the Assessment Centre for a few days while things got sorted out. Mrs Green walked into the kitchen and shut the door. Mr Green helped carry stuff out to her car and Kevin tried to reassure me, but obviously he wanted to keep Mrs Green sweet, because he needed to stay put until he was ready to go it alone and that was some way off.
Next month we find out what happened at the Assessment Centre, and more.