Little Jamie huddled up in the corner and held his battered Teddy Bear close to his chest. The stench of urine and human waste from his potty did not bother him. After twelve years in isolation, he was used to it.
The dark, damp loft had been his prison ever since he could remember. His mother, though a religious woman and an ex-Sunday school teacher, had regretted ever given birth to the bastard in the loft, as she liked to call him. The shame of being raped almost thirteen years ago was her secret, which she would take with her to the grave.
She had concealed her pregnancy from the few friends she had, and had resigned her scholarly post nearer the time of the birth. From the day that Jamie was born, he was treated with derision; an unwanted brat delivered from the loins of Satan.
Jamie made his way to the crack in the tiles, his only communication with the outside world. Because of the lack of height in his prison, the boy walked with a stoop, not unlike an old man. He brushed away the cobwebs and squinted when the offending light hurt his eyes. The darkness was his solace, his sense of sight obsolete in his black world.
He focused on the green grass that swayed with the cool sea breeze; the sea that he had never set eyes on. Jamie longed to touch the grass and feel the enigmatic wind against his face, wondering how it would feel. The squawks from above made him smile, and he imagined the seagulls that he had only seen in a book. The books being one of the rare luxuries he was allowed.
He cocked his head to the side to hear the children playing, their joyful screams reaching his dungeon. Jamie turned his back on the children and sat cuddling his Teddy, as the tears streamed down his face. Human contact was something he had not experienced, apart from his brief sessions with his mother.
He switched on his torch and picked up his bible. The artificial light was not needed, for he knew every word of the good book off by heart, owing to his mother’s urgings.
He heard the footsteps climb the staircase and put his hands together. He prayed that his mother was in a forgiving mood. He scrambled over to his potty and scooped up the waste that had missed its target, and placed it in its rightful place.
The trap door opened and he trembled when the shaft of light invaded his home. He heard the usual disapproving mumbling coming from the mouth of his mother and feared the worst. Her head appeared through the opening and she shone her torch towards him.
“I hope you ate your lunch, boy.”
She continued her ascent, holding a bowl with one hand and the ladder with the other. Jamie, aware of the routine, crawled on all fours towards his mother and accepted the bowl of porridge. Porridge for breakfast, soup for lunch, and porridge again for supper. There was never any deviation in her ritual, except for Christmas, when he was allowed biscuits.
His mother crawled towards him on her knees and faced the thin boy. “Tut, tut, tut. Potty before supper. How many times do I have to tell you?”
The splinters from the floorboards bit into his bare knees as he crawled towards the potty. Carefully, he picked up the container and trembled when the beam of light from outside the attic illuminated him.
“What is that, Jamie? Tell me you haven’t spilt your filth on the floor?”
“But, Mama, the potty was almost full.”
She ignored her son, grabbed his long, dirty hair forcefully, and dragged him towards the soiled floorboards. She forced his head downwards and his struggle was in vain. “Lick it! Lick up your filth, you bastard!”
Jamie wretched and threw up, an action that fuelled the anger in his mother even more. The redheaded woman clambered over to where a cane was standing, as the boy began to whimper, knowing only too well his fate.
“Drop your trousers this instant!”
The boy did as he was told and turned to face the wall. The raging woman stooped over and brought her cane powerfully against his already ravaged buttocks. Again and again, she swished the cane, until her body was covered with perspiration.
“Behave like a pig and I’ll treat you like one. Now, squeal! Do you hear me, squeal?”
Jamie did as he was ordered, squatted on all fours and imitated the call of the pig.
“Not my books, Mama. Please, not my books.”
The cruel woman scooped up all of the books. “Read your bible and ask God for forgiveness. The books will be returned when I think fit.”
With the closure of the trapdoor, the loft was once more shrouded in darkness. Jamie knelt and sobbed loudly, feeling the warm blood trickling down his legs. He was unable to sit down after the vicious assault. He reached for his Teddy Bear, his only friend in this cruel world. A crack of light held his attention. He scampered over to the source of light, to see the trapdoor had not been closed correctly. The light disturbed him when he lifted the trapdoor, and he withdrew back into his corner.
He waited for two hours, hoping to hear his mother retire to bed, but no move was forthcoming. Jamie made up his mind and crawled quietly towards the trapdoor. He opened it fully and sat grimacing, with his spindly bare legs dangling. He turned and lowered himself, dropping to the landing with a bump.
He waited a couple of minutes, and satisfied he had not been heard, he proceeded to descend the creaky staircase. The sound of voices halted him in his progress, and he remained rooted to the spot. Never before had he left his prison, due to his mother’s insistence. The red glow of the lamp fascinated him, along with the ticking wooden fixture that hung on the wall. He watched the pendulum swinging to and fro, before three loud cracks disturbed him.
Jamie crouched down to see his mother asleep on an armchair. The light from a large box flickered, and the boy watched in amazement as tiny people moved around inside. People were shooting at one another; people who wore uniforms.
Disturbing scenes reached him; scenes of devastation. The man inside the box talked of an aircraft crash, and pictures of debris were spread across a mountain.
Next, the man spoke of murder; something Jamie’s mother had talked of before. The photograph of a young girl covered the screen, and her weeping parents pleaded for her safe return. Jamie sat on the staircase, mesmerised by the box and the man who reported the news.
The picture changed to a street in Israel, a place familiar to Jamie. Palestine and Jerusalem were mentioned, thrilling the boy, who hoped to catch a glimpse of Jesus. The picture of Jesus was not forthcoming; instead the camera zoomed into the carnage of a bus that had been the victim of a bomber. Tears streamed down the cheeks of the naive spectator when the man told of seventeen victims, including six children.
Again, the scene changed, to a large ship off the coast of Iraq, and the narrator told of the impending invasion of the Middle Eastern country.
Jamie looked towards his sleeping mother and approached cautiously. Her face was as white as snow, and after careful examination, the alarmed young boy saw a trail of blood escape from her mouth. Jamie reached down and shook her vigorously in an attempt to waken her.
“Mama, Mama, wake up. Mama!”
Jamie bowed his head in confusion, unsure what to do. He approached the front door warily and opened it slowly. He felt the cool breeze against his face, and the tears turned to laughter, his mother for the moment just a memory. The numerous coloured lights mingled with the stars and the moon, and Jamie was overcome with emotion. Only in picture books had he ever seen such things.
Attired only in a shirt, tank top, and short trousers, Jamie left the house. His bare feet moved rapidly over the concrete, his body stooped over, and his head looking towards the heavens. He ignored the pointing children and ran towards the sound of the sea.
He giggled wildly when his feet made contact with the gritty sand, vaulting over the dunes that stood in his way. He stopped suddenly, and wept with delight, watching the lights out at sea. Slowly, he approached. The breaking surf crashed against the rocks and dampened his feet. Onward he went, until the water was up to his knees, the sharp pebbles beneath the surface of the waves ignored.
The sound of a squawking seagull overhead held his attention, and he giggled hysterically. He took a few deep breaths, inhaled the fresh air, the saltwater dowsing his face.
A sharp pain in his back disturbed his merriment, and he turned to face a barrage of pebbles that were projected towards him.
“Let’s do the scruffy bastard!” Was the cry.
Three youths approached, their onslaught unrelenting. Pebble after pebble found its target and Jamie covered his face.
“Who are you, tramp?”
“I’m Jamie,” mimicked the tallest of the boys, who waved a penknife menacingly.
“Cut him, Davy! Cut the bloody hunchback.”
Jamie turned, ran along the beach, and looked back over his shoulder to see he was being chased. He turned towards the sand dunes and headed back towards his home. His pursuers had finally given up the chase, but Jamie’s pace was constant. He slammed the front door behind him and sobbed when he focused his eyes once more on his dead mother. He ascended the staircase slowly and placed the ladder in position. After entering the loft, he pulled up the ladder and closed the trapdoor behind him.
Jamie reached for his Teddy Bear and bible, before he cuddled up in his corner. He closed his eyes and slept.