THE BOY IN THE BACK OF MY CAR
Another day, another dollar!
I sighed, switched on the engine, wondering what this not-so-bright new day would bring. More of the same, no doubt. I had only recently retired, and empty hours stretched before me. Grandchildren back to school today, and the raindrops on the windscreen reminded me that the sunny weather was probably over, and Autumn well on the way.
Oh joy. Off to Asda then.
As I moved down the driveway, I thought I’d seen the blanket thrown over the kiddie seats and toys on the back seat twitch. I dismissed it immediately; I’d been caught that way before and it turned out to be a Buzz Lightyear left by my youngest grandson cranking into life with the movement of the car. ‘Yes, that must be it’ I thought, when I heard a faint sound behind me.
I looked swiftly to the side, to check there were no bikes creeping up before I took the right turn towards the trading estate, and when my gaze returned to the centre point, I saw reflected in my rear-view mirror the shape of a child’s head emerging from under the blanket. Shock or what! It was all I could do to pull up sharply without mounting the pavement. I expected to see one of my grandsons trying to escape first day back at school – but no, I saw the rather grubby face of an unknown boy of about 9 or 10.
‘What the,,,’ I began, reaching for my mobile.
‘Oh Miss, don’t call the cops Miss, please’. The child didn’t look particularly dangerous, so, having made sure the car was locked all round, I thought I had better find out more before proceeding..
‘Okay, I’m listening. Tell me why I shouldn’t drive you to the police station right now!’. Let’s start with your name. And no lies please!’
‘I’m Sammy, Miss.’
‘Go on – full name, how old are you, where are your parents, and why are you in my car instead of at school?’
Sammy grinned. Rather a cheeky and likeable smile. ‘Sammy Smith and I will be twelve next week. You worked at my school. And for your information, I’m starting at the High School. Year 7s don’t go til tomorrow.’
‘Hmm’ I thought. ‘Small for his age. Undernourished’.
‘Go on. Why are you in my car – and come to that, how did you get in!’
‘Easy Miss. I saw you come home late last night, and you left the car open while you were mucking about with keys and rubbish and that. I nipped in while you were putting the bins by the gate. You wanna be a bit more careful!’
‘Thanks for the advice, Sammy Smith. If that’s your real name. Do you make a habit of sneaking into other peoples’ cars?’
‘Now and again, when I wanna get out of the house. I had to last night, Mum was kicking off with her latest fella, and I got out before he gave me another one’
He pointed to the faint remains of a black eye.
I turned to look at him full face. I saw large bruises on his arm too. This was obviously a Child Protection matter.
I should explain I have been in education for many years, a whole lifetime in fact, as a teacher, a manager and latterly as an Academy Director, and I know only too much about these things. In fact, I know very well that I am handling this all wrong, should have rung the Police right away or at least gone straight to the Police Station. I was leaving myself open to all sorts of accusations and trouble by hesitating. But they couldn’t sack me could they! And there was something about this boy. Maybe I could help.
‘Do you want me to drive you home then? Your Mum will be worried if you’ve been out all night at your age. She’s probably even phoned the police herself by now’.
He snorted. ‘No chance. She’ll be glad to see the back of me. Her bloke will anyway. They both think I’m just a fuckin' pain in the arse’.
I frowned not only at the use of language, but also at the sentiments expressed.
‘Oh Miss’, his face screwed up and a tear crept down his cheek, leaving a heart-breaking trail of dirt.
‘If you take me home I’ll just get another hiding, and if you take me to the cops they’ll either send me back there anyway or get the Social in, and put me into care again. Last time that happened it was worse than being at home’.
I didn’t even want to imagine what he meant, there were many cases I had seen over the years that fully backed up his statement.
‘When did you last eat?’
He grinned again. ‘Last night Miss, I had some chips from the shop at tea time’
‘I tell you what I will do Sammy. We are halfway into town now. My cousin Anita is Sister in Charge of the A&E at the hospital. We will go there, I’ll get you some breakfast in the canteen and I’ll get her to check you over on her break.’
I knew this was strictly out of order, but it was a plan, and I could discuss the way forward with Anita. I texted her and we set off. She would meet us at lunchtime, and no doubt lecture me on how foolish I was being, but she wouldn’t refuse to at least make sure Sammy was medically fit. She’s always been a softie. Like me. Should be plenty of time to feed Sammy and find out a little more about him.
I thought my grandsons could pack it away, but I’ve never seen a child eat so much all in one go. Anita arrived just as he was finishing a full English and downing his second bottle of lemonade, having refused the milk I suggested.
I explained the situation whilst Sammy made use of the toilet, and hopefully the washing facilities too.
‘This, Jeannie, is not one of your better ideas’. Anita shook her head. ‘I will give him a check over, I can probably justify that as you had to do an emergency stop and he could have been hurt, but you must PROMISE me to take him straight to the police or Social Services right afterwards, come what may. I’m putting my own head on the block here too!’
A slightly cleaner Sammy emerged from the washroom, and we followed Anita to the A&E department. As we were about to enter her private office, a shrill voice called : ‘Oi Tyler Bennett! TYLER what the effing hell are you doing here?’
We turned round as ‘Sammy’ made a dash for the door, followed by a tarty over made up middle aged woman, dyed blonde hair pulled back in an untidy Croydon Facelift, rather unsteady on her feet and wearing a hospital dressing gown and disposable slippers. She had a large cut on her forehead which was halfway to being dressed by the startled nurse still sitting in a nearby cubicle holding a bloody swab.
‘And who the effing hell are you?’ She spat at me. ‘What are you doing with my boy? Some sort of perv are you?’
‘Hang about’ she said, having grabbed the squirming child’s hand, ‘I know you, you’re from the school ain’t yer? You’re the one that expelled our Marti!’
The lightbulb came on in my head. Marti Bennett! That must have been at least ten years ago, if not fifteen.
She went on: ‘Only seven he was. It was that teacher Miss Evans should have been sacked. Do you know she had him in a headlock and then locked him in the hall! Then they had the cheek to expel him!
‘Mrs Bennett, as I remember it your son had run amok, brandishing a knife at the teacher then holding other staff at bay by throwing chairs and threatenening them with a window pole with a metal hook on the end. It was lucky no-one was badly hurt. The poor teacher resigned soon after and didn’t return to teaching.’.
‘That’s the trouble with teachers these days, they don’t know how to deal with children. Too soft. And do you know what happened to Marti? He got sent to a special school and took into care. Gawd knows where he is now. In prison most likely. And I don’t want that happening to my Tyler’.
The boy wailed : ‘Mum leave it out! Miss was only trying to help. And what are you doing here anyway? Gary been bashing you again I suppose?’
‘Course not. I was just a little bit tiddly and fell against the door. Knocked meself out I did.’
‘Oh and that’s how you got that cut then? Hit the table on the way down like last time I suppose’
‘That’s right. Now what have you been up to you little sod? What’s she done to you?’
‘Nuffink Mum. I just wanted to sleep somewhere quiet for a change, get ready for the new school. Not that you’ve got me a proper uniform yet I suppose’
While this was going on the hospital Security had been called, and they in turn had put a call in to the police who arrived shortly with the hospital Social Worker in tow. In spite of Tyler’s and his Mother’s protests, the social worker took him off somewhere, and the Mother was cautioned. I was interviewed later on, and weeks later I still had not heard the outcome of the affair, and was still worrying about the fate of Sammy/Tyler, though I saw his Mother now and again at the supermarket, usually buying booze and often with new bruises.
As the weeks went on, I grew more and more concerned about this family.I wished I could’ve helped Tyler more. He seemed like a nice lad who may have a chance in life given the right circumstances. And I couldn’t help thinking about Marti all those years ago. Where was he? Had his expulsion (they call it Permanent Exclusion these days) been the right thing to do? Had he got the help he so clearly needed, which an ordinary Primary school was not equipped to give whilst safeguarding the rest of the pupils and staff? Would Tyler’s chequered home life drive him the same way? A large scotch and ginger of an evening had become a regular thing now, took the edge off the lonely days which gave me far too much time to ponder.
It was coming up to New Year, and the Christmas decorations were starting to look a bit shabby, and the tree rather droopy and tired, just like I felt. I was trying not to wonder what sort of Christmas Tyler had had when my letterbox clicked and something plopped onto my soon to be stored away Santa doormat. It was a flier. The headline read- POLICE: CAN YOU HELP? I knew. I just knew.
Covering my mouth, my fears were confirmed as i read that Sharon Bennett had been found stabbed to death at her home. Police alerted by neighbours hearing a violent argument had been called but were too late to save her. They were seeking Sharon's partner Gary Parker, who had fled the scene, and her son Marti, who had recently been released from Wandsworth prison and was thought to still be in the London area. There were also fears for the safety of Mrs Bennett's younger son Tyler, who had not been seen for several days. Any information........etc. etc..
I was so rattled, I just had to do something, t didn't want to be on my own that night so I grabbed my keys and headed for my car. I knew my daughter would be home; it would be good to talk to her, and the boys were always pleased to see me. I shivered as the cold air hit me; the temperature had plummeted since I last went out, so I popped back inside to fetch a warmer jacket for the twenty minute journey.
As I pulled out of my turning I glanced to the right as usual, in case of bikes coming up on the inside - not that there was much traffic on the road. As I began to make the turn, I must have hit a patch of ice.
The last thing I saw before the car skidded out of control towards a large oak tree, locked with my own in the rear view mirror, were the large startled eyes of a boy emerging from the blanket on the back seat of my car.....