John slept soundly for the first time since running away. And, as the smile on his face suggested, happy dreams filled his head. But, although he could see his mum playing in the sand, something wasn’t quite right. A mixture of alcohol and tobacco filled the air around him. He felt a tickling sensation; the way his mum used to run her hand over his legs when they’d be lying together in their sofa bed. He tried opening his eyes but they were glued shut. He tried to scratch the itch on his leg but his arm wouldn’t move. He tried the other arm, but that wasn’t working either.
He drifted off again and could see his mum leaning over him, smiling, telling him everything was going to be alright, get plenty of rest and she’d see him in the morning. As she melted away he felt himself being rolled from his side to his back, and tried again to open his eyes. One of them managed to half-open, enough to make out a silhouetted shape, vaguely familiar, but too close for comfort.
Mr Porter sat running his hand up and down John’s bare leg, getting higher all the time. John’s confusion multiplied and he tried to push himself up on the couch, but his arms had no strength. He attempted to tell Mr Porter to stop, but couldn’t get any words out, as if he’d forgotten how to speak. He tried shouting, but when he took a sharp intake of breath he tasted Mr Porter’s stale breath, and only a slight groan escaped. With stomach churning and the taste of sick slithering up his throat, he lay paralysed and feared for his life. Mr Porter must have put something in the hot chocolate. He’d been drugged. He was sure of it.
John could only lie and listen as Mr Porter’s breathing quickened.
As his hand crept up the inside of John’s thigh, Mr Porter’s grip tightened and the couch squeaked with displeasure. John could feel tears welling, but summoned all his strength for one final push, and started rocking his body until he rolled himself off the makeshift bed.
“Are you alright, young John,” asked Mr Porter, jumping to his feet and fixing his bath robe. “I was just checking on you. Making sure you were getting a well-earned rest. I thought I heard you talking in your sleep. Hope you weren’t having nightmares, you poor wee soul.”
Mr Porter offered to help John back on to the couch, but the fall had stirred John enough to jolt most of the sleepiness away.
“I’m okay,” John snapped. “I can get myself up.”
He stood up, swayed a bit and tried to steady himself before falling back on the couch.
Undeterred, he sprung back up and attempted to shake the remaining weariness from his limbs. “I’m fine now.”
Mr Porter smiled and reached to put a hand on John’s shoulder. “Take it easy, John. You’ve been through a lot recently. Try to get some sleep and I’ll make you a nice breakfast in the morning.”
The room was still spinning for John. He removed Mr Porter’s hand and sat back down on the couch, covering himself with the quilt. Mr Porter left the living room and John tried to gather his thoughts.
‘What was Mr Porter up to? Surely he wasn’t going to…? How could anyone do that, to me, especially Mr Porter? He’s always been like an uncle. I’ve had sleepovers here in the past and shared his bed many times when my mum didn’t come home. How can I trust Mr Porter now? He said he’s going to take me to see my mum. Is it all a lie? Perhaps everything he said was just a big whopper. Or maybe I was dreaming after all. I’m so tired.’
John cleared his head, looked around the room and put his mind into problem solving mode.
‘Mr Porter said my mum’s working near Anderston. I noticed Anderston train station on the railway network map. I’ve an idea where it is. But I can’t walk along the lines to get there; it’s in the city centre. It’ll be far too busy, and full of tunnels.’
He stood up, wobbly at first, but walked around the room to shake off the remaining drowsiness. Pacing helped him think. And the more he paced the clearer his thinking became.
‘Tomorrow’s Monday. The streets will be busy. But most kids my age will be at school making it more difficult to walk the streets without standing out too much. If only I had enough money for bus or train fare. I have to take the gamble of being seen by the police. Mum always told me there’s no reward without risk. I’ve taken many risks to get this far. I’ve got to get there. I’ve just got to.’
The first hint of morning filtered through the curtains. John started getting dressed into his still damp clothes, taking great care to make as little sound as possible. He looked around, noticing his trainers were missing. He then put his hand in his jeans pocket; no sign of his last pound coin. All ready to leave, but shoeless and penniless. He needed a plan. A fast plan. There was only one thing for it. He decided to rob Mr Porter.
His mum always told him stealing from other people was wrong. But this was different. Mr Porter tried to steal something from him. Something more valuable than anything money could buy. The decision to rob him proved easy enough. The reality of performing a robbery provided the problems. Elephants regrouped in John’s stomach at the thought of it.
He remembered hearing some of the older boys in the home boasting about robberies they’d daringly carried out. Most times he didn’t listen to them, and thought they were just lying to make themselves seem harder. But one story had always stuck with him, and this gave him the first clue where to look for cash.
In the kitchen John started searching every cupboard and drawer. To reach the highest cupboards he lifted over a kitchen chair and climbed on top of it, trying not to slide off it because of wearing just his socks. He moved various tins and packets of food around like a puzzle until he found what he’d been hoping for. Hidden behind tins of beans, right at the back of the last cupboard, he struck gold. Nescafe Gold. He stretched to reach for the coffee jar, which was full of pound coins. His fingers just reached it and he had to tip it in order to let if fall into his hands.
He turned to climb down, but his grip wasn’t great and he dropped the jar. His heart skipped a beat as he thought of the noise it would make if it hit the worktop and crashed onto the floor. With lightning speed he flung his left hand down and only just managed to catch it before it hit the worktop.
His relief turned to horror when he looked up and saw Mr Porter walking slowly towards him, wearing nothing but a pair of dirty white Y-Fronts and a toothless smile.
“What’s that you’ve got, Johnny boy?”
John froze to the spot, knees trembling, causing the chair to rock.
“There’s nothing to be nervous about, Johnny. I’m sure we can come to an arrangement that suits us both.”
Mr Porter got closer and closer, reaching out to
help John down from the chair. John didn’t know what to do. He’d been caught stealing red-handed. His heart and mind raced away from him.
‘Mr Porter might hand me over to the police. I might go to jail. My quest to find my mum would be over, just as I was getting close. God knows what else he might do.’
Survival instincts, learned from his mum, kicked in. With all the force he could muster he crashed the jar of coins down on to Mr Porter’s old, bald head.
Dazed, Mr Porter took a step back, rubbed his head and looked at his hand. No blood. He smirked and moved forward again.
“I only want to help you, John. I’m sure we can help each other.”
John let him have it again with all his might. He hit him so hard, the chair rocked and he lost his balance and footing, falling off the chair into Mr Porter. Together, they fell to the ground. John landed on top and felt Mr Porter’s sagging skin sink and stretch as he tried to crawl off him. He broke free, but Mr Porter grabbed his ankles with both hands and started to pull him back.
“Not so fast, Johnny. What’s your rush?”
John’s fingernails scraped the linoleum as he tried to get a grip. He twisted and turned, managing to break one foot free. With that foot he landed a few solid blows to Mr Porter’s face, causing enough damage to force Mr Porter to let go of his other foot in order to protect his face.
“So you want to play rough, do you!” Mr Porter shouted, as he grabbed John’s ankle again.
John noticed the jar of coins lying next to the fridge and made a grab for it, but it was out of reach. He lashed out with his feet again and managed to wriggle free. After picking himself up, he ran to the opposite end of the kitchen and turned to see Mr Porter smiling, preparing to get back on his feet. John picked up the jar, ran over and smacked Mr Porter on the forehead. It shocked him but didn’t stop him trying to get up.
“I’m going to punish you for that, Johnny,” he growled.
John held the jar with both hands and crashed it down on Mr Porter’s head, once, twice, three times. Mr Porter sank, whimpering, blood leaking from an open wound in his head and dripping over the floor. John stood, arms raised, pumped and ready, waiting to see if Mr Porter was going to make another move.
He didn’t wait long. Mr Porter grabbed John’s ankle and tried to sweep him off his feet with a sharp pull. But John was expecting it. He kept his balance and landed several more blows to the already damaged head. After Mr Porter let go of John’s ankle, John hit him once more and stepped away, breathing hard but not in tears.
Mr Porter lay motionless in a pool of blood. John nudged the frail, old body with his foot until it groaned, confirming he wasn’t dead. He considered hitting him another couple of times, but decided it best to just get out of there as quick as possible.
After a quick search for his trainers, John checked Mr Porter was still breathing. He made his way to the front door and began unlocking several chains and bolts, using the kitchen chair to reach the top ones. With pockets full of pound coins he headed into the dawn of a new day.