‘Come along, come along. You know the drill. Two years, that’s all the time you get. Did you learn anything?’ I looked around at the piles of bags. This was my life, in four suitcases and three cardboard boxes. They weren’t even the large cardboard boxes, more like the classic ones that people get when they’re told to clear their desks.
That’s what this felt like. It wasn’t leaving home. It was getting the sack. But a two-year tenure is all you get, unless people want to keep you.
People never want to keep me.
‘He was just far too sullen.’ That was the Buckleys. I thought they were nice, and I tried. I tried so hard to smile and be happy but there was always the threat of that two year sentence. It only got worse on that
‘We just couldn’t get through to him.’ The Rashid family, of New Birmingham. They never even tried. They threw stuff at me in the hope that I’d stay quiet and leave them alone. They only wanted me for the credits. I’d been twelve years old when I started. When I left, I swear I was fifty.
‘He only cares about himself. He wouldn’t lift a finger to help.’ The Harpers. They never even noticed. I did little things. I was waiting for them to ask me but they never did. Not once.
The Hollands said that I was rude and truant. I learnt every day, I just didn’t learn it from them. Which brings us to now.
‘We’re really sorry. He’s just so unruly and insists on associating with those rejects. The ones that weren’t claimed. We don’t know what he does, or where he goes, but he comes in at all hours covered in I can only hope is mud and…’ Marianne descends into sobbing. Must be useful, being an actress when it comes to handing children back to a state that doesn’t care. Mister Robson (I’d never been allowed to call him Mark) just stared on quietly. He’d said maybe four words to me in the entire two years.
Mr Ellison called me to the car. ‘You realise you’re going to have to try. This is your last one. After that, you’re stuck with the Outcasts. You’ve seen them already, I hear.’ He shuddered. Only the naughty children go to the Outcasts.
‘Then why don’t you take me on Mr Ellison?’ I asked, far more sharp and bitter than I’d intended. He looked at me from the front seat as I climbed inside, a pitying smile passing across his face.
‘If only I could, Jeremy. If only I could.’
He sat silent for a moment, as if he’d forgotten whatever he was about to say. Then he burst back into life, Mr Ellison, chief of placement. ‘Still, I’ve got a wonderful place for you to go next. I have high hopes for this one. It’s a young man, who lives on his own. He’s an artist, like you. I think you have a lot to offer each other. What do you say?’
I hated the fact that he still talked to me the same way he did when I was six. As if each new household was just a reset instead of two years of my life that had been wasted. But he tried. With each one he tried. So I did too. ‘Let’s do it.’ I said with a grimace he couldn’t see, as I watched the withered trees flash by.
The Idiot in Tin Foil