I’ve heard him quite a few nights, or early in the morning. Sometimes it’s a playful, chatty sound, but mostly, it’s crying. I think I’ve seen him once or twice, but he never has an adult I could attach him to – he is always toddling about by himself. He must belong to the garden I most frequently see him in, but to who, I have no idea.
He’s only about three years old, skinny and smaller in general than he should be, with an unkempt knot of red hair on his head. I have never seen him smile, only frown. He doesn’t really play, but just kicks about, and the few toys he does have look as though they’ve been rescued from a roadside somewhere, and don’t want to be bothered with again; you know the kind: overturned plastic trolleys with the sides kicked out, sponge footballs that used to have the black hexagon pattern, but just look eaten now, one-armed action figures, and a deflated, punctured paddling
I feel the need to mother him, but the one time I approach him and offer a smile, he pushes one blackened bony finger in the air at me, showing the distance he has been shoved away from kindness. I leave him wondering where his own mother is, and that night, I get my answer.
Lying in bed at about 4 in the morning, I hear a voice layered with abandoned desperation screaming ‘Mummy, mummy, mummy’ over and over. And there she is, mobile phone to her red head, half-running down the street, not looking back. Not turning back to the grotty garden, the useless toys. To her lonely little boy.