by Huw Jones
The weeks passed slowly and unhappily at Huw's new accommodation. He couldn't bring himself to call it home because it lacked almost everything that should be present in a real home. There was no affection, no interest in what he had got up to at school or with his friends -- not even a smile. As a result, he made sure he spent as much time away from the house as he could. Fortunately, the Salisburys were all too pleased for Huw to be away for evenings and especially for weekends -- there was one less mouth to feed.
On a normal day, Huw would get his own breakfast -- cornflakes and milk washed down with a cup of tea -- before he left for his paper round and would go straight from the paper round to school. After school, he would return home to do his homework in his bedroom. Although he could have used the table downstairs where they ate their meals, he wanted to minimise contact with the Salisburys and did it in his bedroom instead. This proved difficult because he had no desk and he made do by sitting on his bed and balancing his books on his knees.
At 6 o'clock precisely, every evening, Mrs Salisbury provided the evening meal. Huw now understood why Tomos had encouraged him to eat out whenever he could -- the food was consistently dreadful. She bought the cheapest cuts of meat and cooked the vegetables for so long that they were mushy and flavourless. He dreaded Wednesdays particularly, because the meal was always some form of stew. It was always full of gristle and fat. He and Tomos were expected to eat it all. Fortunately, he ate a school meal at lunchtime which meant that he got one substantial meal a day, even if it wouldn't win any culinary awards.
The torment that added insult to injury after an unpalatable meal was that Mr Salisbury would read several chapters from a large black King James Bible once they had eaten. Both Huw and Tomos found Mr Salisbury's dreary monotone deadly dull and they had to fight to stay awake. Only when that ordeal was ended could the boys clear and wash the dishes, one of their many housekeeping tasks.
The down-side to taking school meals was that because he was in receipt of social benefits, he became entitled to free school meals and children were often very unkind to those who qualified for free lunches. Huw found the whole process utterly humiliating when he was taunted about being the poor boy from the mines.
Fortunately, Huw's friendship with Lewis had grown steadily and Lewis's parents, David and Helen Richards were very hospitable, often inviting him after school to their home in the quaintly named Church Village, south of Pontypridd, so that he and Lewis could do their homework together and they provided the boys an excellent evening meal. He also began to stay with them at weekends, but they could only be short weekends at the Richards' house as he had to leave after breakfast on Sunday morning. He was required to attend the Methodist Church with Mr and Mrs Salisbury and Tomos. For two hours, he endured the drudgery of dreary hymns accompanied by an out of tune organ and a deadly dull sermon, frequently a passionate denunciation of Britain's crumbling morality and godlessness.
The regime in Mary Street was indeed strict. The boys had a list of duties to do each day, to the extent that Huw wondered how Mrs Salisbury managed to fill her day as the only thing she seemed to do was to wash the clothing and bedding and prepare an evening meal. Any infringements of the rules of the house -- being late for meals, leaving their rooms untidy or questioning anything that Mr and Mrs Salisbury said, would result in a punishment. There were not many actions the Salisburys could take to punish the boys, other than forbid them to leave the house except to go to school. This, however, represented a serious punishment because leaving the house was one of their few escapes. Both boys would rather be anywhere other than at home.
The worst punishment he was to receive occurred following a morning when he woke up to find his body had betrayed him. During the night, his raging adolescent hormones had resulted in that least-favourite and most embarrassing teenage outcome of a good night's sleep, a wet dream. He tried to clean the sheets and his pyjamas but his worst fears proved well founded when he was summoned by Mr Salisbury the following day. "Huw, Mrs Salisbury found your sheets and pyjamas had been polluted when she came to do the washing today. This is a God-fearing house and we keep our bodies pure. You have been committing the sin of Onan and I will not have it under my roof!"
Huw was embarrassed but he felt he should plead his cause. "But Mr Salisbury, I was not doing that. It just happened when I was asleep," he protested.
Mr Salisbury's face turned purple and little flecks of spit shot from his mouth as he raged at Huw, "Don't defy me boy. Even if that were true, it will have happened because your thoughts had been lustful and impure. You'll not be allowed out for two weeks and you'll clean the church the next two Saturdays."
Huw knew better than to argue and dropped his head, "Yes Mr Salisbury." That had destroyed his plans for the following weekend which he had planned to spend with Lewis.
At school the next day Huw told Lewis what had had happened. "I'd have been less pissed off if I had been wanking, but this was so unfair to punish me for a natural body function."
"Well, he's a bigoted religious git and you need to tell Children's Services about those buggers. Get yourself moved somewhere else," responded Lewis.
"I'm due to see Sandra next week and I'll talk to her then. She's taking me to see mam if she's well enough." Huw was relieved that he had a definite action to take and looked forward to seeing Sandra the following Wednesday.
He managed to endure the following few days until Wednesday. By arrangement, an hour before school ended met Sandra outside the gates and they started the journey to the psychiatric hospital near Cardiff to see his mam. Sandra posed the question she had been dreading asking, "How are things going between you and the Salisburys?"
"Couldn't be better, Sandra," he said bitterly, "Other than they're total religious bigots without a kind bone in their bodies, they serve inedible food, they make us do all the work in the house, they punish us for stupid reasons and they're complete bastards, everything is fine. Tomos and I hate it there. I've even been grounded for two weeks just because I had a..." He tailed off and his face grew red with embarrassment. "Well anyway, it wasn't fair. For God's sake get me out of there."
"Oh dear, I was concerned about them. That's just the same story that we've heard before. When I get back to the office tomorrow, I'll try and find another place for you both." She continued in her mind, 'And I'll try and find a way we can withdraw their accreditation as foster parents.'
He was relieved and settled back into his seat to think about what he would say when he met his mother. The journey was a long one and it was over an hour before they turned into the grounds of a large old building which looked like something out of a Gothic horror film. Although the grounds were very pleasant with sweeping lawns and beautiful mature trees, the hospital building was dark and unwelcoming. Sandra stopped the car near the main entrance and they entered the building. Huw felt very apprehensive as they rang the bell at a reception desk. A male nurse greeted them at the desk. "Mrs Davies and Huw is it? I'm Ifan ap Rhys. We've been expecting you. Let me take you to meet Mrs Jones."
He led them into the depths of the building. Huw was shocked as every door they went through was unlocked and then locked again behind them. They were shown into a bright well-decorated bedroom and Huw was thrilled to see his mother sitting in a comfortable chair with her back to the door looking out of a large picture window overlooking the grounds. He ran into the room and excitedly said, "Mam, it's lovely to see you."
His mother turned round slowly in the chair and looked towards Huw with unrecognising eyes and a face devoid of expression. He could see at a glance that she had lost a lot of weight and her face was lined and careworn. Indeed, she seemed to have aged twenty years, looking nearer 60 than 40. After a few seconds, she turned back and resumed looking out of the window. His initial excitement at seeing her again vanished in an instant and was replaced by despondency.
"Mam!" said Huw desperately. "It's me, Huw. I've come to see you." Again, his mother turned her head and looked at Huw with a puzzled expression on her face and turned back to the window. Ifan, said quietly to Huw.
"I'm afraid her mind has closed down to shut out all that has happened to her. She sits here all the time when she's not having treatment."
Huw was distraught. The person he was looking at was nothing like the mother he loved and who had loved him all his life. She seemed like an empty shell and he found it almost too much to bear. Suddenly, he remembered he had brought something that might help. He pulled out mam's Bible from the bag he was carrying and walked around to the front of his mother.
He gently put the Bible on to her lap and said, "Here's your Bible, Mam. You must have missed it." His mother looked down at the black book on her lap and carefully opened its cover. She turned over a couple of pages slowly and then closed the book, handing it back to Huw. It was a watershed moment. He realised with great sadness how grave his mother's mental state was. Her Bible had been by far her most treasured possession. For her to look at it, and not recognise it, was a clear indication of the dreadful damage that had taken place in her mind. He left the Bible on the locker beside her bed and sat in the seat alongside his mother. For a few minutes, he attempted to update her on his life, carefully leaving out the unhappiness of his time at the Salisburys, but his mother never raised her head nor made any acknowledgement of his presence. Eventually, he realised that he was wasting his time and so he kissed his mother on the cheek and nodded to Sandra and the three of them left the room.
"That must have been very hard for you Huw," said Ifan. "Some days she is more lucid and maybe having her Bible here may help us to reach her. Could you let us have a photograph of yourself and we can prepare her before you come next time which may help."
"Thanks, Ifan, I'll put a photo in the post." He paused for a few moments. "I hate seeing her like this but I wasn't surprised. That's how she was before she came into hospital. I had hoped that treatment might have helped, but it's even worse now," said Huw sadly.
The three of them began their complicated journey through the locked doors until they reached the exit. Sandra and Huw shook Ifan's hand and walked to the car. The journey home was made largely in silence although Sandra tried several times to engage him in conversation, eliciting only monosyllabic answers. He wanted to be alone with his own thoughts.
Forty minutes later they pulled up outside the Mary Street house and Sandra switched off the engine. "Huw bach, I am so sorry to see how ill your mother is. I know it's even harder for you having to live with the Salisburys. I promise you that we'll find you somewhere else to live as soon as we can." She wondered to herself if she were making a rash promise. She knew that it was essential she found a new home quickly or Huw could follow his mother into mental breakdown.
He went into the house and straight to his room. He lay fully clothed on his bed and burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably into his pillow. At six o'clock, there was a knock on his door and getting no response from Huw, Tomos eventually opened the door and walked across to the bed. He sat down on the bed and gently stroked his arm. "It's dinner time, Huw. You need to come down."
"I don't want any dinner." he said, "Go away!"
"Please, Huw," pleaded Tomos, "you know what they're like. Come on down."
"Bugger what they're like, I don't care any more." Tomos was shocked at Huw's response. He was normally the peacemaker and this was totally out of character.
"Okay," said Tomos, "I'll tell them you're not feeling well and you don't want any dinner." There was no response from Huw so Tomos got up and left the room, closing the door quietly behind him.
Huw lay in bed sobbing intermittently as he reviewed repeatedly the terrible events of the last three years. They replayed in his mind on a continuous loop: first the death of his father, then of his brother and sister and now to all intents and purposes, the effective death of his mother. He began to wonder if there was any point in his life going on. He found himself overwhelmed by a suffocating sense of loss and, in addition to the loss of those family members; he had that recurring nagging feeling that there was some other missing element to his life -- something else he had lost. Eventually he undressed and got into bed, falling into a shallow, deeply troubled sleep.
Just after midnight he woke up and as the loop of his dark story began to replay in his mind, he began to sob uncontrollably again. His bedroom door opened quietly and he was aware of someone walking into the room. Tomos had heard Huw's distress and felt he had to try and help.
"Move over," he whispered and he slipped under the covers spooning himself behind Huw who was facing away from him and putting his arm around Huw's chest. Nothing more was said between them but for the first time in a long period, Huw felt loved and safe. Both boys quickly went off to sleep.
Mr Salisbury was an early riser, normally up and about by six every morning. As he emerged from the bathroom, he noticed that Tomos's door was open. He looked into the room and was surprised to see that the bed was empty. Puzzled, he quietly opened Huw's door and was shocked to see the two boys snuggled up in bed together.
"What in God's name is going on here?" he screamed. The boys woke with a start to the dramatic bellow of Mr Salisbury who was standing by the side of the bed staring at two boys snuggled together. "I will not have immorality in my house," he shrieked. "How dare you behave like this under my roof you brazen sodomites?" He lost all control at that point, pulled the covers off them and started punching the boys, dragging them out of bed. He repeatedly punched and kicked them and both boys did their best to protect their bodies from the frenzied attack. It seemed to go on for a very long time but probably it only lasted for only a minute or so. Huw managed to break away and get to his feet and he staggered out of the room and onto the landing. He could think of nothing other than getting away from the hysterical assault by Mr Salisbury, so he ran to the front door which he wrenched open and out of the house in bare feet into the cold winter morning, dressed only in his pyjamas.
He ran down the road unaware that his feet were being cut by stones and that the temperature was barely above freezing that winter morning. He kept going until he arrived at the weir on the River Taff that ran alongside the village. This latest trauma on top of all the other cataclysmic events he had experienced was the final straw. His mental grasp on life was like an elastic band being stretched beyond breaking point. It had finally snapped.
He felt a deep, deep despair that penetrated every fibre of his being. His mind was exploding with an overload of physical pain, of mental torture and of helplessness. Suddenly, without pausing to think any further, he knew he could not take any more of this agony and, without hesitating, he climbed the safety barrier and leapt into the roaring waters of the weir, swollen by recent rain. This was going to be the final solution to all his problems. His life was worth nothing and he welcomed an end to all the pain. The water covered his damaged body which was tossed around in the turbulence. He gasped and inhaled lungs full of water and gradually he began to feel calmer until, at last, he lapsed into unconscious oblivion.
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