Hiraeth

by Huw Jones

Chapter 9

Huw opened his eyes to find himself in very unfamiliar surroundings -- a large bright room with several beds. There were high ceilings and fluorescent lights all along the room's ceiling. Recognising the unmistakable antiseptic smell, he was sufficiently conscious to be aware he was obviously in a hospital ward. Memories began to flood back and he realised with a jolt that his attempt to end his endless cycle of misery had failed. Mind you, with the pain he was feeling in his head, in his arms, in his abdomen and in his testicles, he thought that death could not be very far off. A young female nurse seated at a desk near his bed noticed he had woken up and walked across to him.

"Hello Huw. I'm glad to see that you are back with us again. How are you feeling?" she asked while checking his pulse.

"How do you think I'm bloody feeling?" he answered bitterly. "Every part of my body hurts and some stupid sod pulled me out of the water. Why didn't they just let me die?"

"You've got your whole life in front of you Huw. Don't be talking about things like dying. I'll get the doctor," she said smiling at him. She walked back to the desk, picked up the telephone and had a brief conversation. Fifteen minutes later a young male doctor arrived in the ward. He pulled the curtains around and sat down on the edge of the bed.

"Good morning Huw, I'm Dr Moore and I'm looking after you. I'm glad to see you're looking in far better shape than when you came in," said the young doctor.

"I don't feel in better shape, I hurt in every part of my body and I don't want to be here anyway. So where am I and how long have I been here?"

"They're easy questions to answer," said the doctor with a wry smile. "You're in Cardiff General Hospital in the neurological ward and you've been here for two days. You hit your head when you fell into the weir. Fortunately, there was a man who was walking his dog on the towpath and he jumped in and pulled you out. All the other pain is from bruising from the kicking and punching dished out by your foster father."

Huw grimaced with the memory. "You know about that then?"

"Yes," replied Dr Moore, "and there's a police constable in the hospital who has asked to interview you about it when you're feeling well enough. First of all, I need to give you a thorough examination."

True to his word, it was an extremely thorough examination: temperature; blood pressure; a light in his eyes; a detailed examination of his chest; his abdomen and finally, to Huw's embarrassment, his genitals.

"Well, the swelling has gone down in your testicles and I don't think there's any permanent damage done. The x-rays have not shown any damage to internal organs. Although you are badly bruised and your ribs hurt, I don't think any of them are broken. You were concussed but x-rays showed no skull fracture although we are keeping our eye on the head injury that you got when you fell in the water."

Huw said quietly, "I didn't fall in the water, I jumped in the water and I didn't want to be pulled out."

Dr Moore sat on the edge of Huw's bed and took Huw's hands in his. "We know that, Huw. What we want you to know is that things are going to get better. Children's services are going to make sure that you are placed somewhere where you will receive love and care. I probably shouldn't be telling you this but they are shit-scared about what has happened. It reflects very badly on them! You can be sure that they will work hard to be certain that wherever you go from here, it will be a happy place.

"We can get you some help to deal with all these terrible things that have happened to you and to help you rebuild your life. You're only 14 and you've got your whole life in front of you. There are people who care about you like your friend Tomos, who's in Bevan ward, and he's badgering us non-stop to let him visit you. You've got a school pal called Lewis who is ringing every half hour to find out how you are. I'll tell them that they can come in and see you if you feel up to it. Tomos is giving a statement to the policeman and then, if you feel up to it, he'd like to speak to you. Tomos can then come round and see you."

Right on cue, the nurse put her head round the curtain and said, "There's a policeman here to see Huw." Huw nodded and the nurse pulled back the curtains. The policeman approached his bed and took the chair the Doctor vacated. He smiled at Huw and cleared his throat. "I'm PC Hale from South Wales police, would it be all right if..."

"How's my friend Tomos?" Huw interrupted before the policeman could speak further.

"Your friend was badly knocked around as well but he ran next door to call the police. He was admitted to hospital here as well, although I was told he's being discharged today. I've just taken a statement from him this morning. We have Mr Salisbury in custody and he's facing a number of charges including grievous bodily harm, possibly even attempted murder. Do you feel up to making a statement now?"

"If it gets that bastard behind bars and stops him fucking up other people's lives, I'll do it now. I want my time in court to put him away and I hope they throw away the key," he said with passion. PC Hale looked at the doctor for permission, who nodded and said, "As long as he feels up to it."

For the next 30 minutes, PC Hale gently took Huw through the events of that Thursday morning and gained a picture of how the boys had been treated during their stay with the Salisburys. PC Hale left with a damning statement that would secure the conviction of Mr Salisbury and remove him from any possibility of damaging anyone else's life for several years. He knew that if the word got about in prison that Mr Salisbury was there for assaulting children, his life would become unpleasant indeed.

Huw was exhausted by the interview but glad that he had been able to get down on record all that had happened with Mr Salisbury -- a process he found cathartic. He decided that he would sleep for a while but before he could close his eyes Tomos appeared in the ward and rushed across to his bed enveloping him in a huge hug. Immediately they pulled apart groaning, as the hug was far rougher than their bruises would allow.

"Sorry Huw bach, but I'm just so glad to see you. Did you hear that miserable bastard Salisbury is behind bars? We're free at last!" exclaimed Tomos. "I've given a statement to that copper. He said he was going to come and see you."

"Yes, I've told them what's been going on. It looks like he's going to jail for some time."

Tomos paused and started to speak hesitantly. "The river -- the weir -- that wasn't an accident was it?"

Huw turned away from Tomos unable to look him in the eye. "No it wasn't an accident. That bastard Salisbury was just one more thing after my dad, my brother and sister, my grandparents and… my mam."

Huw paused reflectively. "It's strange, I feel different now. The doctor said to me about rebuilding my life and I realise that there is nothing left of my old life except a few happy memories I'm choosing to keep. I've realised that there are some people who care what happens to me. People like Auntie Olwen and Uncle Dick, some of my teachers, Sandra my social worker, Lewis and, of course, you. Don't get me wrong, I'm still terrified about the future and I still feel as if I've lost everything but I want to start again and try and build some more happy memories."

Tomos took his hands gently, "Don't you ever, ever, ever think about doing something like that again because if you try, and don't succeed, I'll come and kill you myself." Tomos's smile took any sting out of his words and the boys happily carried on chatting to one another until Tomos could see Huw's eyelids drooping. He went back to his own hospital bed to await his discharge during the ward round, ready to be collected by Sandra that afternoon and taken to his next foster home.

Huw slept for much of the rest of Saturday and did very little on Sunday, as he was so exhausted. The following day, he was visited by Sandra. With eyes full of tears, she greeted him and, very unprofessionally, gave him a gentle kiss on his cheek. "I am so sorry, Huw. We let you down so badly I can't tell you how upset I am and all my colleagues back at the office in Merthyr feel the same way."

"How is Tomos?" asked Huw anxiously.

"He's fine," she replied. "The first thing he asked me was how you were! He's got some bad bruising but he got off much lighter than you did. They discharged him on Saturday. Fortunately, we've managed to place him with another family who are perfect for him. We've had to break one or two rules. He has to share a bedroom but I've just been to see him and he knows the family already. He's a good friend of the lad he'll be sharing a room with."

"I'm glad it's working out better for Tomos. What's going to happen to me now, Sandra?" he asked anxiously.

"This time we are taking no risks so we'll be monitoring your placement extremely closely. I went back to your school on Friday and spoke with the Head. We checked your records and we discovered that you have an emergency contact recorded who is a relative."

Huw looked up in amazement. "I didn't think I had any other relatives other than Taid and Nain and they don't want anything to do with me."

"Well, it appears that your mother has a cousin," said Sandra. "Her name is Valerie Young and she lives in Reading."

"Oh yes, I remember now," he said. "I don't recall ever meeting her but she always sends us a Christmas card. I remember mam telling us that she's not married and that she was a librarian." He paused thoughtfully. "Oh, I have met her -- at Dad's funeral."

"That's right. I spoke to her on Friday afternoon. She is fully in the picture and she was horrified to hear about all that has happened to you since she met you that one time. The long and the short of it is that she's said that she's happy for you to come and live with her if you want to. She has a big enough house and is quite close to a new grammar school you could attend. She wants to help provide you with some stability."

"I hate the idea of moving away from Wales but it doesn't seem that there is anything to keep me here now," he said sadly.

"I suggest that when you are fully recovered, we can take you down to Reading to meet her and see how you get on, and see if you like the house and the school." She paused and looked sadly at Huw, "Unfortunately, I can't identify any other potential foster home for you at the moment. It looks like the only local placement opportunity would be in a Council home."

Huw thought for a few moments. "It looks like I don't have any real choice but if I think that we can get along together, and then I'll give it a go."

Sandra was relieved to hear his positive attitude and they continued to chat generally for a while. She told him that the medical staff thought that he would only be there for a few days and suggested that they make an appointment for that coming Thursday or Friday to spend the day with Valerie and to visit the school. Sandra explained that normally, following an initial meeting, there would be a time for all parties involved to evaluate how things had gone and decide if the placement was appropriate. She knew that he didn't want to go into a Council home, a view she shared.

On this occasion, she explained that her plan was for them all to spend some time together. Then she would disappear for a while so that he and Valerie could get to know one another better. She would then speak separately to them to find out how they felt about the possibility of a placement. If all three of them agreed that he should stay with Valerie, he would remain behind and start his new life in Reading immediately.

Huw felt he trusted Sandra and, with that assurance, this looked to be the most likely way in which he would get a placement with someone who cared about him. They agreed they would travel on Thursday or Friday providing the hospital was ready to discharge him and Valerie could make the necessary appointments.

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