The Daylight Room
The last time I saw my mum and dad, I was seven, and by now, I might be 10 or even 11. I remember that because I remember my birthday party. There were hats and cakes and a magic man. I remember crying later; I don’t know why, but I did, and they even said that I should go to bed. I didn’t go to bed though, I stopped crying, and that was that.
Not long after, we went to Gran’s in Essex, and that’s how I know I was seven. I don’t know how far it is to Gran’s, but it would take a whole day to get there. Sometimes it would be dark in the night when we arrived, and I would be asleep in the car and get carried straight to bed. This time it was day, and we stopped at a big place for trucks on the motorway for some dinner. It was sunny, and we didn’t stay near the trucks. We stayed in a quiet place with grass and tables.
We ate sandwiches, tuna with cucumber without crusts because I didn’t eat them then. Toby is my younger brother, and he was one and a half when I was still seven. My mum was crouched on the grass with him in her arms, and I decided to explore a little bit.
“Hey, don’t you go wandering off,” Mother had shouted like she always does. Right then, Toby spit the green stuff she had been feeding him onto her arm. It was all on her new cardigan and Dad went running to the car to get something from the baby bag.
So, what do I do?
Just like any other kid would, I walk away, not far just into some trees, only just out of sight, and I don’t think that counts as wandering off. When I got there, I was disappointed because it wasn’t a real forest or anything. I could see a road and houses through the trees.
Right up against the woods on the other side, there’s a car. A big green square-looking car.
I could see that the engine was on, and the door was open. Right then, I could only think of one thing and that was to drive the car.
I could go over, jump in and drive it around. I would have got in trouble, but I didn’t care because I could drive a real car. I could hear my mother in the background and knew they might stop me, so I ran into the trees as fast as I could. Just as I was almost at the open door of the car, blam. Everything went black, and the next thing I knew, I was here and that was the last time I saw any of my family.
It was smelly at first, but the smell went away after a while and I didn’t notice it. It smelled like a cross between a butcher’s and a hamster cage.
We were kept in those metal cage things you see in the back of 4 x 4’s on the motorway. Usually, they have posh show dogs inside to stop them running around the car on the way to the dog show and getting their fur messed up. A blanket and a bowl would usually be inside when they stopped at service stations. Then the dogs get let out for a stretch and a toilet break, which is one more thing than we ever get.
There were two when I arrived, and there still are, not the same two, though. I think it’s been around 4 years or so, but there’s not much daylight in here, I never thought to count the days by scratching the walls like Clint Eastwood in Escape from Alcatraz, so now I forgot. It could even be my birthday today and I wouldn’t know it.
I might be 12, many happy returns but no party or cake this time and definitely no crying.
Jonno was the one that went missing. He went missing, from the missing if you know what I mean. We are all the missing, lost please can you help, kids. Kids from milk cartons or grey photocopied sheets in faded plastic folders sellotaped to trees. The kind of kids they would have divers out in rivers or beating grass with sticks on TV for. I never understood that, as if missing kids might all hide in the bushes or swimming in a river or something.
So, this day I’m talking about, the guy who owns the place came down one afternoon and just took Jonno. No reason, no telling off or anything like that, and he hadn’t done nothin wrong. None of us are ever beaten or taken away, it’s not like that. He just keeps us here and feeds us and stuff. So, this time, it was just an ordinary day like any other when the guy comes down with our food. I call it food because it’s not a mealtime like when I was home. There’s one meal a day, so it’s good to make it last long or it can get really hungry when it’s late on. We get soups and bread, potatoes and beef or something like that. We get those dinners already cooked up in plastic trays like in space or the army men have. We get yuk, broccoli and cabbage, which I now eat, and I never used to, wait till my mum finds that out. I usually keep some bread if there is any under my blanket, or two potatoes for later. I don’t think the man minds because it’s not like it’s stealing because it’s ours. He doesn’t come back till the next day anyhow.
I advise to always keep solid food, not soup or anything like broth or stew. I tried that once, I had my bowl under the blanket and there was some noise outside, which I never remember happening before.
Boom, soggy soup blanket time.
Sometimes I hear a car passing but it’s always far away. Perhaps someone was calling or looking for us. It’s pitch black down here most of the time, but there’s a tiny crack between the blacked-out window and the wall. A sliver of light comes in like a white stick, and it points at different places. Jonno said once we could tell the time from it, but none of us knew how and it didn’t matter anyway.
With my mouth up against the bars, I can sometimes breathe clean air from outside. In winter it’s best, it tastes of soil and pine trees. The man might have put me here to give me the feeling of outside more. Not like walking in the woods, but it’s something. So anyway, there was this noise, but it was coming from far off, maybe the other side of the house. We could hear the dog upstairs going crazy. The dog is ferocious and huge like a fighting massif or something and big, like lion sized, but none of us ever saw him. I sat up onto my knees and tried to get an ear to the crack in the wall where the sun comes in. There were voices somewhere out there. I never heard a word, but I imagined what they were saying to the man.
Like in films.
“Sorry to bother you, sir. Some kids…. Been a while, you know how they are… Known to disappear, mischief could be… Well, if you think of anything,” and so on.
Then I felt the wet on my ankle, and I had stood in my damn soup bowl. It had spilt all over my blanket, over me and was wasted. After that, I learned not to save things that could spill. So, it was soggy soup blanket and no supper for me.
So anyway, I was saying about Jonno. He was from Bradford, he said, which I reckon is miles from here, and he had been in his cage much longer than anyone. He thinks maybe five years, he was 9 or thereabouts. He hadn’t scratched days on the wall either. He was quiet, which was good because it’s best to be like that. He told me he missed home and missed his family. We all miss things, and the things we missed got stranger as time passed, he even missed his older sister. He remembered not wandering off or trying to steal a car or anything like that. He only knew that he went to bed, not his own bed but a camp. His family had gone on an adventure, and he had a kind of canvas room in a big tent.
He woke up here, and that was that. We could never think of what he had done naughty to make him be here. There was no one else here then because he was the first. I miss him though now he’s gone. But this is what I am trying to explain about the whole thing. The man came downstairs like any ordinary day, and we went through our chores. We pass our bucket out, and we get our tray of food and a bottle of water. This day it felt like it was later than usual because of the light coming through.
Since it all happened, I have thought about it a lot. The food trays were all the same and stacked as usual and given out to us. I ate most of mine but saved two potatoes and a carrot, rolled in the blanket to keep the mice off. You had to do that because they eat your food while you’re not looking or asleep. Pretty soon after a short time, Jonno just went straight off to sleep. He wouldn’t answer when I called him, which was odd. Later, the man came down and just took him away, Jonno never made a sound, he was like a big doll. After that, I thought some more. Like if that food had some drug in it, then he wouldn’t have known which of us would get it. Just my luck because it was Jonno that got it. The guy must have decided to take one of us home, and it was just like a lottery game. Whoever fell asleep had the drug and then blam.
Jonno is back home eating ice cream right now and probably ain’t thinking of us one bit. Lucky, lucky kid.
I say us because now I am left with Weirdo. I call him Weirdo not because he is weird, which he is, but because his second name is beard. Like a rhyme kind of thing. Beard, weird, Weirdo see. He has been here the second-longest. He hardly speaks, to be honest neither did Jonno, but this is like hardly ever. Right now, Weirdo is so very quiet.
I am so hungry, we both are. The sliver stick of light that comes through the slit in the wall has done it three entire times, and the guy hasn’t been down once. There has been hardly any noise upstairs, we would often hear the TV and guess the shows, like who wants to be a millionaire or Dr Who.
Today is our third day without food, and he has been watching TV nonstop in all that time. I can hear it that and the sound of the dog.
He must be hungry too because he doesn’t sound angry any more, just sad. I can hear him crying for his breakfast, and if the man remembers the dog’s breakfast, he will surely remember ours.
I did what Weirdo had said, like the guy in the film who took years to escape from prison by digging with a spoon. He was right, at least we could get out someday even if it took years. I still have my spoon. I don’t know how I will ever get through, but the crack is getting bigger. So big that if I force my head right up against the top bars, I can see a gate, maybe the gate to the house. I am so tired and so hungry that I just wish the man would come now. Weirdo has not spoken since yesterday, but he groans a little now and then, and I don’t blame him. Yesterday was a sunny day, and I could see the light coming through and feel the warmth from outside. Then there was the sound of voices outside, I pushed hard against the top of the cage, and the steel cut the top of my head. I could see the gate again. There was someone there, a girl who was talking to someone, but I could only see her shirt. I twisted my head because I can’t look and hear at the same time.
“Weirdo, there’s someone outside,” I whispered, but he didn’t answer me.
I listened to them speak, but the bars rubbed against my ears. Then I heard the girl say, “Shall we go in?”
That was definitely what she said. I know that’s what she said. I was so excited when I heard that.
I imagined Jonno at home eating ice cream and watching TV. Then there’s a knock on the door, and it’s me and weird, and we all eat ice cream together in a daylight room. I jumped to try and see more, and the cage kind of lifted and made a loud clanging noise. Then I turned and forced my head up into the steel again, pushing down with my knees until it hurt, and I couldn’t see anyone at the gate. Then there was a flash of blue, like a jumper or something then yellow, a second one. They floated away past my eyes, like ghosts, they seemed to be floating not walking.
I turned to listen, and there was nothing. I couldn’t hear Weirdo or anything outside but the sound of trees blowing in the wind and a faint distant whimper from upstairs and the sound of TV.
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