The Good Samaritan

Page 18


‘I’m afraid I can’t find any record of him being here,’ the nurse began, scanning through Olly’s case notes on his computer. ‘Are you absolutely sure you’ve got the right hospital?’
‘Of course I’m bloody sure! Do I look like I’m stupid? I was here two weeks ago when he was in the high-dependency unit. Look again.’
He checked once more, but when his response came in the form of an apologetic shrug, I wanted to launch myself across the desk at him.
I’d arrived at the ward where Olly was being treated to find he was no longer there. Naturally I feared the worst and hurried towards the reception desk. My relief that my friend wasn’t dead was replaced with frustration that he’d clearly discharged himself.
My nose ran, and angry, burning tears poured down my cheeks as I dashed back to my car. I sat in the driver’s seat, slipping from present to past as memories of that final weekend under the care of our foster mother came to mind.
I recalled that whatever liquid anaesthetic Sylvia had given Olly to drink with his breakfast turned out to be much more powerful than the usual dose.
‘It’ll make you relax for longer,’ she’d advised as she passed him a brown glass bottle and told him to drink its contents in one gulp. Olly obliged and screwed up his face at the bitter taste. The one occasion he’d spat out something similar without her noticing, he’d ended up in more physical pain than he’d ever imagined. Sylvia was looking out for his best interests, he told me, as if to put me at ease. Neither of us believed it. Within moments, the liquid had the desired effect and his limbs drooped loosely from their sockets as if he had no strength left in them. Olly barely acknowledged Saturday morning’s visitor when he arrived to take him away soon after.
Hours later, he’d been returned and was moving restlessly in his sleep. I remained with him in his bedroom because I wanted the first face he saw when he awoke to belong to someone who loved him.
As I patiently waited, I played with his toy cars and built dream homes with large windows and gardens out of his Lego – presents that Wednesday night’s visitor brought before Olly disappeared with him for hours at a time. I loathed dolls and plastic ponies and the sorts of toys girls were supposed to prefer. I also despised the clothes Sylvia put me in. That weekend I didn’t understand why she’d insisted I wore a pretty skirt with white daisies around the hem and a too-tight T-shirt that cut into my underarms and overemphasised the slight curves of my chest.
By early evening, Olly had awoken and we’d made the most of the empty living room. I absent-mindedly pulled out specks of foam stuffing from the arms of the sofa as we tried to guess what was being shown on the side of the television screen that had been smashed. We loved to watch travel programmes and imagine we were anywhere in the world but in that flat. However, when Sylvia eventually appeared at the door, she wasn’t alone. The atmosphere instantly darkened.
‘Say hello to my friends, don’t be rude,’ Sylvia began in an everything-is-fine tone. Sensing our trepidation but needing us to be on best behaviour, she shot us a glare, but neither Olly nor I responded. The three men behind her transfixed us.
The strangers stared at us and smiled with their mouths, but not their eyes. Nobody in my immediate world, with the exception of Olly, ever smiled with their eyes. And as time marched on, I’d noticed the light behind his eyes was gradually dimming. It made me sad. I had made him my anchor, but other forces were dragging him along the seabed, further and further away. I felt him pulling at me.
I glared at the unwelcome guests; two were dark-skinned, with salt and pepper beards and baggy clothing. The other was white, slim, clean-cut, with dark, swept-back hair and a flawless complexion. I remember I’d never seen such shiny shoes.
‘Olly, my friends want to know if you’d like to go for a drive with them in their car?’ Sylvia continued. ‘You like your cars, don’t you? You’re always playing with them.’
Olly eyed them suspiciously, knowing what their plans for him really meant.
‘And Laura, my other friend wants to take you shopping,’ she added. ‘I told you she was a pretty little thing,’ she said to the smart man. ‘Stand up and show him your skirt.’
‘But the shops are all shut now,’ I replied meekly and remained seated. I looked to Olly, who clambered stiffly to his feet, clearly still in pain from earlier.
‘No, leave her alone, just take me,’ he said.
Sylvia scowled. ‘What did you just say?’
‘I’ll go, but leave Laura alone.’
‘Who are you to tell me what’s best for her?’ Sylvia yelled. ‘I feed and clothe you and put a roof over your heads and now she’s old enough to start paying her way.’
‘No!’ shouted Olly.
I hadn’t witnessed my friend this angry before. My eyes brimmed; I didn’t want to go with the stranger. I wanted to stay there with Olly. He would protect me like he’d promised until we were old enough to run away together.
Suddenly Sylvia surged across the room faster than I’d ever seen her move, and reached out to grab my arm. Olly pushed himself into her path. It fuelled her fury and she clipped him hard around the side of the head with the back of her hand, shoving him backwards onto the sofa.
The three men stood in silence, watching, as again Olly rose to his feet to come between Sylvia and me. She craned her neck in the direction of the men. ‘If you want him, then help me,’ she barked. But before they could assist, Olly drew his arm back and gave the hardest punch his young arms would allow. His fist collided with Sylvia’s temple and she lost her balance, toppling sideways and hitting her head on the fireplace mantelpiece. She landed on the floor, but before she could move again, Olly lifted a ceramic ashtray above his head and brought it down upon her forehead.
The men hurried out of the flat and back into the dusk. Olly and I remained motionless, staring at Sylvia; ash and cigarette butts littered her cheeks and neck. Her last breath was swift and sudden, not laboured. And I felt no pity or remorse for having played a part in it.
When it was clear to us she wouldn’t be moving again, we hurried to our rooms, threw our only clean clothes into bin bags along with our toothbrushes, a bar of soap and a towel. Then we ran. Even huddling together that first night in the cold, dark woodland of Delapré Abbey, we felt safer than we ever had with Sylvia. But it was only to last another day before we were approached by two policewomen.
When questioned at the police station, we told the truth about how we’d hurt our foster mother and how she had treated us, but they didn’t believe us. I was dismissed as an impressionable child caught under the spell of an older boy, and no matter how vigorously I tried to convince them Olly was trying to protect me, he faced the full force of the law.
On the advice of a solicitor who didn’t care about his young, damaged charge, Olly pleaded guilty to Sylvia’s manslaughter and was sent away to a young offender institution. Then, as he came of age, he was transferred to an adult prison, and by the time he was released back into society in his mid-twenties, the deterioration in him was already in full swing. Meanwhile I’d moved on to other foster homes, eventually finding a new anchor in Tony. Olly found his in alcohol.
I left the hospital car park and drove to the places where I’d found Olly in the past: bus stops, the food recycling bins behind supermarkets, a day centre, park benches, and a row of derelict houses ready for demolition. All I needed was a glimpse of him to reassure myself that he was okay. But he was keeping himself well hidden.