for a lovely friend: i promised i'd do this for you
Home is not home. Home is not a place where you don’t feel safe. Friday evenings the caretakers at the Salvation Army encourage those who still have families to pay them a visit. I take the longest route home, drag my feet to the door. Every week I convince myself that it will be different, that they’re probably too old and tired to shout anymore, but the raised voices seep under the door and ring through the hallway and taunt my irrational hopes. Friday evenings I stand in the doorway and try to get them to notice that I’m home. My father’s too incensed to notice, and my stepmother hates me anyway. Friday evenings I sit at the sofa listening to them quarrel and throw things. When I cannot take it anymore I run to the room and shut the door and pray that my crying drowns them out.
He’s just arrived at the Salvation Army. New kid. I join him at the swing and I learn that he has just lost both his parents. His calls himself Pri. Fifteen, just like me. I tell him about the rabbits in our playground and the one time we saw a snake, but it’s six-fifteen now. I have to go. I feel bad when he asks why. And I hate my parents, I wish I was the orphan. “Don’t say that,” he says. “And don't feel bad. Actually, I’d love to visit your family, if you’re okay with that.” “No, you don’t want to, they do nothing but argue all day.” But he insists.
I struggle to put the key in the lock. The sound of something being hurled against the wall. He notices, puts his hand over mine, gives me a smile, and for a while the smile is the only thing in the world that matters. I turn the knob. They’re arguing about how he left the lights on again and can’t he be a more sensible person they don’t have any money how will she survive with his bullshit – “mum, dad, this is Pri.” They turn to look. “What the hell you bring a boy back for, bloody bastard why your daughter such a prostitute-“ “Stop cursing my daughter you fat piece of shit-“ I look up at him nervously, apology in my eyes, our hands tightly clasped behind our backs.
“Hey, look,” he whispers. “Your dad just called her a fat piece of shit.” He imitates my dad in hushed tones: “fat piece of shit, you fat piece of shit.” A giggle escapes my lips. For the first time, I don’t cry.