He never stayed in one area for too long. If too many people saw his face, he was worried police or care workers would be called, and he’d be taken into a home or locked away. He didn’t know what would happen to him as he’d never been caught. But from what he had experienced of people, he thought he was better off on his own. He could look after himself as he had done throughout his short life. He was only a boy, unsure of his own age but he had survived this long. He didn’t want to be forced into contact with people, not after what he had seen. For every person who had showed him kindness, ten more had been cruel or violent. He ran and hid at the sight or sound of humans, as a deer bolts from a snapping twig.
Sometimes he would get lucky and find abandoned flats or detached houses that had some items of worth hidden within. Most of them had been raided long ago, with cupboards open and newspapers strewn across the floor. If there was nothing of value to take, he would stay there for a few hours to stare at the pictures in the old newspapers. Or he might go into one of the bedrooms upstairs with its dusty toys and faded wallpaper, and shut himself inside for an hour and pretend this was home. If he couldn’t physically take something useful, he would try to visualise what it might have been to live in a house when it was home to others. That way it felt like he had learnt or experienced something in each place he went to and the visit would not have been a waste.
He didn’t like breaking into people’s houses – there was the risk of being caught or worse. But when times were desperate and he had not eaten for days it was a necessary risk. The feeling of dread as he approached when attempting to enter a house was one he tried to avoid, never sure if he would come into contact with people within. He once came across a row of terraced houses, and all but one was uninhabitable; one house he entered was flanked on either side by charred ruins. He had to climb through a roof window as the ground floor doors and windows were heavily barred, and slowly made his way down to the ground floor to find the kitchen. He filled his pack with various tins and cans, and as he passed through the living room he noticed an elderly woman, sunk so low into her chair that her head was level with the arm rests. She was skeletal and grey and so scared that she trembled and could say nothing. Her eyes were wide and frightfully fixed on the boy, they shone in a horrible fear that couldn’t help but reduce the boy to tears, and he slowly approached and put the bag with all the woman’s food in down at her feet. He wanted to tell her that he didn’t want to hurt her, that he was sorry for disturbing her and it would all be okay. He stood there, staying with her in silence until it began to get dark outside, at which point he backed away up the stairs, climbed out the window and left.
There was a constant internal conflict within him, raging silently. He feared everything but he longed for something. He had watched a group of children in a field late one afternoon throwing stones at a collapsed farmhouse. The front of the house still stood proudly into the air, its porch and front windows pointing out across the dead soil and ruined sheds, but behind it the two floors of furniture and memories had long given up the fight. The chaos of rubble behind the house front kept the façade standing. With it were several glass windows that had defied time and weather and were still intact. The children were shouting and screaming and laughing gleefully as each pebble they launched caused shattering glass to echo across a landscape forgotten. The boy watched with a fierce intensity, wanting to run away as fast as he could but at the same time desperate to take a stone himself and smash glass and laugh with them.