“Police, go ahead”
“My wife and me are here as tourists-“
“-We’ve found a kid”
“He’s about fourteen or fifteen years old-“
“- No id, no documents on him”
“He’s very scared”
It was raining.
The rain beat down, getting in all the cracks on the sidewalk. It dashed cars and made those little muted tapping sounds as it hit people’s coats as they walked by.
Neon lights of a sign, car headlights, streaked in the rain like they were melting.
The soothing sound of the rain falling, muted the sounds of thunder.
A boy tried to make himself as small as possible in the bottom of a phonebooth. The rain beat down, tapping on the glass, trying to get in.
He wore a hooded coat with a cap and a pair of running bottoms with white stripes up the sides. He sat curled up at the bottom with his head in his knees breathing steady, the receiver hanging by his head.
The phonebooth stood alone in the centre of a cobbled townsquare lined with caged trees reaching straight up. European style lampposts dotted throughout the square cast sickly yellow pools of light. There was a square roofed totem plastered with aging posters advertising bands in Spanish. Stark bushes behind it, all their leaves long gone, left with only boney finger twigs stretching out in all directions.
Long distant sirens going somewhere else.
The boy in the booth peeled back the sleeve of his jacket and looked at a digital watch, the time was ‘9:58pm’.
The bottom of the phonebooth was made of some cheap plastic like a black shower matt curling at the corners. It was wet with people’s feet, the rain getting in through the cracks. Dirty cigarette butts mashed into it, little pink pieces of paper, fliers with girls on them soaking up muddy water and a boy.
A police car pulled up in front of the totem with its lights off, the headlights filled up the phonebooth. They stopped the car and put the lights on, red and blue flashing. They got out of the car and left the lights on.
Two cops with their hoods down, on the passenger side, the bald cop approached the phonebooth speaking Spanish. Reaching out his hand like he was trying to feed a small animal.
The boy lifted his head to look at the light through the crack in the phonebooth door. He shivered as the cold damp started to get to him. The man approached slow and low, the boy made himself even smaller. He shrank into his big rain coat and tried to get away from himself. But he was in a corner.
The police man opened the door of the phonebooth and asked him if he was alright. The cop was average build, in his forties with a greying beard. The concern lines on his forehead painted a vivid picture of a man with his own problems, he didn’t need to be out here.
The rain poured down on him as he spoke, trying to be heard over the constant beating of water around his head. The boy lifted his head an inch, hiding his eyes behind the lip of a cap pulled down low on his head. He cowered with his hands in front of his face.
The cop getting rained on, lost his patience for a moment and reached out for the boy at the bottom of the booth. The boy pulled back pushing his hands up. He was shaking.
“Tranquilo, tranquilo” The cop said slow as he put his hands up and backed off just a little. He eased back and signalled for the boy to come “Vamos”.
The boy was ashen, his hands in front of his face, shaking nervously. He looked lost and frightened.
The cop took his arm and gingerly helped him to his feet.
He led the boy hunched like a refugee towards the brightly lit police car.
The boys legs seemed weak, his knees buckled and the second cop swam through the rain to prop him up on his otherside. They carried him arm in arm to the waiting police car, the sound of the windshield wipers screeching.
They put him in the back seat and shut the door. He ducked his head and listened to the rain.
“What is your name?” A woman said in a robotic tone.
“Tell us your name” She asked again.
They watched the boy’s face even as he tried to hide, on the monitors. His cap was pulled way down and he had a scarf almost covering the other half of his face.
“Where do you live?” She kept asking.
The pixelated camera zoomed out as he said nothing. Hung his head like a frightened animal.
“Do you live with your parents?”
The boy sat in a windowed interview room with the door open looking at nothing.
He sat still against a blank cream wall in the warm room, speaking rarely and in whispers.
“Did your parents hurt you?”
It looked more like a glassed office than an interview room. It was wood panelled with opaque glass all the way around. He looked out the door and saw people at desks lit by old fashioned lamps sifting through papers. Phones ringing, people talking, clattering of chairs and hushed breath.
His hands were deep down in the pockets of his coat. He got comfortable in the chair sinking further and further down into it.
It smelled like cigarettes and heady perfume in the office. Sweet and bitter smells.
He sat at a straight wooden table. As he looked around there were loose pieces of paper in Spanish tacked onto the wall around his head, notices, pictures of people.
The woman across the desk was pretty, in her mid to early thirties but with a strain of concern on her face like it had always been there. Her sandy hair was tied back in a tight plait littered with split ends. She was in a blue uniform adorned with shiney gold buttons. She continued to talk and he watched her lips move.
He looked behind her, on the wall were more posters. A laminated one behind her head had large pictures of people and said “MUY PELIGROSOS” in bold letters above them. There was a book shelf with hastily tidied files. Binders and large books that looked like phone books piled on top of eachother in no particular order.
In the outer office people were smoking and tapping away at old computers. The bald police man who picked him up was on the phone looking at him through the crack in the door. He nodded putting out his cigarette and hanging up the phone.
The boy ran his hand along the radiator as he walked through the cold corridors of the old building.
They took him to a children’s home to stay the night until they could find out who he was. It was an old building that used to be a school. The walls were thin and all the doors were wood covered in layers of old dull pea green paint chipping off all over. The windows were all made of wood frames with paper thin glass painted shut with the same thick paint laid on like cement.
When they reached the end of the hall they entered a communal room with large pillars running down it’s centre. They were brick and rebar painted white with some faux black marble around the lower half.
Across from the pillars, children ranging from very young to early teens sat around wooden folding tables playing board games. They were talking and eating. There wasn’t much furniture in the room, just a glass panelled cabinet that looked empty. What looked like an old church piano sat in the corner with a floral bedsheet thrown over it. Atop it sat a single fan and a half dead potted plant. It looked like an empty anti room but it felt like a church library.
A child of around nine ran past the boy in the large coat. The little boy smiled and kept on running. The boy in the coat and hat hiked his backpack as he walked through the room. He cast a sideways glance at all the sets of eyes watching him pass, all the empty faces he’d soon forget. They all looked lost.
He was lead by a social worker. a short, middle aged man with clipped dark hair thinning at the corners, wearing a dark blue fleece jacket. They went through a set of hatched glass double doors into a wide hallway lit by long strips of fluorescent light.
The man walked in front of him speaking hushed fast Spanish and gesturing in a warm welcoming way. He was shown to his room and he closed the door.
The next day he sat in a waiting room on a long leather coach that looked like the backseat of an old car. There’s was a handpainted mural behind his head that looked like storm clouds. He sat with his head down, his cap and hood on like before. A woman at a desk was speaking Spanish into a telephone.
She put the phone down with a surly click and got up from her seat. She was an older woman in a skirt and blouse covered by a dark fitted suit jacket. She walked around her desk and sat on the front and put her hands in her lap.
“Please tell us who you are?”
“Why don’t you have any id?”
“Are you from spain?”
He was in the children’s home office. It was just a large room seperatted by thin partitions, filled with soft wood desks and computers. On the wall behind the directors head, on her side of the partition, there was a large map of the world. Pictures, of her family, a holiday, pictures in a mossy cave, a beach somewhere. School pictures, children sitting in rows, children’s drawings.
She dipped her head as if to implure him.
“If you can’t prove to us who you are. We’ll be left with no choice but to fingerprint and photograph you right now and pass them on to the police.”
-“Do you understand?”
He looked up at her, his eyes searching her face. Her face was flat and she stared at him like he was in detention. She looked like she was trying to comfort him but she was also disspointed that he didn’t exist.
“Peggy, it’s your mother, are you sitting down? You’re not going to believe this.” An old woman’s whiskey soaked voice rattle down the phoneline.
“Mom what is it? The girl on the other end sounded startled, it was late.
“They found your brother, Johnny, they found Johnny in Linares!”
“Oh my god! What part of texas is Linares in?” Peggy’s voice trailed off with a sense of coming euphoria.
“No, it’s not in Texas, Linares Spain!” Peggy’s mother Angela coughed turning away from the receiver.
“Spain? Isn’t that on the other side of the country? When can we see him when can we get him back” Peggy was rushing now, almost slurring, her heart jumping up and down like it was on a poggo stick.
“They gave me a number of the shelter he’s in, Peggy can you call? You have to be the one that goes and gets him, you have to go get your brother, do you understand?” Her mother was begging now, there was no one else she could rely on.
“Ok”. Peggy breathed in and out and had a moment. She was the only one, but that didn’t make it any less a big deal.
Peggy’s mother quickly rattled off the number as Peggy jotted it down on a piece of note paper by the phone. She was sitting prone on her beige couch, under the light of a lamp on the end table next to the couch where the phone sat.
She hung up the phone without saying goodbye or even thinking about and let it sit in the dark spot of her mind for a moment. She took a few hurried breathes, feeling a little light headed. The room felt like it was getting smaller. Finally she took the phone out of the cradle, an old fashioned grey phone with big buttons on it’s face. She put it to her ear and typed in the number on the small piece of yellow note paper she’d hastily scrawled it on.
The phone rang for a moment and then a man with a European accent answered.
“Hello, this is Peggy Carson, I was told to phone this number.” She paused as if to pant, a sudden shortness of breath. “Johnny, Johnnathan Bartlett” She sucked her bottom lip. “Do you have him?” There seemed to be almost an eternity she waited for another voice to come on the other end. “Hello?”
After a moment, a man with a european accent came on the line “Yes, we have him, Johnnathan Bartlett”. He stopped for a moment and breathed into the receiver. “He’s sitting right ’ere next to me. I am Joan Dorian, I work at the childrens centre and we are sure it is ’im. You must understand, ’e is very scared. ’E has been through a traumatic experience, do you understand?”
“Please, can I talk to him, just for a moment?” The concern in Peggy’s voice rose noticeably. She’d begun twiddling the phone cord between her two fingers nervous as she chewed on her lip.
“I’m sorry, Mr’s Carson, ’e doesn’t want to talk to anyone as of this moment. E’s been through a very hard time. We believe ’e may have been abused by whomever abducted him and ’e’s not in the right frame of mind to talk to anyone.”
“I can’t talk to him at all? He’s my little brother!”
“Please, Mr’s Carson, understand, this is not the same boy you knew. E’s been through a ’ell of a lot, ’e’s going to need a lot of time to come to terms with what ’appened to ’im. ’E’s going to need a lot of love and understanding and patience right now, ok?”
“Alright, please give him my love”. She stopped to take a breathe “Does he remember us? Does he remember his family?” Her voice croaked and shook as if she was scared to ask.
“’E doesn’t remember much, ’e remembers you, but not a lot else I believe.”
“Please just let me hear his voice” She was desperate, it was obvious to anyone,
Another eternity passed, before a swivelled squeak of a voice came on the phone.
“Hello?” The strained child like voice said.
Peggy welled up and burst into tears on the phone “Hello Johnny? Johnny is that you? We missed you baby, we’re going to get you back soon, don’t worry, we’re coming. I love you”
“I love you” The voice said.