Authors: Josephine Cox
Again, the answers to all of his questions were negative and unsettling. And he was grateful that Adam had remained asleep; unaware of what was being said.
Following an agonising wait, Phil was informed by the Child Welfare officers that, after discussing the case, they had reached the only decision available to them in the circumstances.
Peggy Carter’s son would be taken into care until it was established whether or not he had relatives who might want to apply for custody.
Heartbroken, Phil asked if he might be the one to relay the news to Adam. Being sympathetic to the boy’s plight, and having already realised the bond between these two, the officials agreed. So, while the officers remained by the door, Phil woke Adam up.
Seated beside Adam, Phil choked back his own emotion as he explained how everyone was concerned that they should do the right thing by him, and therefore every effort was being taken to locate his father, and track down any other of his relatives.
‘Meantime, son, you must go with the people whose responsibility it is to keep you safe and well.’
Nervously, Adam looked across at the two Child Welfare people. For what seemed an age he did not speak. Then he looked back at Phil and, in a small, quivering voice he asked, ‘Are they waiting to take me away now?’
Trying hard not to show his sorrow, Phil took a moment to reply, and even then was able only to nod, for fear of letting his emotions run away with him.
Then they looked at each other a long while, and the boy fell into Phil’s chubby arms. Holding onto him as though his own life depended on it, he confided tearfully, ‘I don’t want to go with them, Phil. I want to go with you.’
‘I know, son, and I would take you home in a minute, but it isn’t possible. But you’re not to worry. You’ll be safe enough with these people. They’ll look after you, and who knows, they might even find your real granddad, and possibly a cousin or two. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?’
Adam gave no answer. Instead, he asked, ‘When can I see my mum?’
‘Not yet, son, but when the time is right, I’ll be sure to let you know.’
‘Will you, Phil? Honestly?’
‘Oh, yes! You can depend on it!’ It was getting harder for him to hold back his emotions, but somehow he continued to remain calm and reassuring, for the boy’s sake.
‘And you’ll come and see me, won’t you, Phil?’
‘You bet I will!’
‘Are you coming with me now?’
‘No, I’m afraid not, but you’ve got Miss Benson and Mr Norman with you.’
‘But I want you there! Oh, please, Phil, don’t leave me!’ He started to cry again. ‘Don’t go,
Phil addressed the Welfare officers. ‘It wouldn’t hurt if I went along too, would it?’ he asked softly. ‘It’s been such a bad day for the little chap.’
Of course, they could not deny the sobbing child this request.
‘Where are we going?’ asked Adam.
‘To the place where you’ll be living, while they look for one of your relatives,’ Phil explained. ‘Oh, Adam, wouldn’t that be wonderful … if they found someone who wanted to love and take care of you … someone of your very own?’
Adam looked away. ‘I want my mum.’
‘I know that, son. But like I said before – and I want you always to think of what I’m telling you now – your mother has gone to a better place. She’s not suffering any more, and no one can hurt her ever again.’
‘Is she still watching over us, Phil?’
‘Oh, yes. More than ever, and she always will be.’
A small, sympathetic gesture from one of the watching pair told Phil it was time to go.
Phil gave a nod, then, as he held Adam by the hand, they were led down the corridor, outside and across the car park, and into a waiting vehicle.
At first Adam resisted, but Phil stayed beside him, coaxing him into the back of the car, before climbing in alongside.
Throughout the short journey, Adam was unusually quiet, head down, his thoughts back there in the hospital with his beloved mum. Occasionally he would choke back a sob, and lean into Phil for comfort.
Phil talked calmly to him. He reminded him that he would come and see him as often as he was allowed, and that he would never let him down.
‘I mean to keep track of you,’ he said. ‘Tomorrow I’ll bring you pen and paper, and my home address, so if you feel the need to write to me, you’ll have the means. Oh, and I’ll fetch you a notebook.’
‘Well, if ever there’s a time when I’m not able to visit and you might be worried, or sad, or maybe you’ve done something you feel proud of, you can put it all in your little book. Make sure to keep it safe, and we’ll talk it through when next I see you. Mind you, it’ll take a herd of horses or the end of the world to keep me from visiting. So, Adam, my boy, is that a deal?’
‘Yes, please, Phil.’
Seated upfront, the Welfare officers were touched by the very special relationship between the man and the boy.
‘The old fella was right,’ Miss Benson confided to Mr Norman. ‘If there was any justice in the world, he should have been the boy’s real grandfather.’
Mr Norman glanced in his driving mirror to see the boy smiling up at Phil, and he had to agree.
Within the hour, they arrived at the children’s home. An impressive, proud old building with long windows and a great oak door, it gave an impression of great strength.
‘Here we are then, Adam.’ Mr Norman climbed out of the car, and opened the door on Adam’s side. ‘We have many other children here, children much as yourself, who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves in unfortunate circumstances. I do hope you’ll be content here, while the search is on to find a relative who might offer you a loving home. In the meantime, I’m sure you’ll find a friend or two here. Oh, and I’m sure your good friend, Phil, will be calling in from time to time.’
‘Come rain or shine, you can count on it!’ Phil assured them all.
Walking across to the front door, Phil felt Adam’s hand tremble in his, and his heart was like a lead weight inside him. As was his way, he gave up a silent prayer:
Don’t desert him, Lord, for this boy will never need You more than he does right now
He glanced at Adam’s forlorn face, then he looked up at the impressive building with its long, arched windows and grand oak door, and he hoped it would not be too long before Adam could be reunited with his own long-lost relatives. Or, if that was not to be, then maybe he would be offered a special place in the heart of a loving family.
At that moment, the door opened to reveal a portly woman of middle age. Her pink face, with merry blue eyes, was wreathed in a broad smile, and her mass of brown hair was haphazardly piled on top of her head. She introduced herself as Miss Martin, and brightly invited them to, ‘Come in … please, do come in.’ She had a singsong voice that made Phil and Adam share the tiniest of smiles.
As they were ushered inside, Adam clung to Phil; and Phil felt that Adam was resisting every step. ‘It’ll be all right, son,’ he confided. ‘She looks like a nice, jolly sort. Oh, and look!’ He pointed to one of the long casement windows. ‘The children are waving at you. Oh, Adam! I really think you’ll make friends here, but I’ve a feeling it won’t be too long before you’re settled into a fine, loving family.’
Adam was not listening; nor was he looking at the children. Instead, he was thinking of his mother, of her smile and her laughter, and the way she always cuddled him, too tight, and too often; almost as though she could not let him go.
Now, she would never cuddle him again, or laugh out loud, or wave him off when he climbed onto the school bus.
When the inevitable tears came, he quietly wiped them away with the cuff of his sleeve.
Phil had seen the tears, though, and wrapping his arm round the boy’s shoulders, he drew him close.
Minutes later, as they walked through the door and into the huge, wood-panelled hallway, Phil had a feeling of dread.
He feared for the future, and with the boy still reeling from the loss of his mother, and his heart heavy with hatred for the man who he believed had caused her death, he was at his most vulnerable.
Phil could not help but wonder how this sad and lonely child would ever again find a sense of peace.
He felt as though somehow he had been appointed guardian. And so, come what may, and for as long as it took, he promised himself that he would watch over Adam as though he were his own flesh and blood.
Miss Martin seemed friendly enough, and as she waddled ahead, they were informed of occasional events that took place in the home.
‘We keep an orderly house, but that is not to say we don’t ever have fun. We also like to reward hard work and good behaviour. We’re privileged to have at least one summer trip to the seaside, and we always celebrate Christmas.’
There were many rooms in the house, and it took the best part of an hour to visit each one. The great hall was very much designed in the manner of the hallway itself, with wall panels above the skirting, and tall, arched windows. At one end there was a raised pulpit.
‘This is where we gather for morning prayers and address the various matters of the week,’ Miss Martin said.
As they toured the downstairs, Adam remained silent, as did Phil, though the officials did ask questions now and then, in order to gain more information for the benefit of Phil and Adam.
At the front of the building there were classrooms and other, brighter, rooms for play. Adam and Phil had the opportunity to watch the younger children playing happily, with the staff being very caring and supportive.
Of the other rooms, some were dedicated to early learning, while another, with rows of seats and a huge screen, was set aside for additional education and the occasional film treat.
From one small room came the sound of music, and when they peeped inside Phil and Adam were surprised to see a boy of about Adam’s age playing the piano.
Miss Martin was very proud. ‘I had to fight the authorities tooth and nail in order for piano lessons to be agreed,’ she told them, ‘but the piano is mine, so there was no cost to be made.’
She gestured to the old man overseeing the playing. White-haired, and with a slightly bent back, he had his eyes closed, and was obviously intent on the boy’s playing.
‘That’s my uncle,’ she explained. ‘He’s a retired music teacher, and lives quite close. He kindly gives his time freely in order to encourage the talented amongst us.’ Softly, she closed the door. ‘There is more for you to see,’ and with a wide and pleasant smile, she urged them onward.
The back of the house was given over to the kitchens, toilet facilities, and accommodation for junior staff.
Upstairs was divided into two. The lesser area was dedicated to the senior staff. ‘We have no need to tour this side,’ Miss Martin informed them. ‘It’s merely private offices and accommodation.’
The larger and better secured half of the upper floors was the children’s dormitories, with a small office close by for the duty night officer.
All too soon it was time for Phil to say goodbye to Adam. ‘Remember what I said,’ Phil reminded him. ‘Anything that worries you … anything at all, we’ll discuss it tomorrow, when I come and see you.’ He turned to Miss Martin. ‘Do you have specific visiting times?’
‘Of course. We can’t have people popping in and out at will. It’s necessary for both staff and children to work with an orderly timetable, although, of course, in cases of emergency, we can be flexible.’
Bypassing Phil, she enquired of the officials, ‘So, does Adam have any belongings with him?’
‘I’m afraid not.’ Miss Benson walked her away from the group. ‘I assume you’ve been informed of the circumstances?’
‘Of course, yes, I do understand. But Adam will feel more comfortable if he could possibly have a few of his own things with him … his regular clothes and personal things.’
‘Yes, I understand. I can’t promise anything, but I will try.’
‘Oh, please do. It really will make all the difference to him settling in.’
There followed the inevitable tears, with Adam clinging to Phil.
‘I don’t want to stay here, Phil.’
Phil’s heart ached as he confided, ‘For the moment there’s nothing we can do about it, son. Just remember. I won’t be far away, and I’ll be back every day. So you’re not alone. Always remember that.’