Ian - Aged 6. Melbourne, Victoria. 1984
His heart sank as he watched the passing trees outside the bus window. Usually a bus trip was cause for excitement, but this time his heart was filled with dread. He looked up at his mother, searching for some hope, any sign that things were going to be okay, but she kept her gaze fixed straight ahead and refused to look at him. Something was wrong. He could sense it. Every fibre of his body wanted to scream for the driver to stop, ask someone to save him from the inevitable doom he knew he was facing, but he was frozen to the spot, unable to speak or move.
He had not been on the bus route before, even at the tender age of six, he knew their regular bus routes. They had not passed the playground with the red slide, marking the way to his dad’s house, nor had they changed buses at the big bus depot that suggested they were going to the hospital where new babies were born. They’d not gone along the right roads to be headed to the shopping complex either.
He stared out the window at all the old houses that he’d never seen before, the roads were busier than the ones closer to home, cars and trucks wedged in beside them as they stopped at the traffic lights. Ian felt like the sides of the bus were closing in on him as they traveled further and further from the familiarity of home.
He knew he was in trouble. Ever since his dad had come over to the house the night before, he’d known that his mum and her boyfriend Rodney didn’t like him anymore. They blamed him for making his dad angry and causing him to bust through their front door with a shiny knife, which he’d held to his mum’s swollen belly, before punching Rodney in the face. His dad had told them that if they ever touched his son again he would come back and make them pay.
Ian hadn’t meant for it to happen. When he’d told his dad that the bruise was from Rodney smacking him, he didn’t expect his dad to be so angry about it. He certainly hadn’t expected him to kick in the front door of the house and attack them for it.
His bottom lip trembled and he turned to his mum, hoping she would give him some comfort, but she kept staring ahead, with her hand rested on her pregnant belly. Ian reached over and touched her belly, causing her to glance over at him. He smiled up at her until she flicked his hand away and scowled at him in response. His stomach dropped and she turned back and stared through the front windscreen of the bus. He’d never been in quite this much trouble before and he knew things were about to change for the worse, but he had no idea how.
Eventually, the bus pulled to a stop and his mum reached over and grabbed his hand, forcing him to stand and follow her as they exited the bus. She was walking much too fast and he had to jog to keep pace with her, or have his arm pulled from it’s socket if he fell behind. She still hadn’t spoken to him and his insides rolled at the thought of what was going to happen to him. Luckily he’d not been given any breakfast that morning, because he likely would have thrown it up by now if he had.
His mum forced open a large glass door with some writing on it. The noises from the street quieted once the door closed behind them, the only sounds were the slight humming of the air conditioner and the tapping of the keyboard behind the counter, where a lady with long black hair was working.
His mother pulled a pile of papers from her large handbag and slapped them on the counter before the lady had a chance to greet them. Mum lifted Ian from under his arms and sat him on the counter beside the pile of papers.
“He’s your problem now. I don’t want him.” She quickly turned on her heel and rushed from the office as Ian watched her in shock as she waltzed past the front windows of the office and disappeared. His heart sank to the deepest pit of his stomach. This time it was for real. This time he knew she wasn’t ever coming back for him.
* * *
Ian woke, covered in sweat, the vivid dream slowly eased from his mind as he blinked away the sleepy grogginess. He hated that damn dream. He had it all the time. It was the last time he had ever seen his mother. Even though it had only been a few weeks, he had pushed the memory so far to the back of his mind, he was sure he’d be rid of it by now. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and stared at the moon through the stable window, as he pulled a stray piece of hay from his tangled hair.
By the position of the moon, he guessed it to be around 3am. Not long until he would have to wake and start his chores out on the farm. He sat up and lifted his arms as he let out a yawn. No point in trying to get back to sleep, might as well get a head start on everything. He gently opened the stable door and stared at the farmhouse. The house was wrapped in darkness, not a single light had been left on. He felt the familiar jealousy gripping him as he thought of the other two kids asleep in their warm beds, with thick blankets and fluffy pillows.
‘Don’t bother even thinking about it you dumbass’, he spoke in a whisper, so as not to rouse the rooster and have it screeching out and waking up the whole household. There was no point in daydreaming about having a bed, he knew it would never happen. Unwanted children like him didn’t get beds or meals. They’d made it perfectly clear ever since he arrived that he was not like the other kids. He was to work the farm during the day while the other kids went to school, and continue working long after they got back and did their homework. If he was lucky and did all his chores, he would even be given some leftovers from dinner.
Even at six years of age, he knew his place in the world was at the lowest end of the scale.