The new mums and dads come on weekends. Keith said. They take you to the seaside to see if they like you. Sometimes they keep you, even change your name. You become family. They don't tell you when you’re chosen as it might cause upset. You just never come back.
Keith was the oldest and like a big brother. He protected me. I hated it when he wasn’t around. He said the only way out was to find a family. Do whatever it takes. Be good and they'll take care of you. If you're bad they'll bring you back. I asked if we could join a family together. He said nobody wants brothers, not even real ones. He hoped I'd understand. I nodded, though I didn’t. But we will always be brothers in our hearts, he said. Always.
He’s been gone for three weeks. It’s at night I miss him most. Nobody sleeps much anymore. Some boys are never chosen so there's always tension. A black eye or split lip can ruin everything.
It's Saturday. The same mum and dad have come to take me out. Mrs Wilkins has packed my bag. The mum helps me zip my coat. I touch the dimple on her cheek when she smiles. The dad says we'll play football on the beach. Mrs Wilkins kisses me and tells me to be good. The unchosen look on, silent, as if huddled for a photo, but with sad black eyes and angry split lips.
As I approach the car, I see Keith arriving. Something's wrong. Nobody comes back to visit. Keith said. Our eyes meet across the road. He looks broken. I want to run and hug him, but I get into the car.
I hope, for the rest of my life, he understands.
© Kevin Owen