“Why did you come back, Tommy?” asked Shahrazad. They were back in her flat, safely away from the chaos in Central Square.
“What do you mean?”
“You could have stayed in your own country. Don’t you have a family to go back to? They’ll be worrying about you.”
“My mother doesn’t worry about me,” said Tommy.
“What do you mean? Of course she does. I’m sure she misses you.”
“My mother drinks always. We were kicked out of our house. We had to sleep anywhere we could find. She never talked to me. The only thing she will miss me is to steal food for her. I don’t want to go back to her.”
Shahrazad could see that he was trying hard to hide how upsetting it was for him to talk about his mother. She could hardly believe what she was hearing. This little boy had been living on the streets, trying to provide for his mother?
“What about your father? Grandparents? Aunts, uncles? There must be someone. You should go back to your homeland. You could go back with the soldiers.”
“I don’t know who my father is. I haven’t seen anyone else since I was little. I don’t want to go back there! I have no home there. I want to stay here, with you!”
Tommy’s eyes had filled with tears and he was looking at her half-worriedly, half-defiantly, as if daring her to say that she didn’t want him. She remembered what Basir had said when she first found Tommy. He may have followed me, but that does not make me the reason he is here. He would not have made it across that desert if he didn’t want to.
“Of course you can stay with me!” She pulled him close and hugged him, feeling a strange mix of emotions; apprehension at the thought of becoming a mother to someone; anger at how Tommy’s real mother had treated him; relief, because though she had been convinced that Tommy would be better off in his own country, the thought of never seeing him again had been almost unbearable; happiness and love, for how she loved this little boy as if he were her own son and wanted him to stay, wanted to take care of him. If someone had told Shahrazad before Tommy had come along that she’d soon have a little boy to look after, she’d have been horrified. But everything had changed now. Tommy had got under her skin.