"Are you going to look after her?"

"Well, I can't, but-"

"No, you can't. We can't take her."

"She'll die if we leave her, Nicki."

"She'll die if we take her, too! We can't look after a baby. We can't even look after ourselves. Bloody hell, did you get hit really hard on the head when you were a kid?"

"If I did it's your fault, you were looking after me." He folds his arms and looks at his sister, not backing down. "She's just a kid. You've got to look after her."

"What, because I'm a girl?"

"No, because I'm fighting for our dinner every day, so I can't be holding a baby. I would've thought that was obvious."

Nicki shakes her head. The baby's tiny. It must have been premature. She couldn't even look after a healthy one, she's never been able to get them to stop crying, but this one's probably at risk. "It was abandoned..."

"Probably a street mum who couldn't deal with it." Jim picks it up. "I'll take it to the Home, then, if you think that's better."

"They can look after kids."

"Oh, so that's why the only teenagers they spit out are junkies and teen mums. Right." Even so, he sets off down the road towards the children's home that's been there for so long its grey stones and blocky shape have become a feature of the skyline. Everything around it's at least vaguely attractive, but this was obviously designed by a blind architect. Nevertheless, it's a roof over the baby's head, and...

"Oh, give it here." Nicki grabs it from Jim, who tries not to smile as he lets her take it. She's older, anyway. Everything that's a responsibility is automatically hers. "We'll sort something out. Someone'll be able to help us. It's probably ... it's older than it looks, right? I mean, it can eat food?"

"I'm sure she can," he says. He hasn't got a clue, but it'll keep Nicki happy. "What will you call it?"

Here she smiles a smile that worries him. "You always said I was ruthless, but maybe having a child to look after'll change that. So we'll call her Ruth."

"Really? She doesn't look like a Ruth to me." Her withering glance shuts him up instantly. "Fine, great, whatever. Ruth sounds good. Yeah. Definitely Ruth. What about a surname?"

"She doesn't need a surname. We've managed this long without them, haven't we?" Nicki sets off towards the tube station where they've been sleeping for the last three days and he hurries after her. She may be a girl but she's still taller than him and he has to half-run to keep up. "Perhaps Katie will be able to give us a hand."

"Katie? She's barely coping with Aidan already, you can't put another burden on her back."

"Well, I don't know..." Her greasy hair swings across her face as she looks down at the baby. "She'll probably die, Jim, you know that?"

"But she'd definitely die if we left her. I mean, at least she's got a chance, right?"

"She'll not last six weeks." But already Nicki seems protective, and she's holding the child close. If Jim knows one thing about his sister, it's that she's never failed at anything yet. "Come on, Ruth," she whispers. "You've got a long road ahead of you. Hold on now. The worst is yet to come."

Tell me about it,thinks Jim. He wouldn't want this life for any little girl. He wouldn't want this life for himself. 

But anything's better than dying abandoned on a pile of rubbish, isn't it?

The End

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