The twelve of them, having taken a meagre portion of tomato soup, seemed more relaxed and at ease with me being there. With the last of the flasks now safely stored in my rucksack, we all stared deep into the flames, listened to the crackles and watched the ashes as they ascended to the skies. Jacoby sighed and poked the fire with a nearby stick, then commanded the group to attention with the words,
"I wanted to get away from the constant screams and cries of my rowing parents. They didn't notice until the next morning that I was gone."
I had never seen Jacoby so vulnerable before. Now, he was letting me in, and in my head replayed screams and cries of a different kind, the ones of my mother and I as we realised that our husband and father, was gone. Then another voice picked up where Jacoby's had dissolved into silence.
"I'm Alex," it said, shortly followed by,
"I'm Aidan." The second voice continued, "Alex is my father, and we were left homeless and penniless when my mother, his wife, filed for divorce."
Alex's voice followed,
"We felt so betrayed. We had given her love, I had given her faithfulness, he gave her obedience. But to her, money was everything, and we didn't have enough."
I continued to think as this information went in. I remembered the love, the faithfulness, the obedience we had shared, all of us, before Edward, my father, was snatched away. But still, more voices came.
"I'm Simon," The first voice went on,
"We're brothers. We fought in the army, in Afghanistan. We were both involved in a bomb explosion, yet somehow we survived."
"We returned home to find that our parents had received word that we were dead. They didn't believe us, when limping and disfigured, we told them we were their sons. They thought it was some cruel joke."
"We couldn't work, so we began wandering the streets. Jacoby found us."
I remembered the disbelief I felt when I first heard that my father was dead.
A female voice came next, shy and youthful,
"Michael's mine twin brother. Mummy and Daddy didn't love us no more, so they lefted us in an alleyway. Then Uncle Jacoby found us."
"We're four, so I'm a big boy now!"
I couldn't believe it. My father's abandonment of my mother and me was involuntary and forgivable... just not at first.
Then, out of the darkness, came three voices in close succession,
Markus continued, "We had problems with alcohol. All our money disappeared; we were thrown out of our rented accommodation. Now we're here."
Another memory came to mind. I remembered the day I had found my mother, in a state of sheer insobriety. She scared me. She was hurting. We both were.
Then, the last voice came,
"My name is Gabriel, and I was orphaned in a car accident. I couldn't bear the idea of going into care, so I began roughing it on the streets. I was starving to death when Jacoby found me."
Car accident. I hated cars. Cars killed people.
Like my father.
I couldn't believe that all these people had suffered so greatly, and memories that had resurfaced forced tears out of my eyes. So, when I spoke, my voice was cracked and broken.
"My name is Ayla, and I live with my mother a few miles away. I lost my father in a car accident. My life is punctuated with punches and abusive words hurled at me by my peers,"
I took a breath before I spoke again,
"I'm here because I want to help you." I began to tremble and spasm with tears. I must have looked pathetic. Here I was, with people living through terrible things, and I was crying about being bullied. I had a home to go to. I had a mother who loved me. What right did I have to tears? Suddenly, I felt a gentle hold around me. I looked up into Gabriel's eyes. They were blue, a shade of blue so deep that I could not fathom them. They were almost black.
"How old are you, Ayla?" he asked, wiping my tears with his sleeve.
"Just a year younger than me, then."
And then it hit me. I was surrounded by people who cared, despite their own problems. Here, I had friends. I began to feel happier, almost euphoric. Then something else hit me as I looked down at my watch.
"Jacoby, I need to go."
He understood my urgency, and I went to leave, but then realized my rudeness and turned to face the eleven;
"Goodbye, and thank you."
"No, thank you." Came the reply.
"I'll see you soon."
I turned from them to Jacoby.
"I'll take you as far as the street."
"That's fine, I'll know where I'm going then."
A few turns later, we were standing in the place we had met that evening.
"Thanks, Jacoby, I know where I am now."
"Ok, Ayla, good luck for later."
I was sure of one thing.
My mother was going to kill me.