“The money’s just for expenses,” she explains slowly, “you wouldn’t believe what it costs a lawyer to draw up adoption papers.” She asks questions about what the couple do for a living, whether they’ve a happy marriage, and are they churchgoers or not. They always say they are. They think this is the right answer. My Mammy could not give a toss about whether they are Protestants or Roman Catholics or practicing Satanists. She only asks these questions so the whole set-up doesn’t sound too suspicious.
“Well,” she says, “this is an answer to prayer, a real weight off my mind knowing my wee Josh, (or Brendan, or Philip), is going to get everything I can’t give him. Bless you. Bless you both. Why don’t I drop him round to youse for a trial run, just for the night? You can see what a wee dote he is and sure, I could lift a deposit off you at the same time, kill two birds with the one stone.”
There is a damp pause. This is the moment when the deal will either take or fail.
“Would five grand seem reasonable?” asks Mammy. Another pause. “Perfect, I hope you don’t mind doing cash. I don’t want himself getting at the money. He’s a wild man for the drink.”
The deal is all go then. Dad and I do a silent air punch, “yesss”. My brother is too young to understand any of this. He thinks it’s all just a game, like hide and seek in someone else’s house. The people who adopt him will spoil him with ice cream and crisps before bed. They want him to have good memories of his first night in their house. They never think about hiding their Ipods or wallets. Why would they suspect a five year old child, especially such a cute one? They put him to bed in his new bedroom and don’t even notice he’s gone ‘til the next morning. My Mammy makes Owen leave a note, in crayon, just in case they try to report him missing. This could ruin everything for us.
We’ve been waiting for over an hour now. I have bit away all the fingernails I can. There’s nothing else to do in the dark.
We can’t risk the engine. The last thing we need is the neighbours calling the police about a suspicious looking Saxo. Everything rides on a clean get-away, not least my brother, who my parents cannot afford to leave behind. By Mammy’s calculations we need at least two more jobs before we’ve enough for Australia, especially if we’re for taking Owen with us. I’m not that bothered either way. It was better before we got him. There was more room in the backseat for me. My Dad had his job at the chicken factory and Mammy made the sort of meals you need both a knife and fork for, not just sandwiches, which we are always having these days.
Everything has changed. We are outlaws now. Mammy has started smoking tight, little roll up cigarettes which she dangles through a gap in the car window. I am getting fat from all this sitting around, and also the sandwiches. Dad is turning into an American.
There is something about the way my Dad taps the beat out on the steering wheel, prodding at it with a single limp finger, which drives Mammy clean mad. Or, maybe the words are what winds her up. She has never been like bad medicine for Dad, unless Jon Bon Jovi is meaning cough syrup that’s gone off. The two of them only touch when they’re both going for the TV remote at the same time.
“Turn that shite off, Samuel,” she snaps, “it’s a wonder you’ve not woken up half the neighbourhood.”
Dad turns the stereo down, a wee bit at first, and then completely off. The car is full of silence and wet breathing. He does this in a way which is meant to make Mammy think he was going to do it anyway.
“Listen,” he says, “I think I hear a noise.” He rolls the window down a half-inch. Outside the car smells like cut grass and last night’s barbecue. “Naw, it was nothing, just the wind.”
Outside the car is a nice housing estate of medium-sized houses with pebbledash walls and two car driveways. The lawns are perfectly rectangled and green, like the smooth felt on snooker tables. Every third or fourth house has a touring caravan moored outside its garage door. The kind of people who live here are teachers and estate agents or different kinds of social workers. They have two children or three. Sometimes they can’t work up to one and this is where we come in, with my brother.
Experience has taught us that the middling people are more desperate. They are more likely to believe my Mammy on the telephone and then later, at their front door in a dirty t-shirt. They are easier to destroy than the very rich. Very rich people are always suspicious of people who want to help them, even when it is the kind of help they need such as window cleaning or gardening. We only do middleclass houses now. Afterwards, these kind of people are too mortified to call the police. They do not want to look like eejits in front of their friends.
“Besides,” says my mother, “it’s only their holiday savings we’ve taken or what they were setting aside for a conservatory. They can afford it.”