Mama

Nobody can stop you.

Nobody can hold you back.

You can overcome every obstacle that life puts in your way.

Those were the things that mama had said. Mama had been wrong, of course: she had only told Toby those things because that was what mamas were supposed to say. It had been her job to lift Toby off the floor that he had slept on every night and make him believe that there was a chance he would turn out like other boys.

The boys in the families that could afford birthday parties. The boys in the families that met up and went on holidays to the seaside and did the sorts of things that little boys were supposed to do. Those were the boys mama had wanted him to be like.

Toby had no reason to doubt that mama had wanted him to turn out better than she had. She had wanted him to know what it was like to have a birthday party and go on a holiday to the seaside with relatives. She had wanted more for Toby than she had been able to give him.

When mama had taken strange men into her bedroom, she had made Toby promise that he would cover his ears and close his eyes and think about the life he would live when he was older. But, as he had grown, it had become increasingly difficult to pretend he had not known what mama was doing with those men. Toby had known from a young age why mama wanted to teach him that he could make a better life for himself than the one she could provide him.

It was a good thing that mama was gone, really. That was not what Toby should have thought when he thought about his mama, but it was a relief to know that she could not see where he had ended up. At least mama had died peacefully, rather than at the hands of a man in her room or out on the streets. At least she had died believing that Toby could become something more.

Mama had been a lot of things – and people had never seemed to care whether she had heard the words they had used to describe her – but she had not been stupid. She had known that her first duty had been to her child, and if there had been a chance that they could have lived without mama taking men to her bedroom, then Toby knew she would have taken it. But Toby and his mama were one and the same: a young person with no money and no education could not get very far.

So Toby had lied. He had stolen. He had ruined Christmases and birthdays for those boys and girls who had had something other than a roof over their heads on their wish lists. When he had become a little older, he had dealt drugs for extra cash, but when he had witnessed a fight between another dealer and the man they had owed money to, he had backed off and returned to thievery in a new location. It was this that had got him arrested.

Toby had got his brain from his mama. He knew that, as bad as it was to be locked in a cell surrounded by a bunch of thugs, it was good to be in a warm room for a night. It had to be enjoyed while it lasted, and as long as he kept his head low it would be. He would be back out on the streets all too quickly. A young man like Toby was not worth the money it would cost to lock him away.

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