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The invisible boy

Curled up in a ball and squeezed between two old Esso pumps on the forecourt of a derelict petrol station Charlie was almost invisible. His skin and clothes a near perfect match for the windblown sand on which he rested. He hadn't eaten for days - berries, scraps and rainwater are not much of a diet for a growing boy.

Charlie was running away. There'd been a bulletin or two, someone, somewhere, missed him, but it soon died down and all searching stopped and he became just another little boy listed as missing. Institutionalised, misunderstood and often treated as a no-good, he found his care home no home at all. He wasn't like the other children, he had trouble concentrating and a pen in his hand led mostly to the titles and stars on the B side of every 45 in the charts since he was born.

Charlie had trouble fitting in. At school he'd been hurt beyond endurance poked, pushed, slapped, punched and kicked and not once did he retaliate. He didn't have anger so he couldn't hit back, striking someone made him cry and crying made him a bigger target for the bullies.

Beaten, spat at, used and abused, Charlie couldn't take it any more. No one in authority saw a thing. Charlie was all but invisible to the teachers and staff but not to bullies like Beverly Davidson - a big boy with a girl's name (could be the seat of his problem) who saw Charlie for what he was - easy meat and always good for a laugh. He gave the bullies his pocket money and anything else he thought might get them off his back but nothing changed for Charlie - ever the butt of the joke - the lonely boy, the invisible boy, the boy no one wanted to know. So one night Charlie decided to run away, putting all the clothes he possessed on his back, a bruised apple thrown at him earlier in the day in one pocket and a battered old army torch in the other and he was gone, out a window, down a drainpipe and across the lawn.

Fear in a child is far greater than fear in an adult. Fear in a child is magnified many times over, even the slightest noise paints pictures of unspeakable horrors waiting to pounce on little boys who, at this time of night, should be tucked up safely in bed, and so it was with Charlie, free he might be; but he was alone and with increasing distance vulnerable to anything that might lurk in the dark. He soon discovered he'd escaped one nightmare only to land himself in another.

As darkness approached he did what he'd done last night and all nights before, he hid, this time in the only refuge currently available, a rusty old Austin Princess balanced on bricks at the back of the deserted garage, its once plush back seat still serviceable as a bed. Hunger kept him awake tonight as too did the fear of discovery.

Yet, discovered he was ,and fortunately for Charlie by the bright eyes of a generous middle-aged lady out early looking for coloured stones and the like to be crafted into works of art which she sold to tourists who regularly stopped at her road side Gift shoppe. 'What you doin' in there at this hour young man?' Enquired the lady, 'Nothin' ma'am, I'm just resting.' 'Well, were are you parents and shouldn't you be at school?' 'Yes, but I ran away.' 'And why did you run away, if I may ask?' 'Well, ma'am I'm not as clever as other boys and I pay for it every day at school, I got bullied.' 'Oh, I see what's happened here, my two children are the same, but they get help and they're happy and you will be too tonight sunshine, come with me and let's get you cleaned up and fed.'

Shining like a new pin Charlie sat down to breakfast accompanied by his kindly benefactor and her two children. They knew first hand what Charlie had been through; and they knew what autism was like the back of their hands. Charlie had finally landed on his feet, and from here on in Charlie found his smile and kept it, invisible boy? No, not any more.

© Joseph G Dawson