She knew, of course she knew, at 6, 7, 8 months.
She knew then that there was something terribly wrong with her son. She would sit on the floor with him lying on her lap as she rocked him and looked at him, while he stared at her with no recognition, no expression, a stare that seemed to come from a million miles away.
The rocking sometimes, just sometimes stopped the screaming, replaced it with a blankness, but at least then there was some silence, some reprieve.
She took him to the doctor, any excuse, a cough, a cold , a sniff.
“Yes” they would say, “he seems quiet, unresponsive, perhaps some developmental delay” and she would feel medical eyes slide over her and then they would be outside, the 15 year old and the baby with the dead eyes and he would start screaming again and she would walk down the road, her tongue finding all the things she had needed to say 7 minutes earlier.
Weeks went by, he screamed, the neighbours stared glaring when she bumped the buggy down the steps from flat 3. People moved away from her, from them in the mini-mart, exchanged glances over her head. Most of the time she was simply too tired to even notice.
The other girls, friendships made in the teenage ante-natal group, proud parents of Paris, CHantelle, Ezra, Mohammed stopped calling for her, stopped inviting her to their little expeditions to the park, the swimming pool, the soft play area.
And then one day her mother called the baby it and then broke down, wept, said she could not take the screaming or the silences any more and that they would have to go, have to find somewhere else to live.
So, at 16, the council found her a tiny flat and she and her child moved in and her life shrank down to almost nothing.
She learnt to avoid the curious glances of her new neighbours, to try and time her occasional forays into the outside world to the 15 minute snatches of silence when he would sleep and when she was mostly capable of speech.
One day she fell asleep standing up in the check out line at Aldi, the elderly woman behind her nudged her gently and bleary eyed, sleep confused, she managed to stagger out of the store.
She celebrated her 17th birthday on her own, with her head buried under a pillow while her son cried for 3 hours and 40 minutes. He was older now, bigger, stronger and his cries had a new tonal quality, almost mechanical, metalic, skreechy.
Sometimes she fantasised about simply leaving the buggy at a bus stop, outside a store, next to the swings in a far away park, but then she would look at him and feel such a surge of love and guilt that she would forget and grab him up in an extravagence of love, holding on even when he bit hard enough to draw blood.
By now, she was almost 18 and had become fluent in the language of difference, of otherness.
She had a social worker, a fey, harried boy, whose cursory examination of her son for signs of non-accidental injury was not always as subtle as perhaps he thought . He suggested support groups, on-line self help programmes, useful web sites, but failed to notice that she had no computer and no internet.
She had a growing collection of the furniture of disability, an oversized push chair, a special seat, wraps for his limbs, a stack of disposable nappies.
As he grew older, he widened his repetoire of noise, there was a humming, almost a thrumming, a constant low noise, surprisingly soothing for the first 30 minutes, she labelled this his happy noise.
The other noises were less easy, a sharp scream, then an intake of breath and another scream and so on and so on and of course the crying continued, but perhaps he was running out of tears, often, he simply lay in complete silence, his fingers constantly kneading the edges of his Action man duvet.
But,still he didnt sleep, the social workers offered her two mornings a week respite care, with bright shiny faces the staff suggested that she could look at a college course, perhaps a p/time job. She stared back blankly, her only plans, the only thing she could possibily envisage for these 6 precious hours a week, was sleep, deep, deep, uninterrupted sleep.
And that was how she found eventually , the night buses, a desperate attempt to silence him, to escape the walls closing in, to be outside of the scream and the breath and the scream.
It was a warm night, so she simply, with a practised jab to his stomach to make his rigid, unco-operative body fold into the buggy, headed off down the stairs and onto the street.
She couldn’t remember the last time she had been out at night, it was almost a surprise to see that a world existed out there, full of people her age, drinking and eating and just hanging.
She walked and looked into the cafes and bars and the child squawked, but a muted, bearable squawk and after a while she dared to stop, get her bearings and seeing a coffee shop, she rooted around in her purse, found a crumpled and much folded fiver and without thinking too hard, there were better uses for the money, she bought a hot chocolate with marshmallow and sprinkles.
Standing on the street corner, left hand absently rocking the buggy, she enjoyed every last sip and amazingly, the child falls asleep and she walked home, a memory of sugar still on her lips.
So, the summer went on and the walks helped, he seemed calmer, stiller. Some nights, but not always, she would treat herself, an ice cream, a coffee. She felt her life get larger, expand to be a little more than just him and no sleep and the walls of the cramped flat.
And then one night it didn’t help, she walked for hours and hours and the child screamed,a full throated screech of anger and loss and fustration and nothing she did helped until finally, exhausted, she sank into a bus stop seat, whilst the noise from the child threatened to finally make her head explode.
She didn’t notice the Asian man waiting for the night bus until he leaned over and gently took her hand and by then, she was too tired to be fearful and so looked up at him with a dazed curiosity
“The bus” he said ” when my sons were small and wouldn’t sleep, we would take them for drives in the car, it seemed to help,maybe the bus will do the same”
He looks towards the main road and points
“Here comes one now”
And she knew that she should explain, walk away, walk back to the flat and the neighbours that ignored her and the counting down to Wednesday and Friday mornings, but she was beyond speech and so just nodded and when the bus stopped, she simply clambered on, manouvered the buggy into the pushchair space and stared blankly out of the window as the night turned into very early morning.