Maybe, she thinks, maybe things will get better now.
At her elbow, a young boy impatiently bounces on his toes. Filled with candy floss and fizzy pop, he is already as high as a kite, flying across the bluest sky. She ruffles his blonde hair, comforted by his presence. He’s damp, fresh from the log flume, where he screamed all the way up but was too happy to make a noise on the way down. As they crashed into the water, she felt a new lease of life wash over her; and when they stopped, he took her hand in his and said, “Thanks, Mum.”
But this rollercoaster is what he has been looking forward to all day.
Way, way up there, the little boy dreams he might be free. Weightless, he would soar through the sky, feel the wind through his hair, and sweat fear through his shirt. The smell of discarded fast food in it's packaging tickles his nostrils and unsettled his stomach, where electric butterflies fight each other.
All around him, happy families bask in the late summer sun. Parents laugh at their children’s joviality, holding backpacks and raincoats, the universal symbol of British pessimism. Siblings wrestle over which ride they want to go on next. Teenagers, usually experts at feigning boredom over the most interesting of activities, discard their hormonal negativity in favour of the Haunted House.
The young boy smiles. Everything is perfect: he has indulged in all his favourite foods; he has braved the Pirate Ship; he is about to board the rollercoaster; and beside him is his mother.
The queue inches forward, closer to the ride. The mother looks up as the dragon rattles overhead, screams hanging in the air for a moment after it has passed.
Please, God, she prays, let this be a turning point.
This day marked their tenth together. They’d started each other seeing two months ago, under the watchful eyes of his social worker, struggling to find common ground. Every time they met, she learnt something new. But she’d loved everything about him; she drank up the details – like when he was nervous, he chewed on his knuckles; and when he was excited, he rubbed his palms together like a maniacal villain. With time, she came to know her son, found shared loves and interests, laughed over private jokes, and had grown comfortable being alone together.
The transition period was almost over. Soon, things will be different. Her son, once so distant, would be hers again.
Giving him up had once felt like her only option, but there hadn't been a moment in which she hadn’t longed for him back. The grip of his tiny palm around her finger. The fresh smell of his delicate skin. The weight of his head on her arms: unstable, fragile, perfect.
For eight years, he’d been passed from foster home to foster home. Five different women had been his mother over that time. In her absence, they’d bathed him, clothed him and fed him. They’d taught him to ride a bike, they’d watched swimming lessons and football matches, they’d held him as he cried, fending off the demons of his nightmares. She hadn’t been there; someone else had had to do it.
She knew she’d been lucky – not everyone has the opportunity to be reunited.
Now, she wishes, now he can be mine.
Today is her chance for redemption.