Getting onto Southbank at around mid-day, it is found that the cramped conditions of central London are ideal for us not to be discovered by Luca’s fellow children’s’-homers. Having agreed not to don our hoodies until we reach the skate arena, instead I nearly crick my neck gazing up at the fairy-lighted London Eye and a luminous Big Ben commanding a sturdy bridge arching the Thames. If there’s anything about my first taste of London that grabs me the most, it’s the sheer scale of things: the mammoth buildings, the crawling crowds, the cloud-shod expanses of sky; even the mingled fragrance of fast-food vans is potent enough to penetrate the nether-tunnels of my nostrils.
At our destination zone, the hum of multilingual chatter makes space for the echoing thud of previously-airborne wheels; in the dingiest corner is a stunted silhouette silently splattering an already rainbow-like wall with a small red spray can. They seem to be crafting an image in the shape of a horizontal almond: an eye. It’s got to be Luca.
He doesn’t turn around as the three of us dodge-saunter across the young lads riding stunt bikes, scooters and skateboards, dressed in our new apparel. It’s a miracle that we don’t get hit, or even falter in our ridiculous performance. I realise now that, to see his face, we’ll have to travel right round in front of him, possibly sacrificing ourselves to chemical burns. Thankfully though, Luca has heard us, putting down his can and stepping aside just as we reach a distance of inches.
“So here’s the plan.” He begins straight away, not even double-checking our identities first. We aren’t given the chance to do anything other than listen. “I’ve been checking out the property, and the owner’s daughter always leaves the back gate open when she leaves for school. Closed, just not locked.” He clarifies. “I figured if we find a way to get him out of the house, we can easily sneak in and sift through any suspicious documents or artefacts.” Luca sounds so eager and content with his achievements that it is difficult to imagine that he feels any remorse for having left home at all.
My thoughts flick to Thomas, but quickly return to the surreal reality of the skate park. Now is not the time, I admonish myself.
Luca is bundling a ball of black material into Ms Stapleton’s arms. “That’s your policewoman’s uniform.” He indicates to her with a nod.
“Uhh…what?” She responds, representing the confusion of the majority.
“You’re the diversion.” His explanation elicits the flash of genius that overcomes his pupils from beneath the hood. They are the roaring blue flame of a Bunsen burner: dangerous, enchanting. “You are going to pretend that you are going round the houses to take surveys about the effectiveness of the local police force. Meanwhile, Saffron and Sam -” His animated face darts towards us. “- will carry out the search, grab what we need, and run.”
“Wait, why aren’t you coming?” I put forth in an accusatory tone.
“They won’t let me go out on my own yet.” He mutters, uncharacteristically sour.
Well, it’s his own fault, I can’t help but surmise.
“Hey, how’s it going at the children’s home?” Sam whispers politely, putting my bitter reaction to shame.
“Mm, it’s okay.” Luca replies unenthusiastically, then admits “I don’t get a moment’s peace – not even at night: my roommate’s a snorer.” He says that last bit with his hand cupping the side of his mouth theatrically. “I’ve had to lock all my science equipment in a safe so that it doesn’t get destroyed by rampaging 11-year-olds.” The 10-year-old says. “Since it’s my first fortnight, I’m not even allowed out by myself. Today is a risk too – as soon as they realise I’ve been a half hour in the bookshop I said I wanted to look in, they’ll send out a search party.” He sounds mournful now. “I seriously do wish that I could come with everyone but I fear that, after this, I’ll be captive for yet another two weeks.”