His mother often made up food parcels for him. She couldn’t be sure that he would be proper food if she gave him cash, so she shopped for wholesome foods and a few of his favourites, then packed them into a box for him to collect on his weekend home.
The first ever box went with him the time he left home and travelled to his new place. She even wrote his name on everything in marker pen back then, until he reassured her the others wouldn’t eat his things because he’d keep them in his room or a locked cupboard. Besides if they ate his, he could eat theirs. Heaven only knows what he’d end up with then, she thought. Probably those Pot Noodly things, which was exactly what she was trying to avoid.
Every few weeks during the first year away he had come home, bringing with him a huge load of washing and often he’d make a request for the next food box. Some suggestions she agreed with, like green pasta and pesto sauce. Others she ignored, like Guinness and Mars Bars and six-packs of crisps. She knew he probably did eat those things when she wasn’t around, but getting her to pay for them wasn’t going to work.
During the long summer break she got used to having him around again. He sometimes did his own washing now he didn’t have to find pound coins for the slot and he even went shopping with her sometimes, although she did have to watch what he tried to slip into the trolley masquerading as a treat or something new to try. He started to join her in a mug of hot malted milk before bed on the nights he wasn’t out with his friends. He introduced her to dunking and even though she worried about the chance of stains on the carpet, she did like crumbling ginger nuts and malted milk softening in her mouth.
In the second year he came home a little less often and in the third year, less often still. He worked harder and spent more hours reading books thicker than any she owned. Sometimes he would bring a friend with him and once a girl. His mother could tell she was nice enough but it wouldn’t last. She wasn’t in the same league as him but would he tire of explaining things to her before she tired of trying to keep up.
He always took a box back with him and now they didn’t need to discuss what it should contain any more. There were even some ingredients so he could start experimenting with home cooked meals although whether he traded them for ready-made packets she wasn’t sure. And whenever he was at home they always had a few evenings of late-night hot milk and biscuits, chatting about important things and unimportant things and sharing time.
Now his boxes included a packet of ginger nuts and sometimes she put in a second packet, just to be sure.