It must have been 1978 or thereabouts; I can't have been more than 15 or 16 years old, my parents were still married, and we were still living in 'the big house'. My dad was a building contractor, and every year he and my mum would attend a particular trade fair that my sister and I were most curious about. This year, they gave in to our whining and let us come with them. It didn't take long for us to realise that fairs are the most boring of places, and after discussing it with my sister, I went up to my mum and told her we were heading home. We talked about the logistics of it for a while, but in the end she agreed that it would be better for us to take the train than to hang around and frighten their business relations with our scowling faces.
Back in The Hague, we bumped into a girl I knew -not very well, but still, I liked her- who'd gotten herself in a pickle. She was accompanied by two young men in their mid-twenties, and they were her problem. She'd met them about 10 minutes earlier, at the station. They were from England, and stranded, with no money or idea how to get home.
This was a more innocent age. People didn't beg, didn't sleep rough when we were young. But these two had. They'd come over to the Continent with a promise of work in Germany, but when they got halfway there, they found out that there was no work. They'd slept on one of the steel benches at the station, and approached Pia (the girl) in hopes of scrounging a few coins out of her for a cup of tea. When she heard their story, she'd immediately offered to take them home, but only now remembered that her mother was ill and her father wasn't the most compassionate of men, so she didn't know what to do. No problem, I said, we could take them. My parents were used to me taking in strays; I couldn't see that this would be that much different.
Relieved, Pia left us with these two young men who introduced themselves as Sam and Steve from Birmingham. We took them home, made them some omelets (at that time, about the only thing I could cook), showed them to the bathroom and made up the beds in the spareroom. When Mum called that night to find out whether we'd gotten home safely, I made her promise we could keep them before disclosing that I wasn't talking about a pair of birds or cats this time, but full-grown strangers of the male persuasion. Mum nearly had a heart attack. She demanded to speak to our guests, and threatened them with dire consequences if any hair on her daughters' heads would be harmed while she wasn't there. Sam and Steve swore precious oaths that they wouldn't, and Mum then told us that she would be rushing home.
When she got there several hours later, the boys were on their best behaviour, and it wasn't long before she agreed that they could stay the night. In the morning, she said, my father would be coming home as well and they would sort something out then.
To cut a long story short, Sam and Steve lived with us for a year or more. As they were brickies, my dad had no trouble finding them jobs either on his own projects or those of business acquaintances. They called my mum 'Mum' and acted like big brothers around Mo and myself, making a nuisance of themselves at the parties we hosted. Our home became Expat Central, and it was all good. After about a year, they moved into their own flat, but they still dropped in for tea almost every day.
Then one day, they disappeared. As did the stereo and the petty cash. We never heard from them again.
For the first few months after their disappearance, we were very worried. My parents thought they must have fallen in with a bad crowd; Monique and I didn't know what to think. In time, we came to think and talk about them less and less. But every few years or so, I start to wonder: whatever could have happened to my surrogate big brothers, Stephen Reynolds and Colin David Thomas?