“Mum, Mum, wait till you see this!”

The girl was hard to see in the darkness: a vague silhouette, slithering over piles of rotting rubbish, fruit, vegetables and other unsold and out-of-date foodstuff. Behind the shopping centre a yard was enclosed by a brick wall, high, but not high enough to stop determined scavengers bunking up and over to look for anything which might fill an empty belly.

Lily was always hungry. There never seemed to be enough money for food. What did Mum do with it, she wondered. Smokes? Drink? Pokies? She could not be sure but they both did this nightly round of the grocery chuck-outs.

Her hands slipped over more rotten fruit: bananas oozing from split skins; apples, some still firm, most slimy and not worth a second touch, oranges covered in films of mould; mushy plums, apricots, grapes getting pongy, squashed tomatoes: a jumble of stale bread rolls, cream buns, tacky glazed icing, crumpets, doughy muffins, smashed cream cakes. Lily’s fingers dipped in and out of her mouth: the taste was good but it was too dark to see what she was eating.

A rat scurried away.

Her hand fingered inside a fibre carton: packets of something unopened, several of them. She pulled one out in front of her face. “Hey Mum, come over,” a loud but muffled whisper, “wait till you see what I got.”

Her mother, a formless shadow slid around the jumbled garbage. “What is it then? What yer got?”

“Doughnuts, packets of ’em. They’re in boxes like this. I seen ’em in the shop. Cor. I love doughnuts.”

“OK, put ’em in the bag. We’d better be orf ‘fore security comes round.”

“I got a few rolls as well.”

“OK, that’ll do us dinner. Come on.”

“Mum, how come all this food don’t get sold in the shops?”

“Dunno luv. Waste, ain’t it.