Errol had been up since five listening to the familiar sounds echoing around the prison. The old Irish guy next door that sobbed first thing, as if his dreams carried him to a far away happy place and was genuinely shocked to find himself imprisoned again every morning. ‘Goat,’ the Jamaican man in the cell on the other side that would sing as he shaved, his baritone echoing through the near-empty landings and almost filling them. It was the kind of rich sound you could easily imagine in the belly of a slave ship, with the one hopeful reminding the others that they were still alive and not to give up just yet. Being housed in between them gave Errol some strange sense of balance.Birds would chirp outside the window with no consideration for those caged inside. Squirrels would scamper up trees reminding him that, until he had been transferred to the countryside during his first prison sentence, he had never known how they sounded. He could not have guessed they sounded like a baby’s squeaky toy accidentally trod on during the night on the way to the toilet.
Errol lay on his bed flicking through television stations over and over again unable to settle. The wholesome American family comedy; the latest set of breakfast television presenters sitting on a sofa with their too-wide smiles, desperately trying to pretend the format was not dead; the bitter sports pundits predicting the result of the football season; music channels with girls gyrating and guys gesticulating into the camera. Somebody appeared in Errol's doorway.
“Martin! You getting up today or what? Anyone would think you didn’t want to go home and you wanted to stay here with me.”
“Of course not Miss… I mean, I do want to see go home and see my family. Not that I want to get away from you.”
He got up and grabbed the black holdall from beside his bed.
“Relax Martin. I’m just winding you up. It’s only five days. I’m sure I can cope without you for that long. Just make sure you don’t get too happy out there and forget to come back.”
“Yeah cool. Nah I won’t.”
Officer Lucero had a smirk on her face causing deep lines to form underneath each eye and around her mouth, right through the pockmarks on her skin making her face look like the ‘dot to dot’ pictures Errol used to complete when he was a child. She stood in the doorway leaving a space too small for him to squeeze through unless he brushed right up against her. He hesitated, not knowing what to do for the best. He didn’t need any trouble this morning.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?”
“No…I don’t think so. I dunno.”
Surely she didn’t want him to kiss her? Not here. What if someone came along the corridor and caught them? He would be on a bus to a closed prison within the hour and he could forget about his home leave.
“My name? What d’ya mean? Errol?”
“No, surname and prison number. How can I be sure you are who you say you are? I’ll get into trouble if I send the wrong con down to the gate. And you don’t want me to get into trouble do you?
“Course not. Martin LX239CD.”
“Good. We have to follow procedure. Least summa the time. Y’know what I’m saying.”
That smirk was still there. She placed one hand on her hip and with the other she began to stroke the large, brown prison-issue stave that all the officers wore attached to their belts. She flickered her eyes open and closed. Pale blue and always slightly watery, as though she could summon tears on command.
“Jesus, what’s wrong with you? I’m just taking the piss. Get yourself down to reception.”
She turned quickly and left banging her stave against the Goat’s door interrupting his rendition of Smokey Robinson’s ‘You Really Got A Hold on Me.’
“Shut the fuck up or you're nicked.”