by Simon Evans
When I walked out of prison there was no one there to meet me. Mind you, I didn’t expect there to be. Not after what I did.
There was something rather refreshing though, something rejuvenating, about having a clean slate. Plus, I had no desire to see my own harrowing guilt looking back at me from the eyes of my so called nearest and dearest.
I had been planning my release day for some time. I intended to catch a random selection of buses to start my new life somewhere truly new to me. I caught a 41 bus from outside the prison and travelled one stop. There I caught a number 18 and travelled two stops. Then a number 24 took me three stops. I continued this process until I travelled seven stops on the number 8. I arrived, in light drizzle, in a dull town I had never been to or heard of. I was happy.
I walked down the drab High Street and took in my surroundings. The main change I noticed from when I had previously enjoyed my liberty was a proliferation of supermarkets. They were everywhere and in all shapes and sizes. The cars seemed bigger and shinier and there was a lot of flesh on show. Sadly though it was wobbly, pale British flesh. It was somehow reassuring that the one thing that stayed the same was the weather – so much for climate change!
I entered a large ‘Wetherspoons’ pub on the High Street. It was strangely quiet and smoke free. I could see how the stale atmosphere could be depressing but I cared little and enjoyed three quick pints, a smile slowly emerging on my face.
I left the pub at lunch time and was briefly blinded by the grey sun light. I bought a pasty and sat on a bench and watched the drizzle pass by. Bookies – everywhere. Bookies and supermarkets. Bookies, supermarkets and pale, wobbly flesh. I was back in England! A proper citizen again.
I spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening in William Hill and enjoyed a decent slice of luck on the dogs and the gee gees. It was time for more beer to celebrate. Then I suppose I should really try to find somewhere to stay for the night.
I felt like hitting the town in style so I bought a suit for £10 from a charity shop. There were quite a few charity shops to choose from. Charity shops, supermarkets, bookies and pale, wobbly flesh. And pubs.
There was a wedding reception at a pub called ‘The Corinthian’. The general gaiety and happiness pouring from the building attracted me. You don’t get much gaiety in prison, well not this kind.
In my cheap suit I fitted in to the drunken wedding crowd. I bought a pint and watched the celebrations from a dark corner of the bar. The music was pumping out as bodies danced under the dusty, motionless glitter ball. The same old wedding music – how reassuring!
I went to the toilet for a piss and was aware of a man at the next urinal staring at me. I had become a master of ignoring such behaviour and kept an eye on him in the mirror as I washed my hands. He was still staring so there was no choice but to adopt my own icy stare. The man’s expression changed as his eyes searched mine. A look of recognition flashed across his stern features and his face softened, he even took a few paces back.
“Bugger me.” He said. “It’s you isn’t it? You came!”
I smiled back at him, I decided not to commit, I was interested in what was happening – the alcohol in my blood anaesthetised me to the strangeness of the situation.
“It’s Bob isn’t it?” the man said.
“Yes, I’m Bob.” I smiled and nodded.
The man lurched towards me and smothered me in an awkward embrace.
He held my shoulders as he looked at me.
“Jane and Mum are going to be shocked to see you, Bob. We’d given you up for dead! We sent the invite but we thought you must have moved! How long has it been? Twenty years?”
“Where’ve you been?”
“Here and there.”
“Come on Bob – come and say hello to Jane and Mum. You can’t have met Mark and his family. There are so many people to introduce you to! It’s like ‘Long Lost Family!”
The man led me from the gents and took me on a winding journey through revellers. We arrived at a table where a lady sat, bedecked in a ridiculous hat.
“Look Mum. Look who I found. It’s Bob!”
The woman looked at me and her mouth dropped open and she clasped her hands together under her chin.
“Bob you son of a bitch!” She exclaimed.
“Bob, you’ve come back!”
She clutched me and the sweet stink of terrible perfume momentarily eclipsed all senses.
The music had stopped.
The man from the gents was standing in front of me with a microphone.
“Can I have your attention everyone?! I want to introduce some of you and reintroduce others to this old stranger. It’s Bob!”
There was a collective gasp from half the room.
He passed the microphone to me.
“Go on Bob, say a few words.”
I lifted the microphone to my lips and started talking.