Apparently we carry our prisons with us. Nat didn’t believe that until tonight. The other guy who is now sharing his cell, is sitting with his head leaning against the wall and his eyes behind those hipster glasses are shut. His short ginger hair contrasts strongly with his green boiler suit and Nat guesses he’s no more than maybe 19 or 20. He’s also sweating profusely across his forehead and has a constant tremor in both hands.
“How long have you got?”
The Ginger doesn’t respond. Nat leans back against the wall. He’s still numb. It hasn’t sunk it yet. There’s an awkward silence. After ten days, Nat decides they can’t sit in silence every night.
“I can’t believe it. Ten fucking years, in here.”
Then the Ginger speaks.
“I’ve been in prisons all my life. This one doesn’t make much difference.”
He has the poshest accent Nat’s ever heard.
“What do you mean?”
“Small town...boarding school...this...it’s all the same.”
Nat sits up.
“Wait, you went to boarding school? Was it like-”
“No, no and no again. If it had been like Hogwarts, I wouldn’t be here.”
There’s another awkward silence.
“I’m Nat by the way.” he says. After a moment the Ginger sits up and wipes the sweat off his forehead with a very shaky hand. He did this a lot. “Ben.”
“You can get treatment for that you know.”
“The shakes, the sweat-”
“No...I’m fine. I just need a drink and then I’ll...I’ll be fine. I’m not ill. I’m not.”
Nat only knew because his dad had been exactly the same. And it always ended so violently. Nat decides to change the subject.
“So what was your school like?” Nat asks after a moment.
“It’s a long story.”
“Well we do have ten years.”
That figure. Ten years. He thinks miserably for a moment about his life and how it’s ended up. Then he looks across at this poor guy; someone who was given life imprisonment at birth. He lights a cigarette.
“It begins and ends in an airport. It’s the 14th April 2012 and I’ve managed to pack up my whole life of 14 years and 11 months into one suitcase. Inverness Airport is the third airport I’ve been in today and compare to Leeds and Aberdeen, definitely the worst. I have a real urge to write CLAIM ME on my forehead just to see if anyone notices but there’s no sign of life anywhere. Not a sod. I consider getting up to go into W.H.Smith but I can read the headlines from here anyway. One say FRENCH JOURNALIST MURDERED IN SYRIA’. Another says ‘Is there increasing Class Conflict Growing in U.S. Between Rich and Poor?’
I’m trying to decide which one sounds more interesting when my Blackberry vibrates.
Hope you had a good flight. Text me when you get there. M xxxx
That’s the fourth text she’s sent me since I left Leeds Airport this morning and the 4th text I’ve not replied to. If she thinks four kisses are going to make up for this exile then ha, she’s mistaken.
“Are you Benedict Middleton-Jones?”
I look up and a middle-aged airport attendant is standing over me. What? Why is she eyeballing me? I feel self conscious. I think it’s what I’m wearing. It’s not my fault I’m travelling in my Hunter Wellies because they were too big to pack and I’m wearing my one and only Jack Will’s hoodie. Oh yeah and I happened to have fixed my glasses together up with sellotape? What is her problem? Is the whole world still out to get me?
“Yes.” I squeak.
“Your taxi’s here.”
I thank her then grabbing my one suitcase, I head out into the sleeting rain where my taxi is waiting.
It’s about an hour and a half to Strathcarron but it feels a lot longer. Luckily I have two Coldplay albums to keep me occupied. We drive through Strathcarron which is a tiny village and then through two heavy stone gates which clang behind us. We make our way along a twisty drive until we turn a sharp corner and there’s nothing until the first lights of Arkansas house are visible. Arkansas was built in the 70′s, a huge red brick building with three floors and two wings-
"Woah woah woah. Stop. You’re a terrible storyteller.”
Nat stops Ben in the midst of his slightly delusional storytelling.
“Arkansas ,do you have like a photo or something? It would make my life a lot easier if I can see it.”
“Here, pass me a pen and paper.”
Nat passes a reporter pad and a biro and Ben sketches for a moment.
Nat looks over it and suddenly understands what Ben was rambling on about.
“There’s a tree in front of it too but I haven’t drawn it in...it was cherry blossom...”
What a delusional weirdo, Nat thinks. Ben is still rambling.
“The sticking out building on the left was the mixed comm...then the right wing was...”
“Look.” Nat takes the drawing. “You can draw me floor plans later. Can you just get on with the story, please?”
The Taxi driver drops me off and the first thing I notice is the tree which is directly outside of Arkansas and was slowly blossoming into a delicate shade of pink. Cherry blossom. My sisters favourite. I wonder how many times I’ll see it bloom. I stand for a moment, next to the tree, looking up at the front door and beyond to the two other stories above it. With the Scientist by Coldplay playing in my ears, I begin to sweat, first on my palms and then on my forehead. For the first time in my life, I’m on my own with no parents to tell me what to do. I’d rather be anywhere but here. I don’t see why my mum couldn’t have sent me 20 minutes down the road to school in Scarborough. My stomach ties itself into a massive knot. I just have to do it. I just have to take out my headphones and go in.