Ten minutes later the screw returned to take me back to the wing. He didn’t need to ask me how the hearing had gone, my face did that for me. Even the application of handcuffs couldn’t wipe the broad grin off my face. There was a spring in my step as we crossed the forecourt and entered the wing. I knew that these were the final few hours of my incarceration. Eleven days of fear, pain and longing would soon be over. I’d made it — or at least that’s what I thought.
The faint murmur of voices grew louder as we passed through security and in to the servery, it was lunch time. The screw removed my cuffs and told me he would back at 3 pm to prepare me for release. I glanced up to the clock on the wall — 12:05.
The morning’s events had tied my stomach in knots, it was only now I realised just how hungry I was. I tore off a chunk of bread and eagerly stuffed it in to my mouth as I crossed the servery and made my way to my ‘favourite’ seat. Before I got there a voice stopped me in my tracks. It was a voice I recognised and it was calling my name in an unmistakable Slavic accent:
“Igor!” I exclaimed, with a mixture of surprise and delight. “It’s so good to see you!”
As I approached Igor I scanned his face. He was smiling but his eyes looked sad, as I got closer I could see that his right eye was swollen, above it an arc of butterfly stitches intersected his mono-brow, below it a purple bruise faded through blue, green and yellow as it crept across his cheekbone and down to his jawline.
“What happened?” I asked, incredulously.
“Oh.. that,” he said dismissively and with the pretence that suggested he’d forgotten the right side of his face had been butchered. “Don’t worry, that’s nothing. You should see the other guy!” he quipped. “We had a fight and now I’m in a cell on my own. What about you?”
I thought back to the events of the last 24 hours and took a deep breath. “It’s a long story, but the good news is I’m going home today!”
“That’s great!” Igor boomed with passion and sincerity. “That really is great.”
For the next few minutes I told Igor about my experience the night before. Igor’s eyes and mouth progressively widened with disbelief as I told him firstly about Jock, then the spice, and then the fate of the television.
Our catch-up was punctured by the screw’s call of ‘time’. Igor’s new pad was three doors away from mine so we made our way back together. It was only when we paused outside my cell that it dawned on me — this was goodbye. I was leaving in a few hours but Igor would be here for at least another two months. The thrill of my imminent release was tempered by the thought that I was leaving him behind. I almost felt guilty. With a hand shake and a goodbye, Igor was gone.
I pushed the cell door open and made my way inside for the final time. There was an empty space on the cupboard where the television used to be. I looked down to the floor: the shattered glass had gone too. My eyes flicked over to the bunk and I froze in horror. On the bottom bunk with his hands clasped behind his head lay Jock. He lay motionless; the shadow cast from the top bunk made it difficult to see his expression. He was either asleep or staring at the underside of the bunk above. I blinked hard, unsure if what I was seeing was real, but each time my eyes opened he was still there.
A sharp clunk from behind me made me jump. It was the screw locking us in. It stirred Jock too, he let out a huge yawn and turned his head. I could see his eyes now and he was looking straight at me.
“Bet ye didn’t expect me to be here did ye?” Jock said with a slightly deranged snigger. He could see that I was nervous and seemed to be revelling in it.
“Er.. no, no I didn’t,” I nervously fumbled.
“What’s wrong?” he said. “What are ye scared of? Do ye think I’m gonnae slice ye up like that other fucker?”
This was the first time Jock had openly admitted the attack on his previous cell mate. Up until that point I’d been able to convince myself that it wasn’t true, but now it was out in the open there was no hiding from it. My mind raced through all the possible responses, but when I opened my mouth to speak all I could muster was a nervous giggle. The silence of the cell amplified my giggle, it rang loud in my ears and hung in the air. I sounded ridiculous. Ridiculous and terrified.
Jock unfolded his arms and reached beneath his pillow, his eyes remained fixed on mine. I wanted to run, but there was nowhere to run too, besides my feet were glued to the floor. My heart was pounding so hard I thought it might burst through my chest and a thousand angry butterflies fluttered in my gut. Time slowed down to a standstill, I closed my eyes and swallowed hard. What was he reaching for? What did he have under that pillow — a piece of glass, a razor blade, a knife? I knew when I opened my eyes I would have the answer.
When I did open my eyes Jock was still smiling, my gaze flashed down to his hand, but there was no weapon. Instead his meaty paw clutched several sheets of paper and he was holding them out towards me. The frozen terror thawed in my veins and my fear subsided.
“I was reading yer stuff,” he said, “I hope ye don’t mind.”
I looked back at the clutch of papers and recognised them as my own. Jock had read everything — all of my personal thoughts, my hopes, my fears, how I had lost my children, my job, my everything.
“No, no of course not,” I said cautiously, still unsure how the rest of the exchange was going to play out.
“Good, cuz I thought it was really good. Ye don’t deserve to be here mate and your ex sounds like a fockin’ bitch. How could she do that to ye?”
I nodded and shrugged, muted by shock this time rather than fear. Finally able to move my feet I shuffled across the cell towards Jock and reclaimed the clutch of papers.
“I’m nae allowed another telly so I’m gonnae write too,” Jock declared triumphantly.
“Good man,” I said mimicking Jock’s response from the previous days’ smoking initiation. “They’re going to let me go home at three o’clock today,” I added, with a relieved smile.
“Get in there ye focking beauty,” Jock toasted with a clenched fist. “Before ye go, I’ve got something for ye,” he said, and his hand disappeared back under his pillow again. This time he pulled out a much smaller piece of paper and pressed it in to my hand. There was a name and telephone number scrawled on it:
JOSIAH BLAKE — 07966 406 326
“What’s this?” I asked, thinking I must be missing something.
“Ye ever get in any trouble, or ye need someone fockin’ up — call that number and say your a friend of Jocks. Oh, and when ye do get out can ye send me in some paper and pens?”
“Yes of course,” I said, “And thanks.” I wasn’t entirely sure what the appropriate response to being offered the services of a hitman was and I was pretty certain I would never need one, but this was Jock’s way of saying thanks and I wasn’t about to decline. Jock’s offer, whilst genuine, was a chilling reminder of just how far I had descended in to the shadowy world of criminality. As I jumped up to the top bunk I allowed myself a private smile. This would make a good story I thought, and picked up my pen.
‘56 Days by Julian Smith’
It wasn’t long before the screw returned and led me away from the cell for the final time. I shook Jock’s hand and bid him farewell before offering my hands to the screws handcuffs. As he escorted me down the metal staircase I paused and allowed myself one final look back. I looked at Igor’s cell and gave a nod just in case he was watching. My civilian clothes and personal possessions were returned, along with my dignity and freedom. I shaded my eyes in the bright autumn sunshine and felt the warm rays on my face. I walked at least a couple of hundred yards before allowing myself one final look back — it was a menacing sight — but I was now free.
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