OUT OF SCHOOL
written by: Karen Clark
It was February – nine months since Nyka’s first night within Perivale’s walls. It was her birthday; she was sixteen, and her threads were now green; her amber ones having been removed last December, two months ago – a sign that the day of her release was not far away.
The prepaid telephone account funded by her mother went through last July, enabling her to call Liza on her mobile phone – a luxury she had enjoyed as soon as the account came into use. Whenever they spoke, Liza’s tone was as friendly as it was when Nyka had been free; she would mention Wayne and the times they spent together a lot; but Nyka had nothing to tell Liza about herself in return, and could feel the isolation between Liza and herself steadily progress.
The inmates with green threads residing on the wing when Nyka first came had now either been released or transferred to exist on wings within grim, adult jails; new inmates with red threads having taken their place; careful not to sit in the wrong coloured zone during meals.
Nyka had not been bullied since Corona Flax’s threat during breakfast eight months ago; but still missed Acacia Brown very much. She and Acacia both wrote to each other now and then – but a letter was not the same thing as a person ‘being there.’
Janice and Mrs Haversham had visited Nyka every few weeks since her placement on G Wing the previous June. They were due to visit her again within the next few hours, and Nyka had requested a barbeque out in the yard to celebrate her birthday – just as Acacia had done for her seventeenth birthday last June.
Nyka now attended Father Paisley’s service in the chapel every week; she found it helped quell the isolation she was feeling from the world beyond Perivale’s walls. Fenella – a new inmate sentenced for theft – would also attend, and would acknowledge Nyka whenever they passed on the wing.
Sitting idly on the stool of her cell after late morning tea, an envelope with a stamp emerged from under the door. Nyka guessed it was a letter from Acacia by the writing on its front, and eager to read any news Acacia had to report, opened the envelope in haste, unfolding the letter which she placed on the desk by her bed.
Acacia’s letter began,
“Congrats! Your threads are now green, and you can soon count the days leading up to your release!
Has the food in Perivale improved? Popcorn chicken used to be my favourite meal – but now I won’t touch it, since Perivale’s canteen dished it up – and I feel I couldn’t face ever having it again. The hot dogs weren’t bad – but it used to be a bummer – going without mustard, or brown or red sauce, as well as onions and salt.
As you can see by the new address at the top of this letter, I’m no longer living at home with my brother and dad – at least not until my home detention curfew comes to an end. It was due to finish last November – but I broke it after me, my dad and my brother had this terrible row – and I spent that evening out later from the house than the curfew had allowed. I was lucky not to be sent back inside once I was caught wandering the streets on my electronic tag.
My home detention curfew was extended for another four-and-a-half months at this new address. Horizon Accommodation and Support Service found me this temporary house where I’ll be staying till April – which is giving me a break from my brother and dad. I share the house with four other people, and we get on OK. My parole officer helped me find a job as a waitress in the café down the road, so I’ve been able to pay my rent without having to pay fares – and I get free meals where I work, so I don’t have to spend much on food.
My parole officer has promised to help me find somewhere else to live if things don’t work out with my brother and dad a second time, when my curfew ends and I return home. They could never understand why I played truant and hated school so much – and I suppose I may be angry that they didn’t do more to make sure I was happy. I still get the feeling that they just couldn’t care – and that hurts. Maybe, though, in time, we could all make it up – I hope so, at least. I still wear the watch they gave me for my birthday, which was lying in a box in the plastic bag with my belongings and clothes the staff gave me back when I was released. It doesn’t touch my electronic tag, as that’s attached to my leg. Anyone would think I was a robot and not a human being!
Anyway, I’m so glad to hear about the green threads, and that you haven’t been bullied in Perivale again. (Two fingers up to the likes of Corona Flax!) I hope Janice and your mother are OK and aren’t missing you too much. I shall think of you in the Perivale canteen when I’m in the café having ketchup on my hotdogs and custard on my Bramley apple pie.
Nyka folded the letter into a square, returning it to the envelope in which it had been sent, which she placed on the ledge amongst all the other letters she had received since her stay on G Wing. She felt the presence of someone behind, and immediately turned round.
“Hello, Nyka,” said Abigail Salt, her birthmark glistening faintly in the pale morning light as she hovered by the door.
Nyka peered at the woman in surprise; it seemed odd to see a legal member of staff within Perivale’s walls during the weekend.
“I don’t normally work here at weekends,” the caseworker said, sensing why Nyka was bemused. “I just happened to be passing through as I had to catch up on some work. I’ll be leaving here today at about 2 o’ clock, and I understand you have visitors at one. I need to see you, and will ask Miranda to escort you to the office at 1.30 so we can talk.”
“Need to see me about what?” Nyka asked in alarm.
“You’re to attend another hearing at the juvenile court. I’ve been pushing for your release, but will discuss the subject in more detail when I see you later on,” Abigail replied.
“I’m being released?” Nyka asked in surprise and relief, anticipating soon to be home and electronically tagged.
“It’s more than likely that you are,” Abigail replied, reluctant to discuss the matter in advance. “The majority of your sentence has been served, and your threads are now green. I am busy right now – so I must go. I will see you later on; have a nice lunch,” she concluded, as she dashed from the doorway of the cell, leaving Nyka alone to ponder on what she had said.
Abigail was right; the bulk of Nyka’s sentence was now served; she had been behind bars for too long, and was keen to be released. But Nyka was scared of failing to re-integrate back into the community once freed, after having been severed from the outside world for such a long time.
She decided to skip lunch again, in the hope of procuring a few snacks from Janice and her mother when they came. She spent the next two hours in her cell, wondering when her hearing would take place and what its outcome would evoke. She reflected, too, on Acacia Brown’s letter, and how Acacia’s isolation and anger had seemed to cause a rift between her family and herself. This frightened her somewhat, as she understood Acacia’s indignance that her family could have defended her more against her troubles at school – and it mirrored how she, too, was beginning to feel.
She remained sitting on the edge of her bed, until Miranda popped her head through the door; and a few minutes later, Nyka was within the visitors’ room, heading for the table where her mother and older sister sat, waiting for her to appear.
“Hello, Nyka. Happy birthday,” greeted Janice, before taking a seat. “Are you ready for the barbeque at three?”
“Yes,” Nyka said, “but could I have a ‘Pyramid’ bar and a packet of crisps from the machine?”
“Nyka, are you still not eating in here?” her mother asked with concern, as Janice abandoned her seat for the vending machines.
“I had farina for breakfast – but skipped lunch because our barbeque’s only two hours away – and I can eat then,” replied Nyka, considering that a good enough excuse.
“Well, I hope the chocolate and crisps don’t fill you up too much. If you don’t eat them now, you can’t bring them back to your cell; we’d have to take them home. Happy birthday, dear, by the way,” Mrs Haversham replied, as Janice reappeared with the snacks.
“Thanks, Mum,” murmured the inmate, tearing open her packet of crisps as she threw her a smile.
“So, how have you been these past few weeks? Has everything been OK?” Janice asked.
“I have another hearing coming up; I may soon be released,” Nyka said, trying to conceal how disjointed she felt.
“That’s good news – but you’ve been here for nine months – so I reckon that it’s about time,” Janice stressfully remarked. “When will the hearing take place?”
“I don’t know. I’m to see the caseworker later today; she’s going to tell me then,” her sister replied.
“Well, I’ll contact her on Monday, if she doesn’t ring me first. I must know when the hearing is so I can take leave from work in order to attend,” Janice said, as Nyka finished her crisps and bit into her ‘Pyramid’ bar.
“Have you managed to ring Liza on her phone, dear – now that your prepaid account’s been set up?” Mrs Haversham asked.
“Yes. Thanks very much for arranging that, Mum,” Nyka gratefully replied, as she finished her snacks.
“That’s the least I could do, dear – if it makes your stay more comfortable in here. How is Liza, by the way,” her mother said with a smile.
“She seems to be doing OK. We’ve also written to each other a few times since I came to G Wing; she’s sent me a photo of the boyfriend she met at the town centre bowling alley last summer. She’s done very well in her mock exams, and hopes to sit A’ levels in English, Economics and Art. She also has plans to learn to drive when she turns seventeen. Of course, I haven’t much to tell her about myself,” Nyka said, trying to hide how forgotten she felt at the mention of her friend.
“Be positive, Nyka. You’ll have lots to tell Liza about your life once you’re released – and it seems you’ll be out of here soon now your hearing is due,” Janice almost rebuked, clearing the table of the packaging that had housed Nyka’s snacks.
“I suppose,” Nyka hesitantly said, feeling that Janice did not realise her fear of failing to reintegrate into the world outside.
“Listen, Nyka; I’ve something to tell you; I just thought you should know,” Janice positively declared, as she glanced at the clock, aware that the meagre half hour would soon draw to a close. “I’ve met someone called Graham at work; we’ve been courting since last June – ever since he joined. He’s twenty-three – a bit older than me – and we’ve just got engaged. I’d have loved to show you my ring, but as visitors are only allowed to wear minimal jewellery in here, I didn’t want to risk going through the scanner and having it removed by the Perivale staff —- so I decided to play safe and have left it at home. Anyway, Graham and I hope to marry next June,” she proudly went on, waiting for her sister to express how pleased for her she felt.
Nyka, however, lowered her eyes without as much as a smile. She thought of the nightmare she had suffered when Acacia was released, in which she was married to Gary, the expressionless, young man. She remembered the part where Gary and her wedding ring vanished, and she had wondered why – seconds later – the same ring had appeared on Janice’s finger instead. Now the reason was clear: the nightmare had been a premonition in a roundabout way, and the ill aura it carried had returned.
“You never mentioned this man to me before,” Nyka finally said, tightening her lips.
“I didn’t think us having met would have been important to you before now,” Janice said in retort, sensing that her sister was annoyed.
“Why?” Nyka sourly asked, “You and Graham must have been serious for quite a long time, if you’re about to tie the knot. For months we’ve spoken on the phone, and have written each other letters while I’ve been stuck in this place —– and you’ve said absolutely nothing about this man to me up till now,” she went on, feeling barred from the world she once knew.
The anger welled up in Janice’s eyes, and her expression grew increasingly stern. It was clear she had disliked having been pulled up, and was not prepared to let the matter go.
“Look, Nyka,” she said in a no-nonsense tone, staring her sister in the face, “I haven’t come all this way just to play silly games. It’s not as if I could have introduced you to Graham when I met him last June – because you simply weren’t there to be introduced back. And you know as well as I do that he wouldn’t be allowed to visit you in here with Mum and myself – so it’s no big deal that I haven’t told you about him before now, OK?”
“Janice, once this half hour’s up, we must return to the car park and get ready for the barbeque at three,” Mrs Haversham cut in, changing the subject in an effort to calm both daughters down.
“I think I’ll make my way down there now,” Janice seethed as she rose to her feet, throwing Nyka an indignant glance.
“Is everything OK?” asked the warder, as he approached the three women to see what was wrong.
“I’d like to be excused, if you wouldn’t mind,” Janice forcefully said, as Mrs Haversham uneasily looked on, hoping Nyka’s day had not been spoiled.
“It’s a bit before the time”, the warder said to Janice with a disapproving stare, reluctant to release her from the room.
“If you try and stop me leaving now, I’ll put in a complaint,” Janice resolutely warned, piercing his eyes with her own.
“OK, then; if you must,” the warder replied, “But next time, make sure you stick to the visitors’ times, and leave the room with everybody else.”
“See you in the car park, Mum,” Janice heedlessly announced, flouncing out of the room in a huff, ready to be escorted to the locker where her handbag had been kept.
“She probably won’t talk to me at the barbeque, now. But I still think she could have told me about Graham from the start; or has having been banged up in here made her feel I’m no longer a part of her life?” Nyka uttered in despair, vexed that Janice had not seen her point.
“Don’t be silly, Nyka. Why would Janice come all this way to Perivale to see you if she didn’t consider you a part of her life?” said her mother with a reassuring smile.
Nyka lowered her eyes; Mrs Haversham had been an only child, and did not recognize how cruel and overbearing older siblings could be.
“Times up!” the warder shouted out, Nyka’s mother promptly rising from her seat.
“Take care, Nyka; see you out in the yard at 3 o’ clock,” she said in haste, wondering if Janice had calmed down.
“Bye, Mum; see you later on,” Nyka said, before her mother turned away, to submerge through the exit of the room.
Once all the visitors had left, Miranda entered the room, before escorting Nyka to the office on the wing, where Abigail sat, calmly, at her desk, waiting for the truant to arrive.
“Hello, Nyka; take a seat. I hear it’s your birthday today; many happy returns,” the caseworker said as Nyka appeared.
“Thanks,” Nyka said, sitting down.
“I’ve received further details of the court case you’ll attend. I’ll go through them with you now,” Abigail announced as she studied Nyka’s file.
“When will the hearing take place?” Nyka asked, hoping that the hearing would be soon.
“Monday – 9am sharp,” Abigail replied. “We must sort out the clothes you were wearing on the night you came here so you can wear them for the trial.”
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
An excerpt, chapter twenty three, of my dystopian novel, “OUT OF SCHOOL.”
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