The ‘Limbus’ café – where Nyka and Liza had agreed to meet up – stood out on a limb, two hundred metres from the area of trees that separated the halfway house from the rest of Redchurch. The café was seedy inside and out, and just like New Dawn itself, represented the existence of Limbo in more ways than one.
Inmates from the house worked shifts at the café at nights, serving drinks and snacks to customers as disreputable as themselves. The café was safer to visit during the day, when inmates would frequent it on their recreation pass; though they were forewarned before leaving prison that the area it was in was volatile and unsafe, and that violence and unrest could erupt at any moment in time.
Nyka had warned Liza to avoid the area a few evenings ago when they spoke on the phone, suggesting instead that they meet at a café near her friend’s house – a plan which would prove far more safe: how would Liza’s parents react if their daughter were harmed – especially as they had not been told that the visit to Redchurch was to be paid? But being optimistic in nature, Liza was determined to come, arguing that Nyka travelling to her house in Silver Heath would make their time together less long, as the inmate would have to be back at New Dawn within a certain time.
It was on Saturday morning when they met – three days since Nyka had seen Dean in the arcade. After the monitors let Nyka out, she hurried through the area of trees, from which she emerged to see Liza dressed in leggings and a brightly-coloured smock, waiting outside the ‘Limbus’ café for her to arrive. As soon as Liza saw her, she exuberantly waved; her cute, freckled face breaking into a smile as Nyka waved back.
“Hi, friend! It’s great that we could meet up again after such a long time,” Liza greeted, as Nyka drew near.
“Hi, Liza; let’s go in,” uttered Nyka in haste, not pleased to discover that her friend had been waiting outside on her own in an area so unsafe.
“I’ve bought you a present,” Liza said, as they stepped through the entrance of the café, heading for the table by the window at the front.
“A can of Citrus!” Nyka cried in surprise. “Thanks, Liza; I haven’t had that drink in months. They don’t sell it in this café very much – and whenever they do, it’s always sold out by the time I’ve come in,” the inmate added, as she placed the can of Citrus in her bag.
“Aren’t you going to drink it now?” Liza cheerfully asked, the make-up smeared across her nose seeming odd and out of place in an area so grim.
“Thanks – but I’ll save it for later; it’s best that I drink something that we order from here now,” Nyka said with unease, throwing the owner of the café who stood behind the counter a brief, wary glance; his eyes suspiciously darting at her and her friend. “I’d better go and order something; what would you like?” she then asked, pulling out some money from the pocket of her coat.
“No – it’s my treat, friend; I insist. After all, when we used to go out, you were always very generous towards me,” Liza said as she rose from her chair.
“Liza – are you sure?” Nyka asked, the owner of the café continuing to watch them with cautionary eyes.
“Positive, friend; I can spare it. Wayne’s helping me out; he treats me to a lot. He has a good job, and has just had a rise,” Liza said, throwing the proprietor a smile which he did not return.
“OK, then – thanks,” Nyka said, secretly glad that her friend had obliged, feeling she had to hold on to the pittance she had whilst she lived at New Dawn.
“I think I’ll have a cheese omelette and chips and a cup of tea; what are you having, friend?” Liza asked, studying the unexciting menu on the grey, peeling wall.
“I’ll have the same,” Nyka said; the owner of the café now looking less peeved, as Liza walked up to the counter and opened her purse.
Seconds after the proprietor was paid, a waitress emerged from the kitchen and brought out the teas; her disquieted eyes on the alert lest a dangerous criminal walked in.
“My parents think I’m spending the day with Rosa Ingles; they’d go spare if they knew I was here,” Liza said, as the waitress darted back into the kitchen to continue her tasks.
“I’d understand their concern,” Nyka said, throwing Liza a deprecating glance. “This area’s fairly local to theirs – so they’re bound to have heard how dicey it can be. Someone was stabbed only metres from the café last night,” she went on, remembering having warned her friend to stay away when they spoke on the phone.
The waitress returned with their meals, presented on two greasy plates which she placed on the table before vanishing again.
“So, did you decide to take that job on the psychic stall?” Liza asked, as she peppered her omelette and chips and sugared her tea.
“Yes,” Nyka said with a smile. “I rang Tara Thursday afternoon and said I’d accept. I’m to start the job on Monday.”
Liza lowered her eyes, feeling it best not to voice what she thought: a job on a stall was such a far cry from the journalistic career that her friend had hoped to pursue.
Two inmates from the halfway house, named Tuesday and Jazz strode into the café, acknowledging Nyka with a nod before making their way to the counter to order their lunch.
“Who are they?” Liza asked, squirting her plate with more tomato sauce.
“They occupy the room next to mine at New Dawn; they’re in for dealing drugs,” Nyka replied, as the inmates headed for the table at the rear of the café, waiting to be served.
“They look really shady. Have they ever tried to force any drugs upon you?” Liza muttered under her breath so the inmates could not hear.
“They haven’t so far,” Nyka whispered back, as her friend watched them warily from the corner of her eye. “But my room-mate told me they tempted her with Arrow and Spade – which put her out like a light – and that she was like that for two days. For all the warnings over the loudspeakers by the monitors about stepping out of line, this has been something they didn’t control,” Nyka went on, as she and Liza finished eating their lunch, pushing aside their empty plates before draining their mugs of stewed tea.
“Has Mr Lim said anything more about when you can leave New Dawn to spend the rest of your sentence at home?” Liza asked; her multi-coloured nose shedding rainbows on the wall.
“I had another meeting with him yesterday afternoon. He’s been pushing for my transfer to home confinement as soon as I came to New Dawn. Yesterday he received confirmation from the Bureau of Prisons that I can come home on the 8th of April – which is in less than two weeks,” Nyka said, lowering her eyes as if something were wrong.
“Wow, friend – that’s great! It must be such a relief to hear you’ll be coming home at last!” Liza cried, her cute, freckled face beaming with delight.
“I’m not sure if I want to come home,” said her friend, remaining straight-faced.
“Why on earth not?” her friend asked, dismayed by Nyka’s negative response. “I thought you’d be over the moon.”
“I visited Mum and Janice the other day,” Nyka said, as the waitress re-appeared, clearing away the empty plates before hurrying away once again. “Although recognizing my old house as my own, it didn’t seem the same; I felt a barrier in between Janice, my mum and myself – as if I were millions of kilometres away from them both. I longed to feel close – but I couldn’t help feeling that they had moved on. There’s something about having been inside; it isolates one. Janice didn’t even tell me about the man she is to marry until months after they met because I wasn’t on the scene – and I feel left behind,” Nyka said.
“Well, friend – perhaps if you gave it some time, you’d all start feeling closer to each other again,” suggested her friend with a reassuring smile.
Nyka did not reply; it was pointless trying to explain a situation to one not standing in her shoes, and would not understand.
The waitress emerged from the kitchen again, scurrying towards Tuesday and Jazz to clear away their plates. Nyka noticed the alarm in the woman’s watchful eyes, as from somewhere outside, an abrupt, savage cry which carried, penetrated the air, followed by the sound of scuffling that grew increasingly close.
The proprietor abandoned the counter after having made a brief, hurried call from his phone.
“Right, everybody – out! I must close the café at once!” he called out, as the inmates and Liza promptly rose from their seats.
“Are you sure that it’s safe to go outside?” the waitress nervously asked, as everyone put on their coats and headed for the door, looking through the window before deciding to step out into the street.
“An attacker could just as easily burst inside here – even if we lock all the doors. I think it’s best that everyone make their way home as soon as they can,” the proprietor said, pushing open the entrance as he spoke.
“What happened?” breathed Liza in a terrified voice, as all who had occupied the café ventured outside; a serpentine rivulet of blood flowing into the gutter from the kerb metres away.
“Looks like someone else has been stabbed,” Nyka said, worried that the victim’s attacker may meet them head on.
“Nyka, you can make your way back to New Dawn with us,” Tuesday advised, trying to hide her alarm as much as she could.
“There’s always safety in numbers,” agreed Jazz, as they all came to a halt at the end of the road.
“What way are you going?” the waitress asked Liza, seeing the disturbance had left her more frightened than the rest.
“I live in Silver Heath,” the adolescent replied, trying to fight back her tears.
“Neither of us live there – but we’re going that way. Come to the bus stop and get on the bus with us part of the way,” said the chef, as the waitress stood by his side, nodding as he spoke.
“Why I decided to open up a café in this God forsaken area, I’ll never know,” the proprietor remarked; the wailing of sirens assaulting everyone’s ears as a police car emerged, pulling up on the kerb before two policemen got out.
“Looks like they both want a word,” he then sighed, as he eyed the two men. “You two go on,” he said to the waitress and chef. “I’ll see you again in the morning, if all goes OK.”
“See you tomorrow,” said the chef, as his employer turned away, heading back towards the café to speak to the police.
“Nyka – come on,” Tuesday urged, pulling the truant to her side.
“I’ll give you a call later on, to see if you’ve got home OK,” Nyka said to her friend, as she watched the scared look in her eyes.
“OK, Nyka; we’ll talk again then,” Liza shakily replied, before she, the waitress and chef crossed the road, to submerge around the corner to the stop where their bus would arrive.
“Was that a friend of yours?” Jazz asked Liza’s friend, as the three inmates headed back to New Dawn, approaching the area of trees which the house hid behind.
“Yes,” Nyka said, eyeing the two girls warily out of the corner of her eye. “She came without her parents knowing that she would; I hope she’s OK,” she added as they treaded their way through the trees, Tuesday and Jazz swapping looks after her reply.
“Well, after the trouble in Redchurch that’s just been stirred up, what a laugh it would be if they saw their daughter photographed all over the papers and filmed on the news?” Tuesday callously smirked; Nyka secretly finding the subject not funny at all.
“Yeah – wouldn’t it just?” agreed Jazz, before she and Tuesday looked at each other once again, emitting sniggers from their drug addicted mouths that made Nyka feel ill.
“Stupid cow,” Tuesday laughed, as Nyka continued to walk by their side, wondering if the two psychotic girls would start turning on her.
“Nyka – is your friend all right?” Tuesday asked. “She must be three sandwiches short of a picnic to even think of coming to Redchurch all on her own.”
“I think she’s just a little naïve – but she must now have learned what this area can be like after what happened today,” Nyka said, wary of trying to speak up for Liza too much.
“I hope the attacker isn’t still lurking anywhere around here,” interrupted Jazz, without sounding particularly afraid. “Don’t fancy being stabbed very much; do you, Tuesday?”
“Not particularly,” Tuesday baldly replied in a tone of cynicism and jest. “Do you fancy being stabbed, Nyka?”
“No,” Nyka stressfully replied, relieved that their walk through the area of trees was nearing its end, and that she would soon be back in the comfort of her room within the walls of New Dawn.
“Well for now, we’re trapped in this poxy area of crime – so we’ve just got to live with the risks,” Tuesday said, sticking two fingers up at her surroundings with a grimace. “Anyway, Nyka,” she asked, as the trees disappeared and the halfway house came into view. “How much longer do you have in New Dawn?”
“Mr Lim said it may only be a couple of weeks. Then I can serve the rest of my sentence at home,” the truant replied.
“Where’s home?” Jazz curiously asked, tossing her empty can of lemonade onto the road.
“Silver Heath,” Nyka said, the mention of home leaving her feeling lukewarm.
“That’s a bit posh, isn’t it? People from areas like that don’t normally end up in places like New Dawn,” Tuesday remarked.
“Silver Heath’s only two kilometres from here— and even those who are rich can cause havoc and ruin people’s lives,” Nyka said, remembering how nasty Dean was, despite having come from a well-to-do home.
“I wonder if the staff at New Dawn know about what happened earlier on,” Jazz bawled, thinking out loud as they reached the entrance of the house.
“Would any of them care?” Tuesday cynically remarked, banging on the door when she could have pressed the bell.
Seconds later the inmates were let in; Mr Lim scuttling into the reception, heading obsequiously Nyka’s way with his usual grin.
“Ah, Nyka! You’re back!” he exclaimed, seeming especially pleased that the truant had arrived. “I have excellent news; come this way, and I can tell you what it is,” he cheerfully went on, as he and Nyka headed for the meeting room next to the hall.
They entered the room and sat down.
“The Bureau of Prisons has contacted me again,” went on Mr Lim. “Next Friday, you can go home; now won’t that be good?”
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
An excerpt, chapter twenty nine, of my dystopian novel, “OUT OF SCHOOL.”
I'm Karen Clark from East London. On leaving school, I worked as a shorthand / typist, and then went on to work as an ad taker for Loot Magazine. I've always been single, and have no children, and started writing as a hobby once becoming unemployed.