‘How many fingers am I holding up?’
‘You need to drink this. It will help.’
Martha wanted to refuse the water the doctor offered her. However, he had such a stern look on his face that she accepted.
He turned to the prison officer and addressed the solicitor once more. ‘She will be okay to travel today.’
‘Are you sure she doesn’t need to get checked out at the hospital?’
‘Thank you,’ Martha said, keeping Thomas in mind.
As each new prisoner joined her, Martha hoped it wouldn’t be long before the van arrived. A hint of stale sweat hit her nostrils. She tried not to show her distaste. It wasn’t as if she smelled any better – no number of showers would take the stench from her skin.
A young woman, not much older than her daughter, sat beside her. Red hair crashed around her shoulders like embers. The way her emerald eyes flashed, it looked like she had a temper to match. She turned to face Martha. There was a spark of kindness behind them, which didn’t match their bleak surroundings.
‘You lost your case I take it?’
Martha nodded, but kept her thoughts to herself.
‘It will be okay. You just do your time, admit your mistakes and it will fly by.’
Martha didn’t want to talk, but the stranger persisted.
‘The screws are alright, well, most of them anyway.’
‘Screws?’ Martha just had to ask. It was like there was a different language in prison. One where she missed out on the meaning at every turn.
‘Prison officers. Don’t get me wrong, there are some of them I would avoid, but that’s just me, you won’t have any problems.’
The lines streaked across her fellow inmate’s brow. A jagged scar, covered with ashen skin, snaked across her lower arm.
‘I’ve been treated well so far, not that I deserve it.’
‘Course you bloody well deserve it! We all deserve a little dignity, no matter what the crime.’
‘I suppose so,’ Martha said, and stared at the floor.
‘No suppose about it, we’re all human beings.’
Martha tried to find another topic of conversation. ‘How are the jobs allocated?’
‘That’s all dealt with.’
‘We’re not allowed things from home are we?’ Martha didn’t know why, but she could talk to this stranger. Somehow it was easier than talking to her daughter or best friend. At least this woman didn’t judge her.
‘You’re right, they would have taken the stuffing out of it.’
‘It’s a shame, my granddaughter gave me her teddy bear, and I had upset my daughter to refuse it.’
‘It’s not you they’re watchful of, lots of prisoners take advantage of things like that to bring in drugs.’
‘But I don’t take drugs, won’t they just take me at my word?’ Martha’s stomach was made worse by the constant rumbling of the road beyond the window. There was so much she would have to get used to.
‘Are you kidding? Who trusts the word of a convict?’
The gold band tightened on her finger. ‘What about my wedding ring. I’ve never taken it off, not since the day I got married.’
‘I think it’s okay but then I’ve never had to worry, I’ve never been married. Too much of a bad gig if you ask me. Prefer to be on my own and I can trust myself better than any man.’
Martha couldn’t help but agree. Her dad was the only man who had ever put her needs against his own. Thomas treated her like a princess and bought her flowers every day, but that came at a price.
‘Too many things go to shit on the outside. At least in prison, if you don’t snitch on anyone, you’ll be alright.’
She tapped the side of her nose. ‘Keep out of everyone’s business. That’s the screws’ job not yours.’
The one thing she was good at was keeping secrets. Foundation covered bruises. Silence covered lies. A lifetime with Thomas and prison was a sail down the stream on a sunny day.
‘She won’t be in here long; her kind never is. She’ll probably get some high-profile solicitor and get out of it somehow.’
‘I killed my husband, I won’t be appealing,’ Martha said.
‘Bloody hell! Little Miss Prim is just like the rest of us cons,’ the woman across from them said.
‘Leave her be Steph, can’t you see she don’t belong here?’
‘It doesn’t matter where she came from. She’s as guilty as sin, just like all of us.’
‘It matters to me.’ Her eyes narrowed, as she shifted forward from the bench. ‘You know me, I hate violence. You leave her alone Steph. Do you hear me! She deserves none of your bullshit. I’m warning you now if you touch her, I’ll end you.’
Aware it wasn’t an empty threat, Martha kept quiet.
‘Leave it out ladies, we don’t want any trouble, do we?’ The female officer’s gaze fell to the back of the room.
‘Just having a friendly talk, ain’t we Steph.’
‘We’re good,’ Steph said.
Her protector smiled.
‘You okay?’ The prison officer asked.
Martha nodded, and looked back to the woman who had been so vocal earlier. Apart from the odd nod in her direction, nothing more was said.
‘I’m sorry I got you into trouble,’ Martha said.
‘I’m used to it and besides – some people need to be put in their place.’
‘Thank you anyway.’
It was easy to slide into her company, but before they could continue their conversation the officer unlocked the door. A short journey in a prison van and the brick walls of her new home revealed themselves. Martha had accepted the fate she had been handed, as she stepped down on to the concrete.
At least here she wouldn’t have time to think about what she had done but could concentrate on what to do to heal past hurt. The days had seemed endless because there was nothing much to do on remand. At least now that she was convicted, she would be allocated a job and the routine would have an element of comfort to it.