Laura, who had been worried about how the other prisoners treated her mum, couldn’t stop thinking of the worst scenario – she was vulnerable from other prisoners, not only because she allowed Thomas to treat her so badly, but because it sounded like Chris protected her from the worst.
There were women, who would take advantage of her weakness.
Now, she wasn’t so sure. Her mum had a newfound confidence, that was never there before. There may have been officers at the door, and keys on their belt, but her mum pulled away from Thomas.
With each visit, they talked about an appeal less and less. They concentrated on her mum’s art course. It was what Laura wished for all her life, and now she didn’t quite know how to process that information.
‘You alright love?’
She looked up from the seat in the bus stop, near the prison, and wiped her cheek. A middle-aged lady, who she saw visiting another prisoner, gave a genuine smile that reached her eyes.
‘I’m okay, just visited my mum.’
‘Yea I saw, rum lot that trial, but life is life as they say.’
‘I hate seeing Mum in there, but she is, well, happy.’
‘Maybe she is . . . Prison suits some people, not that your mum is guilty or not guilty, none of my business really. But it isn’t too bad in there, as long as you keep to the right people.’
‘I just don’t know what to do. All my life, I’ve never been able to stop worrying about her. Now there isn’t much to worry about.’
‘Do you smoke?’
‘Do you want one?’
She took the offered cigarette, and watched as it was lit. The tip flared red. She took a small breath in. ‘Reminds me of smoking with my mate Julie. She said I never really inhaled properly anyway. Still don’t, but for me, it’s the holding of the cigarette. I must sound a little strange to you.’
‘Not in the slightest, I’ve seen all kinds of weird, and that’s what makes the world go round. Be boring if we were all the same.’
‘Who were you visiting?’
‘My friend, she robbed a bank a couple of years ago, stupid idiot left the car running outside and the coppers towed it away. A shilling short of a bob she is.’
‘What did she do when she noticed the car wasn’t there?’
‘She stood there like a lemon, with a banana in her pocket and a bag full of money. It weren’t even a real gun, but she got five years all the same.’
‘That’s a bit daft.’
‘She likes it in there, says it is more like home than home. It takes all sorts, I’m not sure I would want to be there, but some do. They are so used to being inside and it’s all they know. I reckon she deliberately left the car running, so the coppers would nick her.’
Laura laughed. ‘Probably.’
‘I told her she should have got herself a hobby.’
‘Me too, I need to keep myself busy.’
‘What about gardening?’
‘I’m not like my mum; plants don’t stay alive long enough in my house. I’ve a habit of either overwatering them, or not at all. Someone even gave me a rubber plant, and I killed it by overwatering.’
‘What about college? My daughter did business studies a while ago, on second thoughts, she was tearing her hair out by the end.’
Laura put out her cigarette, and put it in the bin, at the end of the bus stop. ‘Business studies, it sounds difficult even just saying it out loud.’
‘It did to me too, but she got a lot out of it.’
The bus screeched to a halt, and Laura, with a lighter frame of mind than she started with, got on the bus. She said goodbye to her new acquaintance. She was still smiling when she got to Theresa’s house.
‘What’s got you grinning then?’
‘Just another visitor I got talking to, something to do with lemons, bananas and robbing banks.’
After Laura finished her story, two of the cream cakes were eaten, and they were on their third cup of tea.
‘How was your mum?’
‘She was good . . . we hardly spoke about her appeal.’
‘We should leave it to settle, not permanently, but when I last saw Martha, she was happy enough.’
‘She’s turned a corner.’
‘I know the signs to watch out for and she’s relaxed. No secrets.’
‘This other visitor, the one who told me the story about her friend, she said I need to get a hobby or go back to college.’
‘Not a bad idea, what first came to mind.’
‘Stupid really, but business studies was mentioned – I know hard work – but keeping busy would help me I think.’
Theresa left the room and returned with a plastic booklet with a variety of courses she could take. She leafed through and circled a few courses that might interest her – including business studies.
‘I wouldn’t mind trying the bricklaying,’ Theresa said.
‘Yea, why not. I’m rumbling around in this house of mine.’
‘But why bricklaying?’
‘I could build a brick wall in my garden and put a barbecue on it.’
‘I love you Theresa, don’t ever change.’
‘So, do you reckon you’re going to have a go at the course?’
‘Do you know, I wouldn’t mind giving that business studies a go. I’ve enough qualifications, although it was a while ago since I went to school.’
‘I think you can do a little test.’
Laura got out her mobile and called the college. It was a few minutes before the call was connected. ‘Hello, I was wondering about the Business studies course. Can you give me a little bit of information. It starts in October. Full or part time? Okay, full time, three days a week. Yes, I have passed my GCSE literacy and Numeracy. What do I need to do? Fill in the application form at the back of a prospectus. Yes, I have one, and I will send it to you soon.’
‘Can I have this, I need to fill in the application form, and they will let me know. I’m going back to school; I actually feel excited.’
‘So you should. Is the course full-time?’
‘That’s the only problem, I’m not sure I would be able to work and do the course. I know Martin won’t mind, working has never really been about the money, but I should involve him.’
‘Wait till you know for certain, then tell him. No point in discussing something in its early stages.’
‘You’re probably right, but then didn’t I hear you say you were going to go on a course yourself.’
‘You don’t need any real qualifications for level one bricklaying. I reckon that would give me something to do. Becky is full time at school now. I’m needed a lot less. What do you think?’
‘I say let’s celebrate our newfound independence. Eat the rest of these cream cakes. I have been eyeing them up since I ate the last one, and nobody can do anything on an empty stomach.’
‘Don’t you dare take the biggest one Laura, that one is mine.’