Deshawn Edwards stepped quickly through the gates and then paused. He looked up soaking in the clear, uninterrupted view of blue sky dotted with small clouds and circling birds. He felt the early summer sun warm on his face, enjoyed the quiet of this suburban street and, closing his eyes, let the sensations wash over him.
A new day, a new beginning; he strode out towards the bus stop. He had barely arrived at the stop or really collected his thoughts before a bus hove into view. Moment later he was seated on the front row of the upper deck.
He had waited so long for this day; so many hopes, disappointments, setbacks and uncertainties along the way. But now, finally, the mixture of relief and elation was edged by a growing sensation of doubt and uncertainty. He was on his way to stay with his sister, Sherelle. Her flat was small but she had no kids and it would give him the time and the chance to get himself together and set on a new life.
He thought he would phone Sherelle to let her know he was on his way but when he got his phone out…of course, it was completely flat. Still, Sherelle will have a charger…and something for breakfast.
The sun shone down. How perfect he thought – a brilliant sunny day for a new beginning. But, for now, all he could think of was breakfast at Sherelle’s – she did a great fry-up!
Slowly the bus trundled into the city. Fast food outlets, pawn shops and mini-markets surrounded by towering blocks of flats told him he was ‘home’ – where he had grown up. It all looked the same…except there was a new mosque and more burkha clad women.
Alighting from the bus, he made his way through the already busy street market and the tight side-streets that lay behind the High Street, until he reached the block of flats he sought. At over a hundred yards long and ten stories high, the block was a typical 60’s brutalist monstrosity. Plagued with damp and over-run with crime and lowlife, the block and its companions, reached by a network of aerial walkways, were the playgrounds of his youth. Designed before car ownership became the norm, the local streets were gridlocked with mostly ageing vehicles.
Finding the lifts were, as so often out of service, he jogged up the flights to the 4th floor. God, how do the old folk manage, he thought? Finding the door he wanted, he rang the bell.
“Oh, Deshawn! Er, Hey!” Sherelle’s face told him all was not well but it was her dressing gown clad body blocking the half-open door that told the true story.
“Wassup? I not welcome here?”
“No, I mean, yeah but…but, er things have changed.”
“Whaddya mean, changed? We had this fixed for months!”
“I know, I know…but I got this new fella!”
“So, you a got a new fella, great for you but what’s that gotta do wif me?”
“Look, you don’t unnerstand. He don’t know ‘bout you!”
“Wot? You not told ‘im you got a bruvver? You ‘shamed a me?”
“Cause not! It’s been a bit quick like…haven’t ‘ad the chance to tell him proper. Look, ‘es a copper! ‘es a good bloke but ‘es fixed in his views, like.”
“Look! I’m supposed to be staying ‘ere! It’s a condition of me probation! Jesus, Sherelle, you agreed to this, ‘ow could you say no now, I’m your bruvver?”
“Half-brother! Look, I’m sorry but you can’t come in. Ted’s been on nights and he’s due back off shift any minute. I’ll find a way to tell ‘im that I’ve got a criminal for a half-brother when the moment’s right!”
“Don’t bovver!” He spat out his temper rising. “The time’s I’ve looked after you!”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry – but Ted’s a keeper, I’ve got to look after him. Look do you need to borra a few quid?”
“F*ck off!” He stormed off along the walkway towards the stairs.
Sh*t! Sh*t! Sh*t! He groaned, what was he going to tell the probation service now? He was supposed to be staying with Sherelle. He could lie but suppose they checked – surely they do? He’d be back inside in a flash.
He needed money. To get money he needed a job – but to get a job he needed somewhere to live. How could Sherelle do this to him? Down at ground level once more he backtracked through to the High Street and over to a McDonalds. After a few minutes trawling through the menu he ordered a Bacon & Egg McMuffin and a black coffee.
He collected his meal and went to sit in the small park that lay behind the High street. In prison, he’d thought so often about how much he missed McDonalds but now his enjoyment was overpowered by his dilemma. Here he was 23 years old and a complete failure. A homeless failure.
That night four years ago, he’d got into a fight at a disco with some of the gang from the neighbouring estate. The bouncers had stepped in quickly to break it up but all hell had broken loose. In the midst of the rough and tumble with attacks coming from all sides, he had felt hands clutching his neck. Twisting around he had landed a vicious uppercut on the jaw of his assailant, enabling him to break free and continue fighting. A minute or so later he was laid low in excruciating pain by a shot from a Taser. He had been rapidly handcuffed by the police who had arrived unseen by him and thrown into the back of a van and driven off.
Placed in a cell at the police station at first, he thought he’d be back in court the next morning on some charge like ‘causing an affray’ or ‘assault’. However, the next days had gone by in a haze with his clothes taken away for analysis. He was subsequently informed that the bouncer had died as a result of hitting his head when he had been thrown back by Deshawn’s punch. He was charged with ‘Manslaughter’ but at his trial, months later, this had been reduced to ‘Involuntary Manslaughter’ as it was accepted that he had not intended to kill the bouncer. Nevertheless, he had been sentenced to 8 years.
Brought up with his elder half-sister, Sherelle they had lived in absolute poverty. Mum was both an alcoholic and a drug addict and she had died from an overdose when Deshawn was 11. They had both then been taken into care; care…what a lovely concept. He had never known ‘care’ before or since. He had never known his father and his mum had never given him any information about him nor would she even answer any of his questions as he grew. Sherelle had never been able to shed any light on his parentage either. She had the vaguest of memories of her own father but it seemed that he had left them when she was four or five. It was only later, when he was able to make the connection with his skin colour and facial characteristics that he deduced his father must have been of Afro-Caribbean descent.
School had been a nightmare and he had joined the local gang when he was just twelve for protection as much as identity and a sense of belonging. The bulk of his teens went by in a blur of drug running, shoplifting, borstal and a succession of girls who seemed to be cast-offs from the senior gang members. He left school as soon as he was sixteen and was working hours at a Kebab shop when he wasn’t ‘running errands’ for the gang.
Somehow in prison he had managed to keep away from trouble and, when he wasn’t working (cleaning showers and toilets), he attended various rehabilitation courses. But it was access to the library that enabled him to realise that he had a thirst for learning, learning about everything and anything. By the time he had been approved for release on licence, Deshawn was hungry to get away from gang life, to get a job, to continue his education and to become a part of mainstream society. It had to be possible. But he had to have an address – a home. Then he remembered that he had vaguely heard of so-called Probation Hostels – half-way houses for prisoners released early. This might work, but needed to find out more – who and how to contact them.
But first, he needed to top up his phone, get a power lead, somewhere to charge his phone and to stay for tonight – for the weekend. Bloody Sherelle! How could she be so f*cking selfish? He made his way back to the high street and found a phone shop. He picked up a charger lead and a pre-payment card and stood in the short queue.
While he waited, he checked his wallet, and found he had less than thirty quid. Sh*t! He was sure, certain he’d had much more on him when he was arrested, he always had cash. Had those bastards nicked his money? How was he going to survive? Yes, he had worked in prison but it paid £4/week which went in the shop on basics. Panic began to set in.
When it was his turn, he handed over the last twenty quid note to the Middle-Eastern looking man behind the counter and waited for his change. Suddenly, there was a loud crash from the back room and a scream. The man behind the counter looked up at him and, pushing the till drawer to close, turned and dashed into the rear. Deshawn watched as the drawer, snagged by an elastic-band, slid slowly open to reveal large amounts of cash.
Deshawn glanced quickly around…he was alone in the shop…
Image courtesy of David-East on Unsplash