Right after the ID check and the dog sniff and the pat-down, the big screw with the chest like a slab of sirloin goes through the rules again. No touching. No hugging. No kissing.
We leaves the waiting room and walks through to the visiting hall. Each con waits at a separate table. They’re all wearing orange bibs to show that they were the ones who got caught. Everyone finds the brother or the boyfriend or the spar they were looking for and no-one gives a fuck about what the big screw just said.
Maylins always likes to play it cool. When he offers his fist for a spud I bats him away and makes him stand up. I hugs him like I’m trying to get lost in his cleavage.
When we lets go, the couple on the table next to us are still going at it. He’s got a red Liverpool shirt on under his orange bib, and she’s wearing a black strapless top and two gold eyebrow hoops. She hovers slightly above him as they tear into each other’s gums. They’re necking so hard that she looks like a gannet trying to retch some fish guts into his mouth.
We sits down. I clocks Maylins for the first time in three months. You can really notice the size he’s put on. He’d chafe his shoulders trying to get through most doors now. And even his wrists look as thick as my thighs.
– Fair play. You’re lookin hench, I says. – You’re gettin on for bein the biggest Welsh guy I knows. If you pumps up any more, we’ll have to start callin you Aled Schwarzenegger.
Maylins looks pleased, and lets out a bit of a smile.
– It’s all the bread, he says. – We gets three meals a day, but they always fills up a serving table with loaves and loaves of bread. I just makes sure I has a loaf with every meal. You knows what it’s like, bro. There ain’t nothin else to do here apart from watch telly or work out.
You likes this banter, cos you knows what you’re gonna have to say when you stops with the wisecracks. – Yeah man, I says. – You’re a big boy now. You looks like this guy I saw in a porno once.
But your spar don’t like that one, and the nervousness in your voice must be showing by now.
– I ain’t clocking you like that. I ain’t been on arsetraffic.com, I carries on. – There was two birds in it.
And Maylins looks at you again like you really shouldn’t be talking about porn no more.
– Behave yourself, bro. I doesn’t get to spend hours lookin at that sorta stuff like you.
– Well if you needs to keep your mind off things, you should write more letters.
He feels the back of his head, where his hair is shortest. – People lies with words. They makes up all sorts of stories. If you got something you wants to say, you has to say it to my face. Chantelle comes round once a week anyway, and sometimes I gets a visit from my Mumma and all.
And as he leans back, all you can think is it might be easy enough to lie when you’re hiding behind some words, but it’s easier to get away with it when you’re face to face and you can hide behind a mask.
– So what you got to say en bro, he carries on. – I Best not have wasted a visitin slot if you’re just gonna whine on about porn and letters.
He smiles, and you thinks to yourself that in twenty minutes time he’s gonna wish that’s all we been talking about.
– Right then. I’ll start right at the beginning, I says. – It all kicked off about this time last week.
You goes proper deep into your swede to tell the story. You sets the scene, exactly as it happened, and gives him a running real-time commentary.
You tells your spar how you’d not long woken up that afternoon. Mumma is downstairs and you’re just weighing up some contraband in case you has to go on a mission. There’s a knock at the door so you goes down and answers it. Straight away you wishes you hadn’t cos there waiting on the street is Evo Lynch. And seeing that scum with the teardop under his eye and the scars around his neck don’t half make you have to brace your knees. But even if you had ignored the knock, Mumma’s always got the telly on extra loud when she tidies up so he probably woulda heard the screaming domestic on the chat show she’s half-watching anyway.
So you carries on and tells your spar that he got the right idea, renting a different place every coupla months after each crop finishes and fucking off before the bills come in, cos then no twonkey knows where you lives. Stick in the same house all your life and word gets round, standard.
So you tells your spar how it went down.
– Sapnin brer, Evo says. – Long time, long time.
You looks at him but the last thing you wants is him casing out your joint to find stuff to come back for later.
You’re thinking: – Gotta keep my face straight.
You’re saying: – Safe, bro. Standard.
And he wastes no time at all. – Brer, I needs a favour, I does. I’m late and I got to get up Pentrebane on the double.
You’re thinking: – I hope you can’t smell all the contraband I got weighing out in here.
You’re saying: – Gone Ely in five, bro. Go see this bird.
Which is almost true, cos Stacey had been texting you earlier, and wanted you to come and chill. And you were half thinking about it cos you got a few hours to waste. It was a Tuesday and Kyle wouldn’t be there. And she must still be keen cos she’s still sending you messages even though you ain’t seen her in a few weeks cos you got a new bird on the go.
You hopes with that he’ll get the message and fuck off, but he looks over your shoulder and opens a nostril to get a better sniff. You hopes his beak has picked up the cut grass out the back garden, cos behind you at the end of the kitchen the door is wide open. If he’s smelling the other grass up in your bedroom, you and the old dear are in trouble.
But instead he says, – Standard, brer. If you’re gone Ely anyway, you can drop me off at my boy’s school. It ain’t far. Top end of Pentrebane. Right by the top shops. Practically on your way.
You’re thinking: – Nice one for offering up some petrol money.
You’re saying: – Let’s go en, bro. Best be off now if we wants to make it before your kid leaves school.
You steps out the house without even telling the old bat wha gwaan. You hopes later on when you goes to see your new bird that she don’t realise you’re wearing six month-old trainers.
We gets in the car, and takes a right onto Cowbridge Road. We bombs it down to the Ely roundabout, flying past all the pubs, charity shops and kebab houses on the way. It’s busy on the pavement. You got your eyes on the birds, especially the ones in the tight tops. But Evo’s got his eyes on both the birds and the guys, especially the blokes in hoodys and baseball caps.
After bombing past the Ely roundabout and taking the second turning into Fairwater, Evo’s swede slowly turns to look at you. His eyes are burning through your temple, and you misses second gear twice and almost stalls the engine.
You’re thinking: – We’re in suburban land, bro. There’s loads of nice bungalows and semis here for you to clock and it’s the type of place where they leaves their kitchen doors open all night.
You’re saying: – Chill, bro. We’ll be there in five, standard. We’re almost at the Pentrebane hill now. Have a smoke in the glove compartment. No need to worry.
But he just keeps staring at you, and every time your pulse pumps it feels like he’s scooping out a little bit more from your noggin.
– I needs a spliff I does, he says. – I gets nervous when I sees my son, brer. My boy don’t know yet how bad of a father I really am.
You’re thinking: – Fuck, All I got is those turbo ones for when I goes to see the new bird later.
You’re saying: – Standard, bro. There’s one in the fag pack in the glove compartment.
So he sparks up the magic wand and has a few puffs. He smells the smoke coming off the cherry, which fills the car up with the bitterness that crack, weed and tobacco brings. You knows he recognises the smell cos he practically takes the rest down in one lungful.
His head starts going up and down like he’s agreeing with something. – I knows what you’re thinking, he says. – You thinks I’m a bad father for smokin then going to pick up my boy.
You makes an effort to steady the tone of your voice, and not to be too enthusiastic in your answer.
– No, bro. I bet you’re a good father, standard.
– I learnt bad habits, see. Me and my ex didn’t mean to have my son. Then I basically did what my old man did to me. When I was a nipper, he looked my Mumma bang in the face and said he’d be back at closin time. She never saw him again. And I ain’t much better either.
We drives without chatting for the half-mile climb up Gorse Place, and turns past the flats onto Beechley Drive, the last part of the hill and the first point of Pentrebane.
As you parks outside the chippy at the top shops, you goes to take off your seatbelt but Evo stops you. He puts his hood on and pulls all the strings, so all that is showing on his face is the mole to the right of his beak. He pulls your hood over your own noggin, then flumps it into the steering wheel. We stays like that for a second or two, then he lets go. Before you gets the chance to ask him very politely What The Fuck, you looks past all the Mummas going to wait for their nippers and you sees a familiar arse about thirty feet away. It’s one of those nice plum bums you could never forget. It could only be Chantelle. Even though her hair is scraped back and she ain’t done her face yet, she’s still looking beautiful. She’s wearing a tight pair of grey jeggings and some tan sheepskin boots. It looks like she’s dressing to impress someone later on.
She looks round but don’t clock us, and walks into the chippy. – I Really can’t be arsed, Evo says. – That girl ain’t nothin but trouble.
You ain’t sure if it’s the sight of Chantelle or the magic ingredient in the wand he just had, but Evo’s sweating so hard he looks like he’s basted himself up for a jailbreak.
– I dunno why you doesn’t wanna say hi, you says. – She’s safe, she is. Mint and all.
His smile is all cracked and yellow. – Someone got a crush, he says.
You’re thinking: – How do I put this.
You’re saying: – Come on, bro. She’s special, that one. She’s the type of bird who don’t give two fucks. Everyone fancies her. She’s one in a mill, standard.
And he looks out the window and says it himself. – One in a mill.
You’re thinking: – Some people needs to be told in black and white.
You’re saying: – You knows what I means, bro. She’s so fit you’d pay good money to suck the last dick that fucked her.
He takes his hood down.
– If you knows what I does, brer of mine, you wouldn’t be sayin that to me.
The way his face is set makes him look like the front end of a Chinese Dragon.
– Well no, spar, you says back, even though you knows you gotta change the subject pronto. – I dunno what’s going on in your swede.
You’re back in the visiting room again with Maylins. The couple to our left are still going at it, forcing their tongues down each other’s throats. You wonders if they carries on like this whether you’ll catch a bit of tit out the corner of your eye. You has to stop a minute to take a big gulp of air, cos you got to the bit where you can’t look at Maylins in the face while you tells the rest of the story.
You breathes in and out and takes your spar back to that afternoon last week.
You’re in the car with Evo, and Chantelle is putting a bag of chips on the passenger seat of her car across the road. You can’t help but follow her arse as she bends down. – Put it this way, Evo says. He breathes out smoke and you can feel the spots forming on your forehead already. – We got a special type of relationship, me and Chantelle. She might be trouble, but I got feelins for my girl there, and my girl there got feelins for me. So the more you talks about her like that, the more I feels like I wants to pick your nose with my big toe.
With that, Evo gets out the car and walks down the street to pick his nipper out of school.
You stops the story again and looks at Maylins. He’s gone all shoulders and no neck. You’ve added fifteen years to his face already.
The guy to your left has his hands around the back of his Mrs’s swede. She’s leaning over the table, her gut just about sitting down on the surface. You realises that they haven’t talked all session. Just tongued like they might not ever see each other again.
You tells your spar the rest quick-time, before he got a chance to think. Evo comes out, and his kid is running in front of him in his red and white school uniform. He’s all streaked with mud and grass stains. You tells your spar how you ain’t sure what was bigger, the little nipper or the bag on his back.
When the kid gets closer, you realises that you recognises the crew cut and the gaps where the milk teeth have fallen out. Then you realises that you are in a bad situation. It’s like one of those horrible moments where you’re half way through a piss and the toilet seat lid falls down.
Before you gets a chance to put your own hood up, the nipper is looking through the passenger seat window. – Oh look, he says. – It’s the big scaredy-cat.
Evo clips him on the crown. The nipper looks up at his old man. – SHURRUP Kyle, Evo says. – I thought your Mumma taught you manners.
And the kid goes quiet and says, – But that’s what Mumma calls him. She told me he was a big scaredy-cat and he ran away.
Nothing more is said until Kyle is buckled up in the back and Evo is all in your face like an August wasp. The belt strap cuts across Kyle’s neck.
– So then, Kyle, he says as he turns to face his son. – I guess I doesn’t have to tell you my man’s name then, if you knows it already.
And the kid drops you like you was two stone on a crash diet. – This is Mumma’s special friend, he says. – He comes round and he brings pizzas and they even lets me have my own one, but I doesn’t like it when he comes round cos I has to go to bed early.
Evo looks over. His face barely moves as he talks.
– It’s only been three months, he says.
– It ain’t like that, you says. – I didn’t know Stace was your kid’s Mumma. She never told me, she didn’t want me to know. And nothing’s happening, it’s all over. I got a new bird on the go now, I swears down.
You starts the engine, reverses, and before Evo got a chance to function you’re through Pentrebane and heading back down Fairwater. You knows that if the nipper weren’t in the back singing happy songs to himself then Evo would have stomped you so hard his knee would be in your throat.
As you gets to the shops down Fairwater Green, you realises that Evo’s been looking at you the whole time.
– Pull over. I think I needs a can to cool off, he says.
You stops the car on the side of the road and Evo offers out a palm. You slaps it with a tenner before he has to ask. He gets out and goes into the shop.
You’re thinking: – It ain’t far on a bus to Riverside.
You’re saying: – Kyle, go ask your Dada for some sweets. Go on, son.
As soon as the little nipper is in the shop, your engine is back on, and you’re headed back towards the Ely roundabout. You doesn’t look in the rear view mirror until you gone round two bends.
You stops your story there. When you gets your head back into the prison hall, you realises that your spar ain’t really been listening for the last few minutes. There’s no way of telling if he’s cool about it or if he’s swimming up an Egyptian river.
– I ain’t made none of that up, I says. – Sorry you has to find out like this, bro.
You looks at your hands and you looks at his face, and you can’t tell who’s more nervous.
– But she was here last week, he says. – There was none of this. Everything was normal.
And all you can think is that the only reason why things were normal is cos Chantelle bottled it.
But before you has to say anything else, the guy and his Mrs to your left starts shouting. The big screw from the waiting room has his arms around her, and he’s pulling her out of her seat. The guy stands up, but another meaty screw blows a whistle, and the guy sits down. On a tannoy, everyone is told to stay sat and still. The guy puts his hands on the table, then pulls his fingers in, scratching the table as he goes. You sees him swallow and almost choke, and you knows that he is probably gonna spend the next forty-eight hours in solitary with nothing for company except a bucket.
– That ain’t the way to do it, I whispers to Maylins. – If you really needs some brown, don’t get your Mrs to bring it in. Get someone you knows to chuck it over the wall.
But Maylins ain’t really clocking what’s going on.
No one in the room says a word. When the big screw comes back, he ain’t got the guy’s Mrs no more, and he’s carrying a pair of handcuffs. – Don’t worry, son, he says. – We’re gonna rip that right back out of you.
Back outside in the real world, the sun is out but there ain’t no heat. I walks through the car park and gets in my car. The driver’s side is already open. I gets in and turns to look at my new bird. Her hair is scraped back but she got her face on, cos she knew she was seeing me today. She gives me a peck on the cheek.
– Did you tell him? Chantelle says.
– Did you tell him everything?
Maylins heard nothing but the truth. But what he might not have heard is how after you fucked off from Evo and his nipper you went straight round Chantelle’s house and started to curse her out and asked her how many dicks she got on the go at the same time. And then how she said stop being a dick yourself, I got feelins for him and he got feelins for me cos he’s my fuckin cousin and I ain’t no cousin fucker. Now you best go and pick him and Kyle back up before he bricks your living room window.
Chantelle smiles as I puts the car into gear and drives off. Just like Maylins, she don’t have to hear it all. He don’t like sending letters and she won’t be hearing from him anyhow. And as I smiles back at her, all I can think of is how lucky I am that I got my mask on.