The sunlight hit me like a hammer, straight in my eyes. I hadn’t felt light like this in a long time. Occasionally sun would creep through the tiny window in the room in which I slept, giving my cell an ominous orange glow, but it never had the perfect angle with which to blind me, like this morning sun had.
There was nobody to greet me, unsurprisingly. Having been incarcerated for 18 years, I was the family member people talked about vaguely, in hushed voices. I hadn’t seen them in that time. In the early years I sent them visiting orders but there was never any response. Their silence told me everything I needed to know.
I walked the hostile pavements. Nobody knew who I was, yet I felt like I was already being judged, and was under suspicion. I felt as though the windows were staring at me like fascinated children, but as I looked toward them, it was as if they averted their gaze. I hadn’t a clue where I was going. I knew my loved ones had been informed of my release, but any chance of them coming to see me was a hopeful dream.
What struck me most about being on the outside was the smell. Inside, every room had smelt the same, regardless of it being the cafeteria, the toilet or each individual cell. On the streets it was a sensation, the hot smoke of a burger van, the saturated odour of a wheelie bin left on the street, all with the undertone of recent heavy rainfall. The smells I once found putrid were now bringing me joy.
I wandered around the town, everything seeming so distant, but familiar, like a relative you haven’t seen in years. I felt like a ghost; I was a face that hadn’t been seen in two decades, I had changed, aged, partially greyed. There was every possibility my family and former friends could walk past me and fail to recognise me. I could disappear and change, and my name would fade into mythical status. That isn’t what I wanted. I needed them to remember the real me, the identity I had created in the 18 years before the crime, and not what is remembered of me, stemming from a few ill-fated minutes.
I needed them to hear my story. To truly explain why I did what I did.
As I walked the empty path to my home, I inadvertently and subconsciously took the same shortcut I had taken all my life. It was as if it was pre-determined for me to walk this way, as I didn’t even notice until I turned the corner into Butcher Street and the flashback hit me, the same sensation as when I took my first steps out of prison. I was blinded by memories, nightmares. I could feel windows of houses staring at me, just as they were when the police car drove me away from this very position.
I ran as fast as my legs could carry me. I could feel the walls of the terraced housing close on me, drowning me in a sea of my memories. The irony is that I had 18 years to reflect on my actions and cope with my memories, but I blocked them all out. I had never been in the position to reflect emotionally at the crime I had committed. A crime was a crime, and crimes needed to be punished. I had spent all that time blocking things out and planning my life on the outside. A few hours on the outside and I have no idea what I’m doing next.
I could barely concentrate as I stumbled over the pavement cracks. My legs took me, my brain and thoughts were a separate entity entirely.
The rain began to pour, as I staggered over the road to the street which I used to call home. My tears were disguised as raindrops, rolling down my face as I realised I would never be able to undo the damage I had caused all those years ago. No matter how much I could beg and preach my story, I would always be known as the murderer. I crouched by a newly-built red brick wall, unsure of whether to knock on my parents’ door to ease my peace of mind, or to walk back and far away, to preserve their own.