The Prodigal Son

by James

Johnny actually had to walk past the bustling Central station to get the train he wanted to catch. It was two miles out of town to the tiny station where there were no ticket barriers. Most trains going through here terminated at Central station, but through some quirk of the timetable every so often a fast intercity would deign to wheeze to a halt in this backwoods nowhere place and Johnny could climb aboard without a ticket. Then came the tricky part – he had to find himself a seat near enough to the guard’s carriage that he could catch the curious eye of the new fellow when the changeover happened at Central station, and then bingo, he was an existing passenger who must already have had his ticket checked. At the other end it was a three-mile walk from the similarly desolate station without ticket barriers, but when your pockets are empty, what else can you do?

What Johnny had learned in prison: by hook or by crook was the way to go.

Johnny was mixed up about coming home again, back to this town where he had grown up. Here was his family home, with the new gym that would always be his room. Here was his dad, his dad’s wife. Here were his former friends, and his relatives, all of those second cousins he had barely seen and yet who had lined up to vocally denounce him. Johnny was an alien to this place. Unwanted, unloved. The prodigal son nobody hoped would return.

But this place was home. It didn’t matter that where he lived now was nothing different – shops and parks and boxy houses – it was the feel of the place. Something in the air.

Johnny blinked, and found himself in Edgewell Street leading to Queen’s park. He blinked again and found himself going through the park but leaving the well-tended paths to begin cutting through the overgrown parts at the back. If it was foolish to have come home then it was bloody stupid to push his way between the rusted links of chain fence that marked the border between the park and Saint Mary’s all girl’s school.

This was Ellie’s new school. It had taken him two years and fake profiles on three different social networks to track it down. One single message and maybe she would have agreed to meet him, but Johnny did not think he could have lived with the silence that might have been her response. Johnny tried to slow his breathing as the foliage began to thin. Caught lurking the grounds of an all-girl boarding school? The words “throw” and the “bloody book” were coursing through his head as sunlight began to dapple the leaves. He was getting close to the place where Ellie and her friends liked to while away their so called free-study periods. Johnny could hear them, these schoolgirls giggling together, their high-pitched voices setting his nerves on edge even as his heart began to thump in his chest.

He was moments away from seeing Ellie for the first time in four years. What would she say to him? Would she be happy to see him again? Would his sister smile at him, or would her eyes be full of that same judgement and loathing of everyone else he ever knew?