A glimpse of redemption

The Tommy who came out of prison on November 23rd 1999 was a very different Tommy to the one who’d walked in five years earlier. A little thinner, a lot greyer and now missing that indefinable something that had once made him believe he was invincible.

He looked down when he walked these days, as if he couldn’t get used to the brightness of the watery sun and he carried his shoulders like bags of heavy shopping. He’d used to sparkle with life and now he just slunk along in the background, hoping not to be noticed. And for the most part he wasn’t.

Every morning he’d dress and drag himself to his dull grey factory job and every evening he’d trudge home again to his secret little room in his dull grey flat in a building of other dull grey flats. He walked. Tommy never drove anywhere anymore. A ready meal for his tea and a paperback from the library before bed.

But on Saturdays he couldn’t help himself. He’d go and watch the family.

It was like prodding an old, festering wound, instead of letting it heal; he had to see them, had to make himself face what they’d become because of him. Three instead of four, her absence a gaping hole in the perfect smile.

On Saturdays they went to the park. Nicky, the boy, was twelve now. Tommy remembered seeing him before, just a lad with a football and a bright smile. Ashleigh, the little girl, had just been a baby when her Mam had died. She must be nearly seven, Tommy thought.

Their Dad didn’t recognise Tommy, though he sat on the same bench every Saturday as the kids played. His eyes had never quite lost that blank, unseeing look that Tommy had put there.

Six years sober. Six years since he’d been behind the wheel of a car. Six years since all of their lives had changed irrevocably and Tommy still could not move on. Why should he be allowed to when they couldn’t?

Tommy looked up from his newspaper to see that Ashleigh was crying. Her Dad and Nicky were over on the grass, playing with the football and hadn’t seen her, but Tommy had.

“What’s wrong my love?” he said quietly.

“It’s Nicky, my brother. He’s hidden my bike again and I don’t know where he’s put it. He’ll tell Dad I lost it and I’ll get in trouble.”

“I’m sure your Dad will understand.”

Ashleigh shook her head and looked at the ground. “He never believes me” she almost whispered.

“What if I help you look? While they’re busy. That’ll be a shock for Nicky, won’t it?”

She nodded tearfully and half-smiled.

It didn’t take long to find the bike. The boy had tucked it inside the wooden Wendy house under the slide, but seeing her face light up in surprised delight made Tommy’s heart skip a little inside his chest.

He handed it back to her, and in her wet, unblinking, wholly grateful stare, Tommy could imagine, just for a moment, what forgiveness might have looked like.