Ben’s escape.

Ben hurried through the brightly lit corridors of the hospital, desperate for a way out. Keeping his eyes down whenever he passed any doctors or nurses. They were looking at him he could tell. Got to get out of here, should never have come. It was her idea. She had forced him – said he would be in trouble if he didn’t but he was in even more trouble now.

He walked along a low, glass corridor. Outside there was a small garden courtyard with some benches. It looked so much nicer out there. There were no people. He found a door in the corridor and pushed it open. The cool air hit him in the face. He instantly felt dizzy again. He staggered onto one of the wooden benches and sat gasping.

He had to get home. It would soon be sunrise and being out in the daylight was impossible, there would be people everywhere. His hand closed around the Saint Christopher around his neck and a mumbled prayer fell out his lips. Please make it home. He breathed deeply and closed his eyes. Had to rest, just for a minute.

Terror overcame Ben as he woke. How long had he been here? An orderly was shaking his arm. It was almost dawn! The sound of the city coming to life was so loud in the dim light.

“Are you ok mate? You need some help?”

Completely ignoring the stranger, Ben got to his feet and turned and shuffled away from him.

“Here! There’s no way out there! Mate?”

Ben had to get away from the shouting man. He was at the edge of the courtyard, dark green ivy climbed up and over the wall.  The man was right behind him, blocking the way. He had no choice, he started to scale the trellis.

“Here! Mate!”

Without looking back, Ben hoisted himself over the short wall and crashed onto the hard concrete on the other side, landing on his hip. He didn’t let out a cry but it hurt bad. Can’t wait, keep going. He pulled himself to his feet, leaning on the red brick wall for support. A delivery van beeped as it reversed in the small car park, the driver eying at Ben in his mirrors. Ben could feel the eyes on him, examining and judging him. It wasn’t fair. No one should judge anyone else. Other than God of course. That was the deal. That was what it was all about, wasn’t it? But they all did it, all the time and it isn’t fair. Ben limped past the van, bumping off it as he staggered. The driver braked sharply, he would be annoyed, would want to shout! Ben could not stop now. He was out the gate and onto the main road. He looked left and right as cars sped past, could hear the driver behind him shouting something. He was disorientated but desperate to get away from here and get home.

Finding his bearings was never usually an issue, Bens world was too small to get lost. The flat, the church, the market. He was like a cat with a small prowling area that was his and he understood it. There was never any need to travel any further. When he was young he had. Went to the day schools organised by the church, they were good, they got to play in the country, run around the fields and climb the trees. He went to the overnight schools too. He didn’t like them though.

Buses of tired faces flew passed on the road while people in skirts and suits walked fast and purposefully with comfy trainers on their feet, jostled by Ben. They were looking at him as well. They all were. Had to keep his eyes down. Had to get away from the main road. He turned into the large park that was next to the hospital. He could cut through here to get home. It was longer but much quieter and sometimes there were ducks and swans in the pond. His sister took him there once or twice after mum died. It was always too busy though.

She was going to be so angry. She would come today and visit and ask what the hospital said. He would have to look much better so she didn’t ask the questions. If she did not ask anything then he would not have to say anything. Had to get home and get looking better and tidy up, the flat was messy.

He scurried through the park. Sticking to the bushes and the trees. There were people on the path, joggers and cyclists exercising in the dim pre-dawn light. Ben felt safer in the greenery. He didn’t know that someone from the hospital had already called the police. They were on their way.

He pushed through the bushes and bracken in the wooded area behind the pond. His jeans getting damp and dirty from the grass. Soon he would emerge on the other side of the park and then home would be so close. He was exhausted now and would love to sit for just a minute, rest his legs, his bruised hip. He pushed through another wall of branches and his foot kicked against something. He looked down. Another foot. Not his. There was a man lying under a filthy sleeping bag, he fixed Ben with a harsh stare. Right in his eyes.

“What the fuck you doin?” His deep booming voice made Ben jump.

Ben recognised his eyes instantly, he saw so few eyes. It was the man from the graveyard. The man that had barged into him and stared at him and ran away.

“You? What the fuck you doin here?”

Ben wanted to get away but the man was on his feet now, his hands shot out of the sleeping bag as it fell to the ground. He gripped bens jacket tightly, pulling him closer.

“How’d you find me? Eh? What you want?”

“I want to go home.” Ben couldn’t look away. The man’s eyes intense and terrifying.

The man’s face was inches from his. His toxic breath made Ben feel sick. He knew the park gates were just through the bushes, they were so close. He could run but the man was stopping him. He started to shake Ben back and forth. He was too weak to fight it.

“What the fuck you want with me! What did you see!”

A noise in the trees. They both turned instantly to look. There were two police officers in bright yellow jackets walking through the gloomy green light towards them.

“You got the polis on me?” He spat as he pointed at the approaching officers. “Ya fuckin rat!” The whispered grimace and foul whisky breath made Ben want to scream. He couldn’t take it anymore. He turned sharply, breaking the grip and stumbled off through the trees towards the gate as fast as he could.

“Hoi!” The man roared after him.

The police started running and were on the man in seconds. Pinning him down as he fought violently.

“It’s no me! Its him! I done nothin!”

Ben did not dare to look back. He was shaking as hobbled onwards.  This had been one of the most frightening days of his life. He didn’t want to ever go back to this park or that hospital and that man was too much, he looked at him too hard, his eyes were starting to sting.

He left the park onto the busy side street and went straight over the road at the crossing, not waiting for the green man. A car slammed to a stop as he stepped right out in front of it. Everyone was looking at him. Tears were welling up in his eyes, he just needed it to stop. Must get home.  He was across the road and down the alley next to the churchyard. The high stone walls on either side protecting him. His mum was buried just over the wall from here, he felt safer. The alley was quiet. Not a soul. Not a single soul other than Ben.

He turned the corner and saw more police, the front of the church was blocked off by two officers and some blue and white tape. They turned to look at him, but he kept his eyes low and went straight past. Not even looking at the church. They watched him the whole time, he knew they did, but they didn’t say anything.

Finally, home. The building was cold and cramped. The walls of the neighbouring buildings so close it was hard to distinguish one from the other. Ben ducked through the small main door and into the stairwell. Up the winding steps to his own front door. He unlocked the door with the blue key. Shutting it behind him and leaning on it. Finally, home. He slid the bolt into place and closed his eyes.  He took the small silver Saint Christopher, lifted it to his lips and kissed it. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Tears streamed down his cheeks. Finally, home.

He moved painfully through the hall to the bathroom. His hands supporting him against the wall the entire time. It was dark. The electricity had been cut off weeks ago. It was ok. He would sleep soon. Go to the toilet first then sleep.

Ben entered the tiny bathroom. Precious little light came through the tiny frosted glass window. He turned and pulled down his loose jeans without undoing belt or buttons and sat straight down on the avocado green toilet seat. He made eye contact with the dead boy in the bathtub. He could look at those eyes easily. There was no soul in them.


Ben’s Time

A long walk at night was Ben’s solace, a little peace from his world. That infernal house and the constant noise. It made him angry sometimes but he knew anger was bad. His left hand flitted around and around the rosary beads in his pocket. Mumbling hail Marys under his breath.

Walking soothed it. Praying soothed it. He often thought of drilling a tiny hole in the top of his skull to let out the built-up pressure, like steam from a kettle. He needed it. He would spend hours walking some nights. In his old cracked leather jacket and bright orange trainers, ill-fitting jeans that sagged under his stomach. Ben’s right hand circled through his long spindly hair that in turn circled his shiny bald head. He knew they laughed at him. Kids and adults. All of them. Night time was better. His Time.

As he walked down the cobble stone lane enclosed by the high wall of the churchyard on one side and the old stone wall of some fancy house on the other, he felt a safety, a security. He was getting closer to her. The streetlamps hummed softly. The gentle orange glow the closest he got to sunlight.

His peace was broken by a muffled shout. This was the worst thing about his Time. There were others. People who also liked the night. On the weekend so many and so loud that he couldn’t venture out at all. Drink done for them all. He was forced to just watch from his high window. But in the week, the others were different. They had their own missions. Their own reasons to walk. He never looked directly at them. Eye contact led to nothing good. Another shout. Closer this time. Be resolute. He turned the corner at the end of the lane and walked towards the front gate of the churchyard.

The church used to be open in the night. It used to be open all the time. You could go right inside and pray, anytime. It was where he received his first communion and made his first confession to Father O’Malley. In recent years, the other night people started to come there. Sleep there. Then they started locking the church doors. But you could still get into the graveyard, where his own mum was laid to rest. Once he found a man sleeping on his own mum’s grave. He had cried and asked him to move but the man was drunk sleeping. Wouldn’t move. No matter how much he pushed and pulled at him. the next few nights after that there were loads of people there. Police. He couldn’t get in. Couldn’t go near the gate even. Too many people. Tonight was quiet though. He would be able to see her.

Approaching the large black wrought iron gates always felt good to Ben, like a homecoming, the intricate curves and spikes looked nice. When he was a boy he could get his entire head through them, he would play around them as his mum spoke to the Father O’Malley. He entered the churchyard just as a man came running out. The man barged right into him and looked. Looked right at him. Ben looked back. In his eyes. He didn’t mean it. It happened too quick. That happened sometimes. In the supermarket or on a bus. Sometimes if you weren’t careful you could see someone’s eyes and they seen yours. It was scary. He froze, completely still. His arms by his side, looking at his feet. The man didn’t stop he just ran off straight down the road. Ben didn’t know if he looked back or not. He didn’t move for about a minute. Just wanting to be alone.

Mum would help him. she always helped him when he was scared. He remembered when he was little, he was being bullied by a boy in the street. They stole his bike. He was only five. The boy had a knife. What could he do. His sister ran and got his own mum and she had come and scared the boy off and held him so tight for so long that all the badness went away and he didn’t even think of it again that often.

He walked through the quiet graveyard towards her grave. She had a lovely spot. In the middle near the church but also next to a lovely big oak tree. She loved it there but she missed Ben.

He crunched along the grey gravel path and could see her stone now. She would be happy to see him. she would make him feel better too. He’d give her a kiss and it would be ok and he wouldn’t be scared anymore.

A man stood up. He had been hiding behind her tombstone. The man pulled up his pants and trousers. Ben looked at the grass. There was fucking shit everywhere! All over his own mums grave and her stone! The man looked Ben in the eye.

“Alright pal.” He rasped.

Ben screamed a guttural roar. His hands went around the man’s neck. How dare he, how dare he.

Ben held tight as the man lay down. Onto the grass. Onto the shit. He wept as he squeezed. He had never been this angry before. He knew he shouldn’t be, but couldn’t stop squeezing.  His eyes moved to his mother’s name on the stone and he let go.

“I’m sorry mum!” still weeping.

They were both covered in shit. It was all over Bens jacket and his jeans. He couldn’t touch his rosary beads. They would get dirty. Everything was dirty. Had to get it clean.

He stood up and dragged the lifeless man to the path and up the steps to the large dark studded doors of the church. The man didn’t have a cross or beads or anything around his neck. Another soul too late to save. You have to try though.

He began stripping the man. He stunk. Not just of shit. He needed a bath. Shouldn’t judge though. There are many less fortunate than us. That’s what mum used to say. He took off the mans’ socks and shoes. And put them neatly on the step.  He took off his trousers and dirty hoody. And folded them and placed them there too. Then, once he was naked. Used his t shirt and underpants to wipe him clean. Cleanliness was next to godliness. Once he was satisfied he made sure the man’s feet were together and positioned his arms out at ninety degree. Had to be certain God could see him.

He took the man’s clothes and went back to his own mum’s grave and used them to mop the stone clean. He wiped and wiped until it was as clean as could be. The little green plastic vase of pretty flowers had been knocked over and cracked when he was strangling the life out of the man. Ben straightened it up and took the new flowers out of his pocket. A tiny posy of daisies he had picked himself this morning. Then he knelt next to her and gave the stone a kiss.

“I’m sorry mum.”

It began raining.