photo by Jake Oates via Unsplash
Every day they come. Scarred lifers worn out, worn through as the soles of old shoes; fresh-faced first timers who haven’t learned yet to tuck away the fear, to use it as armour against the horrors of slopping out, of hot breath on the back of their neck, of cold steel in their ribs.
They push their payment through the diamonds in the fence. Could be a long saved snout or their last chocolate bar, ancient and soft as bread dough; could be a letter with the scent of home pressed in each worn crease, or a blurry photograph of a round-faced child; their fading mother. No payment is too small or large – as long as it hurts to give.
When the exchange is done, they step forward, nervous, excited, yearning. Softly, they press their ear against the fence and I begin. ‘Once upon a time …’