He heard the van at six. The time they always came. He was ready and waiting and eager to get on his way.
Before they had time to knock, he was at the door and took his place in the informal procession to his place in the back. Through the darkness, the overhead neon lights provided an institutionalized backdrop to exaggerate the intensity of the rain that hammered on the roof.
“Ready Albert?” He knew the guards well enough for them to call him by his first name.
“All buckled up? We don’t want any accidents now, do we?” Roberts chuckled lairily as he looked across to his mate who was driving.
“Going home then, are we?”
But Albert was looking out of the window by now and missed the slight. Rows of darkened terraced houses passed by, everyone the same, yet each different in their own subtle fashion, making the occupants feel they had their own ingredients in their dreary replicated lives.
“I’ll be glad to get back for a bit.” He sighed at the relief in his voice as he sighed the words to the boys in the front.
“Anything exciting planned?” Albert caught the hint of a snigger in his words and ignored the slight.
“No. Same old, same old. You know how it is lads.”
“That we do. That we do.
“So, no champagne and fillet steak for you tonight then?”
“A chap can but dream.” Albert allowed himself to be mesmerized by the monotonous repetition of the motorway lights.
As they climbed the slip road, he noticed a familiar landscape as the dawn tested the weather. He could make out features he’d seen before and smiled. They were getting nearer.
Nearer to familiar faces who he new well and he’d missed while he’d been away. Nearer to a routine he knew well and had shaped his life for so long. Nearer to a world where he could relax and keep himself to himself once again. Inside the own familiar territories of his world and his thoughts.
They were turning in now and he sighed out so loud, his guards both heard him and looked back at him.
“You alright Albert?”
“Aye, I’m fine. Fine.” The sigh was of the relief he felt as the van went through the gates once more.
“When are you out next?” Mr Roberts now asked him.
“Two weeks. Every two weeks.”
“Must be nice for you, going home, then?” The upward lilt at the end made it more than just words, for it became a question, rather than a statement.
That was what they all would think. Usually, Albert knew. The old lags would regard a weekend out as joyful and appreciated that freedom.
But not him. Not at all.
“You’d think so, eh?”
“When I see my family around me, after all the lost years, I can’t get into it that way.
“All I think of is when Monday will come round again and I can relax, knowing that then, and only then, will I really be going home.”