Freedom Train

by Bob Boyton


The hostel want more ID off me than old bill need to put you away for three years but I
tell ‘em I’ll be a good boy and get loved up with my key worker in the morning so they
book me into a double.
After that they keep me hanging around for a couple of hours then they give me the
room key tell me to go up to 39 on the threes.
When I get there I knock on the door, out of politeness, ‘new bloke here mate.’
The door opens and I walk in.
I see a black guy in his early thirties sitting back down on his bed along one of the side
My bed’s along the opposite wall.
All he’s wearing are a pair of black boxers and flip flops. I can’t help noticing plenty of
muscle on his upper body, looks a bit like a middleweight I used to know.
He’s looking at me the same way I’m looking at him, neither of us with any ‘ag, just
checking each other out.
He could be an ex fighter who’s kept himself in shape.
I say ‘Hi.’
He leans forward half getting off the bed and shoves his hand out, either he’s relaxed or
he knows how to pretend.
‘Fitz’, he says.
I shake his hand, ’Ray’.
I notice his eyes, yellow and brown, hardly any white, like a cat, must be contacts, good
if you get ID’d, you can take ‘em out.


I sit down on my bed, half way along it. The sheets are whiter than I’m expecting and the
bed’s a lot softer. I feel relaxation spread its way from my arse down to my boots.
I rub my try to get rid of the tredness.
He seems alright so far but I wish he wasn’t there so I could just crash out. After the
kickings I’ve had today all I want to do is go to sleep, be grateful I’m not in lock up and
start thinking again when I get up in the morning.
He says, ‘shut de door mon.’
As I reach forward and shut it I see a short brown plastic stool that’s been hidden
behind it on Fitz’s side of the room, on the seat of the stool there’s a round shaving
mirror, five or six lines on it chopped up and ready to go.
Fitzy half sits up again, sticks his foot out and hooks it round the stool to drag it over so it
ends up between us.
He’s sitting up now, almost opposite me. I’m looking down at the white, thinking he’s
playing chess, that could be anything, all ready for him to get someone up, fuck ‘em up
or take the piss.
We could be back on a poxy landing somewhere, only in here he can be more blatant
with his gear.
I can’t think of a move, I’m so tired the top of my head’s coming off.
He almost shouts, ‘ousewarming innit.’
He can see I don’t know what comes next.
He chuckles, ‘you tink it’s poison?
‘Let me show you mon,’ he takes out a twenty pound from under his pillow, does a line
up each nostril.


I’m looking at his face as he comes up from the mirror, watching for the quality of the hit,
thinking I’m behind with him already, but hoping the stuff’s rubbish, then seeing his face
telling me it’s probably primo which drops me further behind. It’s three or four years since
I did some but I used to love it a lot and watching him I’m hungry for it again, full of
wanting to blast off and forget meself, besides a line of that I can fight him all night if I
have to, even if he’s the one knows the dance steps right now.
He breathes out and gives me the twenty, ‘Is good stuff mon.’
I look at those eyes that aren’t their real colour, then in my chest it feels like surrender as
I bend down to the mirror and throw my three months AA out of the window.
I do a line and the rush is a rocker, freezing my brain until I can talk again.
‘Yeah that’s good Fitz,’ and then I’m going like I’ve never been tired.
‘Yeah lovely, and know what, I haven’t even had a drink for three months, that is good.’
‘Knew you’d like it mate,’ he says.
That’s about the last word he gets in because now I’m on one, telling him about the pearl
diving, getting back from the job at two in the morning, having to go out for a run, three
or four miles, almost like roadwork in the old days, just to tire myself out, because
otherwise the walls are going to come in at me, then I start the story at the beginning
how I used to think I was going to be middle weight champion of the world and where I
ended up with that.
Fitzy chops up a few more,
I’m saying, ‘You’re about the first geezer I’ve talked to since I got out.’
Fitzy gives me a smile.
I feel like I haven’t been warm for about a million years until just now and I wish I could
explain it to him.


I’m trying to make my mind up whether it’s a good thing to tell him about the passport
and having to have it on my toes when he says, ‘yeah knew you’d been a fighter soon
as I see ya, teef as well innit, I sees you I reckon plenty a porridge, just like me. Tell
you bout my last lot, seven months remand in the Ville, my brief reckons I’m on for a
bender goin to walk it, I said only one doin any bending is me in some other geezer’s cell
and I don’t like it up the bottle. Then I get three years sentence, after I’ve been nutted off
he don’t say anything to me at all, can’t look at me in the face.’
I say, ‘Yeah, like most briefs mate, everything’s cuntish.’
Fitzy chops up a few more and now we’re both going.
Nicks we’ve both been in, what happened to a geezer who tried to cut him in Leicester,
five days I done on the block in one place, all about the diesel treatment because
keeping on getting moved from one nick to another is better than grassing.
I don’t even know how long we’re talking because I’m in the time tunnel but I know we’ve
talked loads before Fitzy has to go out.
He stands up, puts on a pair of black joggers and tucks a money belt down inside them,
Help yourself, be appy,’ he says nodding towards some more he’s cut up on the mirror.
‘Bitta business’ he says as he goes.
I don’t even really want any more coke, but without him the night’s gone a bit cold so I do
another couple of lines.
Ten minutes later he’s back, with a Tesco’s bag he didn’t have when he went out.
A minute later there’s a knock on the door, I look at Fitz and down at the mirror, to say
‘shall I get rid of it’ but he says, ‘safe mon,’ and gets up.
When he opens the door it’s one of the crack heads I saw in the canteen, the way he
looks at me he thinks I’ve stolen his train set, sold it for smack.


‘Dahn the corridor mate,’ Fitzy orders him.
He goes out after him, then comes back on his own about a minute later.
For the next half hour it’s like rush hour on the tube, I even hear Fitzy outside in the
corridor telling them to line up properly and keep the noise down.
That finishes and he comes back and gets another wrap out of his pocket, shakes it
gently onto the mirror and does the business.
I’m wondering where he’s put the money, in his pocket or the Tesco’s bag he’s slung on
the floor then I remember the money belt.
Now he’s going top speed, all about boilings he’s seen in Highpoint except he calls it
Nighpoint, the way he’s telling me about it it’s almost he doesn’t think I’ve ever seen it
Then he stands up again, ‘could be good mate, you n me, make a whole heap a
money,’ then he looks me in the eye and he holds his cock through his tracksuit bottoms,
to let me know he’s not just talking about the dough we could get hold of.
‘Bout ten,’ he says but I see a shadow cross his face before he goes out the door.
This time he hasn’t left any out and it begins to die down a bit.
I reckon he’s had well over his ten minutes when I notice an alarm clock on top of his
bedside cabinet, see it’s half past four.
Five o’clock and he still hasn’t come back but there aren’t any knocks on the door so he
must have gone out, for a meet.
I’m still hanging in space with the coke stopping me sinking as I sit there pondering what
he’s said, knowing I could stay here, go to work with him, and the two of us have a bit of
the champagne life. Spend the money, all the powder I want, and feel those muscles as I
discover his cock.


But I remember his face when he was telling me about the boilings he’s seen, know he
can still see the sugar being put in the cup before the water’s drawn off so it’ll do more
damage, still hears the screaming in the middle of the night and looks out the window for
the ambulance because the last time they let him out they did but they didn’t and if I wait
for him I’m probably going the same way.
I don’t move though because I’m potless skint, way behind with him for all his Charlie,
still thinking about his muscles and I’ve got no place that feels like home.
Six o’clock and the cokes lying down but I’ve realised the shadow that crossed his face
just before he went out was the shadow of the jailhouse and he isn’t coming back.
I make myself stand up.
There aren’t a lot of places to look but I get lucky straight away, four wraps and eighty
quid in tens in a rip in the bottom of his mattress.
All I’ve taken off is my jacket so I bung that back on and I’m out of the room, hoping I can
find the right staircase.
I crash down the stairs and this time’s God’s smiling, the bottom of the stairs brings me
out right by the canteen.
I knock the wraps out to a couple of likelys who’ve got a oner between ‘em.
Outside I turn away from Kings Cross and trouble.
A black cab comes along with its light on, my first one for years.
‘Victoria Station.’
Class A and Old Bill, Police and Thieves, I’m leaving them all behind.
I get on the one that’s leaving first, almost asleep before it pulls out.
My freedom train.

Adapted from