On Monday morning, he smiled at me for the first time and I thought we might actually be getting somewhere.
“It’s a load of bollocks, innit?” he said when I sat down beside him in the cafeteria. “You and them, you don’t reckon it is, like-or if you do, you’ll never admit it-but that’s exactly what it is.”
I’d been assigned to him for a couple of weeks now and I was more than familiar with his conversational tactics. He liked to start off with a definite advantage. It was my job, as he saw it, to try to make sense of his cryptic openings.
“What is?” I said. It never did to pretend with Graham “Sleep” Ferguson. Better just to admit from the beginning that you didn’t have a fucking clue what he was on about.
“All this.” He grinned again. Maybe this wasn’t the positive I had imagined it to be.
“Stop playing dumb. You know what. All this ‘get ’em off the streets and make ’em into decent fucking citizens’-lark. It’s all a load of bollocks.”
“See, I said you and them others wouldn’t admit it. It’s all just fucking make-believe.”
“So what are you telling me? You’d rather be out on the streets killing time and each other?”
“If I wanted to do that, I would-and none of youse would stop me.”
“So it’s a load of bollocks but you still choose to take part in it. Makes sense, I suppose.”
“Fuck you, smart arse.”
Sleep was smiling again.
“It’s a load of bollocks, innit?”
I was standing by my car, about to unlock the door. I knew who it was right away, of course. I knew-and the darkness of the car park underscored my vulnerability. Sleep. The boy with the smile, the boy I was “helping”.
Nothing to worry about there.
Turning, I saw his toothy grin. Turning, I noticed his legs-apart, ready-for-action stance. Turning, I realised he wasn’t alone.
“Sleep, what can I…”
He didn’t let me finish.
The three of them came towards me. I briefly considered running, but I knew that there’d be no way I could get away from them. They’d be too quick for me.
“You lot just don’t get it, do you?” he said. He held a knife in his hand. “You can’t save us because you just don’t fucking know where to find us. You can see us, like, but that just makes it worse. You don’t even know we’re lost.”
I thought it was all over then. And it was.
But not for me.
Sleep turned and with one deft movement planted the blade of the knife in the flesh beneath the ribs of one of his surprised companions.
“It’s just what we do,” Sleep softly told me.