The Black Castle
I still remember how cold it was that day when mum and I went to Armley to visit dad. I was seven and we went on the bus and the heaters weren't working and the windows were misted up and you could see your breath inside thebus. Mum put her arm around me to keep us both warm and the floor was sopping wet from the melted snow that fell from everybody's shoes.
When we approached our stop, I rubbed a hole in the window to see out and there in front of me was this huge black castle. I wasn't sure what Armley was, but whenever mum mentioned it at home I certainly never imagined a black castle with turrets and what looked like a gateway. She just said that dad was there until things were cleared up and I thought it must be a hotel or something. When the bus pulled away we looked across the road and it scared me, this black castle with really high walls, it looked even colder than the weather. I gripped mum's hand as tight as I could as we crossed the road.
When we got through the main gate we had to stand in a queue with lots of other people and it took a while before I realised that they were all ladies and children like me and mum and we all stood shivering in this courtyard for ages. Mum put her arm round me again.
When they let us in there was a funny smell, a bit like school dinners and a bit like the school toilets and it wasn't much warmer than it was outside. We were shown into a big room with lots of tables and chairs, like a cafe, and mum and I chose a table and sat looking at the blank green walls and listening to the noise echoing around the room. Mum looked really pale and nervous as if she was going to cry and I asked her where dad was and she said he'd be along any minute. She wiped a tear away from her cheek and I felt frightened because I didn't know what was happening.
Suddenly, a bell rang and a door opened and lots of men walked into the room and they were all wearing the same clothes; grey jackets and trousers and blue shirts with stripes on them. I asked mum who they all were, but she didn't answer. She just stared blankly at the men, until suddenly she smiled and her face lit up and dad was standing in front of us. He looked very pale and I remember noticing that he had bags under his eyes and a big bruise on his face. I thought he would hug me, but he kissed mum on the cheek and sat down at our table. I stared at him, willing him to look at me and speak to me, but he didn't. He just started chatting to mum about how she was and how things were at home and I remember wanting to cry. I didn't; but mum did.
As she and dad chatted, I looked around the room and some ladies were chatting and some were chatting and crying at the same time. The children were looking round the room just like me and some started to get up and mess about and their mums shouted at them to sit down.
After a while the bell rang again and all the men stood up and started saying goodbye. Dad kissed mum on the cheek again and then he turned towards me and looked at me for the first time and his eyes were full of tears. He ruffled my hair and told me to look after mum until he came home. I asked him how long that would be, but he didn't answer. He just turned and walked away with the other men in the same clothes, until we were all left just looking at the blank green walls again.
Back out in the courtyard some of the other boys started throwing snowballs and laughing, but I didn't. I didn't feel like throwing snowballs, I just wanted to go home and ask mum all sorts of questions.
When the bus came, the floor was sopping wet and the heaters didn't work and the conductor said it was nothing to do with him. We sat upstairs and mum began crying softly into her handkerchief and put her arm around me. There were so many things I wanted to ask, but she said this wasn't the time. People were looking in our direction and some asked mum if she was OK and she said she was, but I wasn't and I knew she wasn't and I knew that dad wasn't, but I didn't know why. I put my arm on the window sill and watched as the sleeve on my coat slowly soaked up the pool of water running along the gulley.
When we got home mum made beans on toast and she told me that dad had been accused of things at work that he hadn't done and that until things were cleared up he would have to stay at Armley. Armley she said, is where people have to stay until things are cleared up.
When I'd finished eating, mum said I could watch the telly, but I went to my room and curled up into a ball on my bed and pulled the eiderdown over me. Every time I closed my eyes a picture of the big black castle appeared and I had to open them again.
I think dad was crying in there because he was a prisoner and he couldn't tell us. That's what castles are for, to keep people locked up so he must have been a prisoner, otherwise he would come home. I'll tell mum tomorrow and she'll know how to get him out of that Armley and back home again where its warm and not smelly. When he's home, he'll look at me and give me a hug and he and mum will stop crying.