We wait in a coffee shop for the lawyers to come back from the bowels of the court house with information on where the men have been sent. It is with great relief that we learn that they are to go to Hewell rather than the infamous Winston Green. I am told that Rob is in good spirits – anything else would have astonished me. The QC’s then say something incredibly kind which is that it is extremely rare in their line of work as defenders that they come across someone who changes their lives for the better as Rob has done.
I quiz Cyril about the other people in the visitors gallery and find out that two men sitting in the front row (blocking my final glimpses of Rob) were nothing to do with the case at all. They were in fact groupies who follow the judge from trial to trial, feeding from schadenfreude, living their lives through the failings and misfortunes of others and delighting in the masterful edicts of the judge. Also present were two large balding HMRC women (honestly, you couldn’t make these people up) and then of course the legal teams including our lawyer Jim.
He confesses to feeling as if he is at Rob’s funeral. He will get more access to Rob than I will in the years that are to come, so it is a comfort to me that they have become great friends through this bizarre process. There is a constant derogatory banter between them interspersed with moments of kindness and compassion for each others trials and tribulations, possibly the worst of which in Jim’s case are his fasting days on the 5:2 diet. There is no press. Brexit has just happened and every journalist in the country has bigger fish to fry. I may be the only sane person in England who can find relief in the result! After lots of sad farewells people peel off home, back to their lives.
The long journey home through the Friday night traffic is the first chance I have had to really take stock. I am grateful to settle back into the comfy leather seat in a car much more luxurious than I am used to and let Tim negotiate the route and the road. We soon fall into a road trip mentality, talking deeply about things that have been unsaid for many years. It feels good. We both love Rob so much that there is no need to talk about it. We finally arrive home, bladders bursting. Tala can’t wait to hear the news and sits on the bath whist I relieve myself, plaguing me for details.
She literally jumps for joy to hear that the sentence was under the minimum. If a small girl who loves her Daddy more than anything in the world is able to be happy with this situation then so can I. Okha and I had spoken on the phone from the courthouse so she already knows. She is working long hours and babysitting on the side and looks tired and fragile. She feels suddenly older than her 18 years. It will be her birthday next weekend. Neither of us have even thought about it. Once again people peel away until there is just me and my constant little friend Tala. She has decided that she is sleeping in with me and though I slightly dread the inevitable nocturnal kicks and starfish position that will without doubt leave me clinging to the outer edges of the mattress, fighting for duvet, I am glad of her.
It is almost 11 and terribly late for her as we have been up since 6, but still we can’t sleep. Just as she begins to drift off there is a knock at the door. I run down to find a slightly bewildered looking man, smelling strongly of kebab, asking for Rob. I correctly deduce that he is from the tagging company, assure him he is in the right place and usher him in to collect his equipment. He is dismayed that he won’t be able to retrieve the tag, but my explanation that Rob needed his leg this morning to get to sentencing seems to suffice.
I ask him if people tell him their stories as he goes about his work. He never asks apparently, but is always happy to listen when they do. Then he contradicts himself immediately by asking about the sentence. When I tell him 9, he assumes it is months and not years. Appalled, he gingerly asks about the charge and when I mention HMRC he looks disgusted and tells me that he holds no truck with them. It is a kind thing to say: He sees the reverse side of the prison system day in day out when he goes into the homes of the broken families it creates in its wake. He enters all sorts of places from the severely underprivileged to the extravagantly luxurious, but reports that he has never had any issues.
I ask him if the whole tagging thing is a sham…Apparently Keith forgot about his curfew one night after a not insubstantial amount of wine and carried some folding chairs that had been used for a dinner party back to the shed at the end of the garden. Contrary to the dire warnings that the tagging box would self detonate precipitating a cascade of consequences, nothing happened…! He assures me that the equipment is entirely functional but confided that it depends on where the box is positioned and the thickness of the walls as to how far you can get.
I return to bed. My little bedfellow is still awake. I climb in beside her. She is sweating profusely and adorably in the way only small children can in the “She Brings the Rain” T shirt Rob has left to remind her of him. She is also wearing a shawl which smells of the sweet combination of his aftershave and “essence de Rob”. I remove the damp T shirt from her and then follow her lead, donning another of his scarfs. We lie there together in nothing but our neck ware, looking like misplaced snowmen melting into the bed, waiting for sleep to come and end this bizarre day.