Her letter of resignation hit Rawson’s desk the next morning. Rawson received it with a poorly faked shock and disappointment.
"For you, we’ll continue the equality training." But his promise was probably as empty as his heart.
With two weeks left of her career, Anne had to see the conclusions of three cases.
The first was the suicidal inmate. Bandages concealed his bruised face, while his leg was in a cast. But he walked on his own. She escorted him to the Contingency Suite with a reluctant Sowden. There, he’d be medicated and kept under closer watch than in his regular cell.
The second case was the thieving officer. Since the incident, he’d been kept out. Rawson named someone else to lead the internal investigation, but Anne also took an active role.
They talked to inmates who’d submitted complaints about their money missing from their mail. The officer had come to this facility three years ago. They matched the days he was on duty and the days those inmates received their mail. Still, it was difficult to determine which cases were this particular officer’s doing.
The sum of stolen money amounted to, at least, three thousand pounds judging from his bank account information. He was possibly committing the same offence in his previous facility. The external investigation would bring it to light. It was a criminal case now.
This internal investigation took a week. The other investigation, on Hinscliffe’s misconduct, took more. Requiring the police’s cooperation, it dragged on until her last day.
The conclusion was frustratingly unsatisfactory.
Anne couldn’t help but smack the report down on Rawson’s desk. "Three months of suspension? Three? It says his use of force was excessive and unwarranted."
"Leave it," Rawson said. "It’s what it is."
"Why is he still allowed to work in the force? Why is his suspension shorter than mine?"
"Sorry about that. Do you want to redo yours?"
This stripped Anne of any remaining faith in the system. Her heart no longer faltered.
Parallel to the investigations, Anne organised her office, not for her successor, but for her final big bang.
She reviewed every incident report she’d ever witnessed at this facility. She then sorted them into two categories. Cases involving misconduct and ones without it.
After submitting her letter of resignation, she’d made copies of the report files of the first category and saved them to a USB. For the last two weeks, it’d been waiting for her next move.
The USB was an office supply. Anne must empty and leave it before her farewell to this place. But the data would come with her.
At first, she’d considered transferring the files to a personal USB. But chances were high it’d raise suspicions during the exit search.
Then, she tried to use her smartphone as an alternative. In theory, a secret storage app could get past security. But the computer didn’t allow access from unauthorised devices. Plus, even if this method succeeded, it might leave a digital trace.
So, sitting at her desk, Anne held her phone camera in front of the computer screen, took pictures of every page of the files one by one, and saved them in a secret app.
It was a dangerous mission. If—or when—these records of misconduct went public, they’d know it was Anne. They’d seek retaliation, involving her family.
But a chance like this would never come again. She’d act now and do the thinking later.
There were quite a number of files. Anne kept moving her hands, blinking as little as possible, until one file appeared on the screen. It was the report of an incident from the end of last year. Anne’s name was included.
She looked at the clock. There still remained many files untouched. But making a quick decision, she moved the photos she’d taken so far to a secure storage app. She stood up and opened the door.
Right there, Rawson had his hand raised as if to knock. "Lister." He flushed a smile. "Going home already?"
Anne kept her calm. "No, I thought I'd look around for the last time."
"You worry too much about us." He gave a light slap on her shoulder. "Say, how about we grab a drink after this?"
"I’ve got plans."
"Come on, it’s your last day. We’ll throw you a farewell party, as a family."
Her feeling of disgust was so deep it came full circle and evolved into pity.
"There are people waiting for me." Anne slipped past him.
That was a stressful surprise. His sudden visit had petrified her. But she also praised herself for the decision to leave the office at that moment. He might’ve seen her computer screen.
Was his invitation genuine, or had he come to snoop around? Either way, she must finish this other matter fast. She felt her smartphone in her pocket. The evidence was hidden. But she'd rather not linger around with it.
At this time of day, many inmates were in workshops, making furniture and clothes for an obscene wage.
Anne found him making hospital wheelchairs. She weaved her way through the swarm of inmates holding spanners and other blunt tools. Most of them didn’t even look up.
Ox didn’t, either, even as Anne stopped nearby. He and his workmates never stopped their hands.
In another corner of the room, an officer was harassing other inmates. "We aren’t paying you to slack off. Move faster."
Anne turned around back and entered the wheelchair making space. She stared at the crown of Ox’s head. "Can we talk? Alone?"
Ox spun the wheels on a chair, inspecting them. "That an order?"
"It’s a question."
Ox sneered to himself. He slowly stood up and wiped his hands on his apron.
It was a good enough answer for Anne. She beckoned the harassing officer. "He’ll take a break. Don’t harass him for it."
The officer smiled. "Alright."
They went to the closest corner of the room. There were queues of folded wheelchairs, ready to be hauled to the warehouse. Ox unfolded one of them and sat in it.
From his rolled-up sleeves, his fully tattooed forearms peered out. They all had violent themes. But one tattoo was different. Lily loves Daddy, it said in a child’s handwriting. It was on the inside of his wrist, where he could easily see.
Anne gestured at it. "You got a kid?"
Ox looked away. His cheeks were sunk. He didn’t look as robust as Anne remembered.
"Are you ill? You’ve lost a lot of weight in, what, nine months?"
"Why not look at my medical record if it interests you so much? Shag my daughter while you’re at it."
"So you have a daughter?"
Ox curled his lip. "Your nose looks well." He nodded over at her arm cast. "Were you attacked again?"
"By a fellow officer."
"Still on that compassion rubbish?" Ox snickered. "Want me to beat you up like before?"
"You don’t sound very tough."
Agitated, his face flushed. A line of scar tissue showed itself across his forehead. Anne didn’t know if it was from their scuffle. She’d never looked at his face so closely before. Now, Ox looked exhausted. Perhaps he had sat down, not to look comfortable and assert dominance, but simply to rest.
"I read the report," Anne said. "You spent three months in the cooler after that."
"And denied me medical care until it was too late." Ox glared at her. "I'm dying in this cesspool thanks to you."
"You're the one who attacked me."
Clicking his tongue, Ox looked over her shoulder and twisted his face. "I know why that twat is happy."
Anne quickly looked behind her. "The officer?"
"Not just that one," Ox said. "All of these cockroaches acting friendly. I heard you’re leaving. They must be real happy, smiling all week, so much it creeps me out."
Again, Anne looked back around and watched the officer, who smiled and gave her a patronising nod. She turned to Ox. "The good old brutality starts again tomorrow. Today is my last day."
"Yayyy." He clapped his hands in faux excitement.
Anne stared at him.
"What’s that look? Why have you come here in the first place?"
Anne didn’t know. She knew, when his name had appeared before her eyes, that she had to see him. "How old is your daughter?"
Ox ignored her.
"When was the last time you spoke to her?"
"Leave her alone." Ox put his hands on the armrests of the chair as if to stand up, but didn’t. He murmured, "She hates me anyway."
His thumb stroked his daughter’s tattoo inside his wrist. To someone unaware of the tattoo, the gesture might look like he was checking for pulse, in this world without his child.
Anne swore to herself to never forget this moment.
"I have three kids that I love dearly," she said. "My partner raises them in Halifax. I didn’t like kids that much before. But now, they’re part of me. Part of my world."
Ox said nothing.
"It’s all in the small things." Anne pointed at his forearm. "Like that tattoo."
His eyes darted to it. His lips remained sealed. And that was the end of the conversation.
Anne left him in the shadow of wheelchairs and headed to the exit.
"Have a good life!" The officer was waving at her across the room.
Anne didn’t stop. "I will," she said to herself.
Back in her office, she quickly finished her mission. The storage app was hidden deep, invisible on the home screen. She checked it repeatedly until the clock struck five. It was time to leave.
At the exit security, a young officer collected her radio and keys, searched her clothes and bag, and demanded her smartphone.
"More thorough than usual, is it?" Anne unlocked her phone and handed it over.
"It’s Governor Rawson’s order." The officer went through Anne’s phone. "What’s this?" Showing the screen to her, he pointed at an app with a folder icon.
The officer opened the app. "It needs a PIN. Unlock it for me, please?"
Anne received the phone, but only toyed with it. "It contains personal—"
"Governor Rawson ordered me to disregard your privacy."
Though with a reluctant grimace, Anne gave in. She unlocked the secret app.
Receiving it, the officer squinted at the screen. "What are—" But as if the phone burnt him, he dropped it on the long table.
The screen displayed a bunch of Sapphic pornographic gifs.
"Told you it was personal," Anne said. "Do you want to inspect them individually?"
The officer shook his head, flushing hard. "You’re good to go, ma’am."
Anne gathered her stuff and walked out.
It was over, for now. Free from the anxiety, her body threatened to go limp. But she kept walking.
Her apartment was almost empty. Most of her stuff had been sold or sent to Halifax. The remaining furniture was a gift for the next tenant.
By the door, her duffle bag was waiting for her. She slung it over her shoulder and locked the door behind her. Not a drop of sentimentality was in her as she returned the keys to the landlord.
She walked to the railway station, taking the route she’d taken every week for the last couple of months. And she waited for her train to Halifax the same way she’d done many times. But this time, in her hand was a one-way ticket.
On the train, she deleted the bait app from her phone, together with all the porn gifs.
It had gone easier than she’d expected. Most officers at security were young and naïve. One bait app, and their attention would stay away from the authentic one, presented as a calculator app.
She opened it and stared at the photos. Carrying them around sounded chancy. She must move them to a USB. She’d keep it in a secure place where not even her family could know. Then, she could contemplate the next step in peace.
It’d take years, no doubt, to plan it out. Her family’s safety came first.
A text message made her phone buzz.
Adney: We’ll be waiting at the station.
Yes, it’d take years because she had so many other things to do. So many restaurants to take the family to. So many cartoon characters to memorise for the little ones. So much to learn about sign language. So many school subjects to learn to help them with homework. So much to learn about farming, too. So many vegetables to grow. So many more kids to raise and cherish. And so many Polaroids of them to take.
She’d be so busy being happy with her family.
At Halifax station, they were waiting by the bus stop.
"Anne! Over here!" Eliza was jumping and waving her arms over her head.
Marian signed to the kids. "Who can get to her fastest?!"
The kids sprinted at once. Their arms were extended towards her, ready to tackle and knock her down.
In a panic, Anne signed, "Stop. Stop!"
They froze in the spot like statues.
Anne pointed at her arm cast. "Gently, please. Can't hug you three at once."
The little ones gave delighted squeals and came forward. Naveen clutched Anne's leg tight. Eliza hugged her around her waist. And watching them, Eugénie shyly wrapped her arms around Anne’s neck.
Their weight kept Anne standing firm. She smiled at Marian and Adney as they caught up.
"Let's go home." Marian picked up Anne's duffle bag off the ground. "I'm hungry."
"But you were snacking before coming here," Eliza said.
They all laughed as Marian shushed her.
The kids released Anne and began debating who got to carry the heavy bag home.
Adney let Marian and Eugénie moderate it. Her eyes were on Anne. With both of her hands, Adney took hers. "Welcome home."
Anne’s life in Halifax began for the second time. She got back her job as a school guard. With Mrs P’s approval, she soon became the second person in charge. (Marian made the same complaints as before, something about Anne being too sleepy for farm work.)
Nuria visited them every other week. The kids referred to her as their grandmother. Adney couldn’t do it yet. Calling Nuria her mother still made her feel awkward. She didn’t know if this feeling would ever disappear.
Nuria’s family was eager to meet her. But that idea didn’t interest Adney much. At least, Adney enjoyed baking with her. Every time, Nuria taught her a new recipe her grandmother had taught her.
Their Portuguese sweets attracted some neighbours like before. Her biggest patron was Mrs P. Their relationship stayed amicable, though the kids (especially Eugénie) were still skeptical. Her associates—Anne called them Mrs P’s little birds—also bought from her. But they acted aloof, pretending they’d never had any conflict with her. They still gossipped about Adney’s family, it seemed.
Eugénie’s adoption was going well. Becoming an adoptive parent, Adney had to get assessed. After this, she could apply for an adoption order. It was different from the assessment to be a foster parent. This process took time. But Adney had no worries. The waiting time allowed Eugénie to choose whether to keep her last name or change it to Walker.
It wasn’t the only thing for Eugénie to think about. It was her last year of secondary school. Adney and Anne helped her gather information about universities and scholarships. So many choices to make. Eugénie wanted to go somewhere near Halifax. It was the only thing Eugénie knew for sure.
"I want to help you on the weekends."
But now, universities outside Halifax were on her list of options. Her definition of ‘near Halifax’ had broadened.
Anne said it was thanks to her adoption. "When you know where your home is, it’s not scary to go a little far."
The meaning eluded Adney. But she liked watching Eugénie make adult decisions.
Eliza, too, grew every day. They still had a couple of years before her puberty would start. Sam wanted to have conversations about hormone blockers from early on. Once in a while, they sat with Eliza and looked at options. But Sam was more worried than Eliza herself.
It was at the end of November when Ms Grose, the social worker, called.
"Wonderful news, Ms Walker," Ms Grose said. "There’s a perfect couple for Naveen. Both of Pakistani descent. Speak BSL fluently. And they live in Lightcliffe. I know he and Eliza are inseparable, but I don’t think it’d get any better than this. Could you ask him if he’d like to meet them?"
Long after hanging up, Adney kept staring at her phone. She checked the call history. The conversation was real. But, it was hard to process it. She knew this day would come. It was wonderful, as Ms Grose had said.
Still, the kids might not take it that way. No child liked leaving a safe place—even if it was a temporary home for them—to live with strangers.
That afternoon, Adney and Anne sat with Naveen and Eliza during snack time. Adney told them the news.
But it was his first time. Naveen had difficulties understanding the situation. "Like Eliza lives with her daddy?"
Adney smiled. "Yes. But you’ll move to another town and live with them."
"We go together?"
"I could go with you, if you’d like. But I can’t stay with you there."
"But Lightcliffe is very close," Anne said. "You can see us on weekends."
Eliza, sitting next to him, slumped her shoulders. "What about school? Can he still go here?"
Adney looked at her and at Naveen. "You’ll stay here until spring break. Next year, you go to school in Lightcliffe. But you don’t need to worry about those things yet. Right now, Ms Grose wants to know if you’d like to meet them, to say hello. What do you think?"
Naveen, still not fully understanding, agreed.
Adney relayed it to Ms Grose, and Ms Grose arranged a meeting that weekend.
The day of the meeting, the kids dressed themselves in their school uniforms. Naveen’s fringe was a bit too short. (Adney had cut it and messed up the previous night.) Eugénie fixed his tie for him.
Anne, too, put on her fancy clothes. "First impressions are important."
This was new to Anne—not just to Naveen—to have a meeting with potential parents.
Adney looked at Naveen. "Are you nervous?"
He shook his head. But Eliza next to him gave a grave nod.
"Remember," Adney said, "they’re also nervous to meet you. You don’t need to try to impress them."
"But are they good people?" Eliza said. "Can we trust them?"
Eugénie petted her head. "You can ask them questions when they’re here."
Just on time, Ms Grose’s car stopped in front of the house. Behind it was the shiny car of Mr and Mrs Nawaz. They were also well-dressed. Mrs Nawaz wore her long hair in braids. Mr Nawaz had a clean-shaven face and glasses on.
Adney and Anne welcomed them into the house.
Despite his earlier calmness, Naveen hid behind Adney. Clinging onto her skirt, he peeked at the couple.
"Are you being shy?" Anne gave him a poke in the side. She shot a charming smile at the couple. "He’s a bit scared of men."
Mr Nawaz waved a dismissive hand. "Don’t worry. Ms Grose told us."
First, Mrs Nawaz knelt down in front of him. "Hello, Naveen," she signed smoothly.
Naveen’s face lit up. He looked up at Adney. When she gave him a supportive push, he cautiously stepped out of the shadow.
Getting on one knee beside his wife, Mr Nawaz greeted him in BSL. "Hi, Naveen. It’s nice to finally meet you."
Naveen’s grip let go of Adney’s skirt. With sparkling eyes, he stared at Mr Nawaz and pointed at his ear. "You’re wearing hearing aids!"
Mr Nawaz laughed. "Yes. I’ve been wearing them since I was a baby."
They all sat down in the living room.
Naveen continued to stare at Mr Nawaz. Until this moment, he himself was the only deaf person with brown skin he knew in the world.
Eliza cleared her throat. "My name is Eliza Washington. I’m Naveen’s big sister. I’m delighted you want to adopt him, but could you please answer some of my questions?"
The pair looked at her with wide-eyed smiles. "Yes, of course," Mrs Nawaz said.
"Please answer in BSL, too," Eliza said. "He’s part of the conversation."
Mrs Nawaz apologised and repeated the answer in BSL. "What do you want to know, miss?" she said softly.
Eliza’s shoulders relaxed. "Naveen and I— When he moves to your house, can he still see me?"
"He can’t eat any kind of nuts. Please be very careful when you eat out."
"We will. Promise."
"Can you cook as well as Adney? Naveen has a sweet tooth." Eliza asked Mrs Nawaz.
But instead, Mr Nawaz answered. "I love cooking. I'm a chef. We own a Pakistani restaurant in Lightcliffe."
Anne sat up and smiled around. "We must go. We haven't eaten Pakistani food yet."
Mrs Nawaz chuckled, bringing her hand to her mouth. "What a wonderful family you have, Naveen. I’m jealous."
Naveen gave a shy nod.
Out of habit, Adney had kept her expectations low. She was simply glad Naveen got to meet someone like him. But the meeting turned out well.
"Do you want to see my drawings?" Naveen said.
He brought his drawing book, and Eliza explained each of the drawings to the couple.
Adney knew it'd be alright.
After a couple of hours, the couple gave a nod to Ms Grose. They’d be Naveen’s new parents. But he wouldn’t go with them today.
"I’ll see you again next week," Mr Nawaz said to him. "I hope you’ll like your new bedroom."
Ms Grose explained to them the next steps. "The rest of the current school term, he stays here. On weekends, he goes to spend time in Lightcliffe. And once spring break starts, he moves to Lightcliffe and maybe comes here on weekends. That way, he can adjust to the new environment before school starts."
"And live with him for ten months?" Mr Nawaz said.
Ms Grose nodded. "Ten months in total, and you can apply for official adoption."
For the next three weeks, they did as Ms Grose described. Every weekend, Mr and Mrs Nawaz sent Adney pictures of their family outing. Then, the following weekdays, Naveen would tell them all about it.
Adney wished she could watch him talk a little bit longer. But at every wish, time only gained speed.
At last, spring break started. With his new parents, Naveen took his Polaroid and left the house. He only took his drawing book. The one with the Big Ben on the cover. The London gift from Anne. Most of his drawings and other items, he left with Adney. They’d buy him new clothes, new toys, new art supplies, and more.
"See you on Saturday!" Naveen waved his hand from his parents’ car.
As they drove away, Eliza shouted, "Zoom me tonight. Don’t forget!"
Adney stared ahead to the empty street, even after the car had turned a corner.
This moment always gave her the same feelings. She couldn’t name them. They felt both positive and negative. They felt like nostalgia, but for the future that had yet to come.
How long did she have left with Naveen? Until he no longer came to stay over. Until he no longer put them in his family drawings, replacing them with his parents. Until he began to call her Aunt Adney.
She wondered how long she had left until this house became his distant past, as it always did.
Anne’s arm came around her waist, pulling Adney into a hug. She kissed the back of Adney’s hand. Eugénie and Eliza were standing next to them.
"Are you alright?" Eugénie said in BSL.
Adney smiled and nodded. "A little overwhelmed," she signed back.
They said goodbye to Ms Grose and opened the front door.
"Oh. I almost forgot." Ms Grose turned around after opening her car door. "I might contact you in a few days’ time. There’s a boy who needs shelter, unless you prefer to take some time off?"
Quiet and happy gasps left everyone’s mouth. They floated in the air like iridescent bubbles.
"He’s welcome here," Adney said. "We have rooms."