Ash checked his watch. He estimated he had five minutes until the next curfew patrol. He turned his attention back to the wall.
A train rumbled on the bridge overhead, drowning out the sound of the spray cans as he worked. His consciousness sank into the flow of the paint as the cans danced in his hands.
He took a couple of steps back from the wall to judge his work and jumped a mile when he realised he wasn’t alone.
‘Shit, kid, where the hell did you come from?!’
Ash’s eyes widened as he studied the boy, probably only a few years younger than me.
He was dressed in an oversized neon jumpsuit covered in mud, that hung from his skinny frame.
It would look almost comical, if it were not for his sunken eyes and hollow cheeks, his breathing coming in quick, short gasps.
He was shaking, trembling all over.
Despite his obvious fear, his jaw was set and his eyes dared Ash to do his worst.
‘Shit, you’re one of them aren’t you?’ Ash ran his hand down his face.
‘What’s your name?’
In answer, the boy rolled up his left sleeve and proffered his bare forearm, fist balled in accusation. Ash flinched at the sight of the numbers tattooed there. He moved closer to the boy.
‘There’s nothing we can do, you know. We’re prisoners too. We’re not allowed out after dark, there’s all these rules. If you blink the wrong way they’ll…’ the words dried up as Ash realised the last thing this boy needed was excuses.
He gestured to the jumpsuit. ‘Take that off.’
The boy remained motionless, eyes untrusting, as Ash kicked off this trainers and began to remove his black joggers and hoody.
‘Come on kid, quickly. Please.’
As the boy began to remove his clothes Ash’s stomach clenched at the sight of the latticework of scars that covered his body.
Pulling himself into the jumpsuit he looked at the boy, who’d wiggled into his own clothes with remarkable speed.
‘You look like one of those adverts for dropping five clothes sizes in a week.’
The boy looked down at himself, the sleeves of the oversized hoodie hanging loose over his hands.
Ash knelt down in front of the boy and gently folded up his sleeves and trouser cuffs.
‘Ok kid, a train will go over the bridge above in…’ Ash checked his watch, ‘…one minute. Stay close.’
They crept out of the tunnel and up the bank. Ash’s breath was coming as fast as the boy’s now.
As the train approached and began to slow Ash glanced behind him and saw the flashing lights of a patrol car in the distance.
‘Here goes kid…’
Ash helped the boy scramble up into an empty goods compartment. The boy turned to look at him, as the train began to pick up speed.
‘Sam’ he shouted, over the roar of the engine, tapping his chest.
Ash nodded in understanding.
As the patrol car approached the level crossing Ash made sure the Watchmen inside had seen him.
Then he started to run.