The probation officer raised his eyes from the file and looked across the broad desk at the youth. His steady gaze held the lad’s defiant eyes until they fell, shifting from side to side like a trapped animal. The officer sniffed and resumed his reading. The heat of the day was oppressive, even in the office, the only air conditioning being an erratic fan whose jerky movement ruffled the papers on the desk every five seconds. The room was totally quiet save for hum of the fan and the frantic buzzing of a blowfly against the window.
The probation officer closed the file but left it on the desk before him. He looked at the boy again. “So you were put on probation? Tell me what that means to you.”
The youth tried to summon up his street bravado. “They let me off but I’ve got to come and see you regular!”
Regularly, quibbled his ex-teacher mind, but out loud the man said, “There is a bit more to it than that. First of all, they did not let you off. They didn’t send you to prison, this time, but if you commit that crime again, or any crime for that matter, you will go back to court to be sentenced for this offence and any further offences” The tired blue eyes bored into those of the young man. “Do you understand?”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
“You’ll have to do better than suppose.” said the officer. “One slip and you’re gone, mate. For the next twelve months you must keep your nose clean. But that isn’t all. I’ve got to get to know you better than your own mother: know what you do, know where you go, know who your mates are. Believe me, this is no mere formality. It is my responsibility to keep you on the straight and narrow. I am here to help you, but it is you who must make sure that you never see that judge again.”
“What do you mean about my mates?” The boy was truculent.
“The court has made certain conditions. There are certain people and certain places you must avoid; and I mean must. I’ll give you all this in writing before you go, but for example, you are not allowed to visit the video parlour in Henry Street. You must not associate with any members of the Bandaleros, and although you are eighteen now you are not allowed to enter licensed premises except for the purpose of having a meal with approved persons. That means your family. Anyone else you will check with me.”
The dismay on the youth’s face was almost comical. The probation officer grinned.
“It won’t be all that bad. I’ll listen to any reasonable request. And remember; I didn’t make these conditions, the judge did. I’m just here to make sure that they are carried out.” He could read the flow of conflicting expressions on the youthful face. Time to show him I’m psychic he thought. “Well you could always try it,” he said. “But believe me, I’d know!” The startled result was what he had anticipated.
“Now Darren, it is time we got this show on the road. As I told you when you came in, my name is Jim Henderson, you may call me Jim. Okay, let’s start at the beginning. Tell me about your family.
The blowfly died of exhaustion and the fan whirred on, but the man and boy were deep in conversation for another hour.
The End

H.St.V.Beechey. Sept 1993.