1930 – Cork, Ireland
Although the room was shadowy and vacant, a haunting air of sickness occupied the room. The temperature felt tropically clammy, a heater kept switched on in the corner of the gloomy room at all times. It was afternoon but the windows were fortified by heavy black blinds, slaughtering any hint of light. There was no suggestion of a life inhabiting the room other than an assortment of old books stacked tidily on the tall reception desk.
Much in concordance to the void, comatose reception room, the rest of the building felt similarly barren and cold. Portraits of priests and young boys depicted cheerfulness and delight; inconsistent with the heavy atmosphere of misery crippling the unfilled halls like a disease. There felt to be a chokehold of desolation around the fractured neck of the enormous house. No trace of emotion could be felt within the walls. The only confirmation of existence was a timeworn log book of names sitting unopened on the desk. Life didn’t return to the desolate structure until late into the evening, when the heavens were irradiating shadowy hues of Majorelle blue with peppered eruptions of mauve amongst touches of gently dwindling vanilla. Three muddy pairs of feet plummeted onto the timber floor with a thump that resounded through the empty hallway. The echo of shoes noisily walking through the hallway was intimately trailed by the flicker of a light switch, bringing the numb residence to life once again.
The only pair of feet to not cause raucous reverberations throughout the foyer belonged to an undernourished, nervous young boy. He trundled nervously behind one of the older gentlemen into the booking room. He gripped tightly onto the man’s sleeve, almost ripping the fabric from its seams with his uncontrollable shaking. His ashy hair appeared matted and soaking wet, dripping droplets of liquid onto the floor, earning an aggressive tut from the priest now rummaging around behind the desk. The two older gentleman chatted above the quivering boy whose thoughts now were paralysed with anxiety.
“Name?” The priest asked, placing two huge hands on the desk to lean himself forward and examine the boy closer. The boy plummeted his gaze to the floor, embracing his few belongings in his arms closer towards him, for fear the horrid men would take them.
“Lochlan Hanlon.” The boy uttered gently, maintaining his wide-eyed gaze on the reedy washed-out rug beneath his feet. The priest assessed the boy’s size and passed down a pile of clothes comprising two sets of trousers, two white button down shirts, a couple of worn grey socks and two ratty old black boots. He was prompted to change into the tatty clothes in a chamber across the hallway whilst other details were dealt with between the men.
The boy apprehensively made his way towards the only other room he could find down the shadowy passage. Upon entering the room, he locked himself inside before turning the light on, instantaneously seeking refuge in this provisional safe place. He undressed slowly, as to observe his movements in the mirror hanging on the wall. His lips were chapped and shedding, his skin watery and gauzy, his pasty white hair was shrill and with every placid stroke of fingers a new clump dwindled to the floor. He was a phantom of the once joyful, healthy boy he had been a few years prior. He felt no humanity running through his veins. He sensed nothing in his heart but anguish. As he gaped hollowly into the mirror, his eyes engrossed on the framework of gaunt ribs stabbing scarily out of his almost translucent skin, he couldn’t help but ponder the absence of concern from his family. Nobody cared enough to save him from this fate. The thought stung his troubled heart.
When he returned to the room the gentleman that had brought him to the house had gone. There was no going back from this now. Terror began to race rapidly through his veins, dread screaming like an alarm in his brain.
“Do you have a middle name?” The priest questioned, his voice was noticeably low and unfriendly. He couldn’t conjure up the spirit to look up at the man behind the desk, once again keeping his eyes lowered to the ground. The priest enjoyed this obvious distress clutching the boy. A smile appeared across his thin lips as he continued to write out details about the young boy into the huge volume.
“Conor.” He responded rapidly, this time, not wanting to be in the presence of this spine-chilling man for much longer. Unexcitingly, the priest’s tone of voice perked up as he noisily shut the record book and strolled around to stand next to Lochlan in front of the desk. He wanted a good look at the nervous boy. The priest sank his lanky body down to his knees in order to be level with the boy. Here, Lochlan could see the man who was imprisoning him. He was young, the youngest priest he’d ever seen. Fresh-faced and smiling unsettlingly with his skinny mauve lips. However, the man’s dark steel blue eyes appeared hostile in their engrossed gaze.
“You’ve been sentenced to four and a half years for committing an assault and for partaking in over fifty burglaries” Lochlan knew this wasn’t true, but he understood from the man’s gaze that an argument wouldn’t be tolerated.
“Think of yourself as lucky Mr Hanlon, I’ve known boys in much less trouble than you who have been treated far worse than you will be here. You will from this moment on be known as Conor. Not Lochlan. Do you understand?” Although expected to, Lochlan didn’t nod or give any indication to an acceptance of this rule.
“Lochlan was corrupt and had strayed from God’s path. However, Conor will be good and God will forgive Conor for Lochlan’s mistake. Off you go now, down to the dorms.” The man spoke with a flick of his hand. Lochlan Hanlon had been taken away. His identity stolen. Conor had been born.