Lined up against the wall, their stillness makes them stand out against the whirl of Liverpool Central. Five teenagers: three girls, two boys. They lean up against the blue hoarding, each one adopting a different pose. One arm lean, a shoulder thrust, the full back against the wall. They alternate between insouciance and terror.
The girls look bored. Their faces are studied masks of contempt and indifference. This whole experience is beneath them. They're wearing frighteningly mature clothes, tiny denim shorts and crop tops, side pony tails and lipstick. Shiny handbags are hanging over hunched shoulders. Bright bands of coloured plastic surround each wrist.
The boys, on the other hand, look scared. They're probably the same age as the girls, but the hormones haven't hit them yet, so they look tiny next to these tightly-dressed Amazons. They stare down at their feet, occasionally glancing at the passing passengers, trying not to catch anyone's eye. They're wondering how they got into this. The girls said it would be fun. Hang out in town. Go round the shops. Their confused pubescent brains say yes to anything the girls say, without really knowing why. They said yes to going to Liverpool. They said yes to getting the train. They said yes to not buying a ticket.
On the end, the yellow-jacketed Response officer idly turns the pages of his notebook. He scribbles on the back to wake his biro up. He's in no hurry; in fact, he finds he gets better results if he makes them wait. They didn't realise that if you get caught skipping the fare, the station at the end will be informed of your approach. They thought they could maybe get away with it.
It doesn't fill him with pleasure, holding up kids like this, but he has no guilt about it. It's his job. They have to learn.
I wondered if they'd managed to think up aliases. Did they have time to come up with false addresses and names? Create a convincing character as they saw the man waiting for them? I picture them stumbling over syllables, inadvertently repeating names ("yeah... I'm called Johnson as well"), shaking. The girls carrying that arrogance that only 13 year olds in neon Primark t-shirts can manage. That shamelessness and anger at even being questioned. The boys watching them nervously out of the corner of their eye, trying to feel the same, trying to get strength from them, but caving in and giving their real details. The girls kiss their teeth and roll their eyes and wait for the man in the fluorescent coat to come back to them for their details again ("the real ones, this time").
On the escalator two more Response officers ride down to the Wirral Line. There's another batch coming in.