By the time Sam got back, filthy, wet, tired and beaming from the day’s exertions, the fragile atmosphere that had pervaded the house had relaxed at least a couple of notches. Sally explained to him the apparent breakthrough with the girl and that she had even been out for a walk with them around the village. She had looked in amazement at the sea freshened Spring countryside, the flowers, some of which sparked tears of recognition, as if they were uncomfortable reminders of her now long-lost home in the mountains. The little westerly micro-climate of the valley meant that the season was now maturing, with the hedgerow leaves starting to open and the white blackthorn blossom weighing down their spiky stems. The bay and sea, further in the distance were barely visible; the advent of a cold front dimming the visibility which had previously so raised Sally’s heart.
The women had then spent the afternoon sketching out designs for the cloth, with Martha leading the way while at the same time realising the girl was far more expert than she. Her thin fingers deftly changing the lines, the cut, the placing of seams; Sally, the modern twenty first century western woman was completely out of her depth. Martha had clear views on what would be acceptable at a formal event on the island. With nods, shakes, gesticulations and smiles they slowly negotiated a consensus with the girl, whose face started to lose some of its lines in the intensity of concentration. By late afternoon Martha and the girl finally seemed to agree, showing Sally, who had been reduced to fetching tea and preparing dinner, she too smiling in agreement at what was put to her; it would be like nothing she had ever worn. It was all put away before the men’s return, for revelation later, not that Iltud would be interested in the least, thought Sally. Sam might make some comment though, if only for the girl’s benefit.
Martha had, as ever, clucked around him when he came in, making him wash and change, fetching him tea and homemade biscuits which he shared with Josey, the young boy seemingly in awe as if Sam were some hero from a nursery tale. Sam seemed to have a way with kids, Sally thought, watching Narin out of the corner of her eye as she peered at him nervously from the kitchen doorway, but didn’t approach. He saw her and smiled, then frowned when she stepped back. Martha never missed a trick, at least where Sam’s concerned, Sally saw.
“My love, she’s had a very good day, much better than could have been hoped, but remember what we said last night? She may have a reaction, it’s perfectly normal, but you mustn’t get upset, please?”
They went into the kitchen to finish making supper leaving Sam in the living room with Josey and his tea for company. Ten minutes later Martha ducked back in there and exploded in fury.
“Sam, how many times have I told you not to clean those dreadful things in the house, especially with Narin and that little boy here. She’s probably seen enough guns to last a lifetime and here you’re rubbing them in her face. How could you be so thoughtless, and what sort of example do you think you’re setting the boy?”
He just smiled sorrowfully.
“Sorry Mum, it won’t happen again, but I might as well finish now I’ve started?”
Sally could see, on top of a large whitish cloth placed on the floor, some sort of broken down military pistol with a silencer adjacent along with a vicious looking assault rifle waiting to be stripped for cleaning. Josey was looking at her for permission, but his fingers were already stroking it in fascination, waiting for the rebuke. Scariest of all was the weapon on his lap which he had clearly just finished reassembling: it had an extraordinary looking telescopic sight fixed on top, and another simpler sort mounted on a spare barrel, also on the cloth. It had to be the largest rifle she had ever seen, clearly very heavy, with a bipod mounted on the fore-end under the barrel. Sally hated rifles, which she associated with deer poachers from her childhood by the moor, and latterly, and more personally, they were the things she feared would turn her into a young widow one day. But this was like something from a different dimension, matt black, broodingly functional: this clearly could have no possible purpose other than for the taking of human life at extreme distances.
“Sam,” she said pointing, “what is that awful thing and why do you need it? Have you used it for real in the outside world?”
He nodded blushing.
“I’m sorry Miss, I was thoughtless, please forgive me. If you really must know it’s a 0.5 inch sniper rifle from America. That’s a thermal sight, it doesn’t work here but sees targets by their body heat so it works at night and in bad visibility. It’s the latest thing, the other one’s for daytime. I’m good with it too…” he was showing professional pride now “and I used it on the people who kidnapped Narin, so don’t expect me to apologise or be ashamed, because I’m not.”
His voice had that flat tone she had heard last night, just matter of fact about terrible things he had to do; he was such a set of contradictions.
“I didn’t mean to imply that, I’m just not used to such things…”
From the corner of her eye she became aware that the girl had re-entered the room, must have heard Sam mention her name and was now slowly inching forward towards the seated Sam as if fascinated by the weapons. Martha looked angrily at Sam again as if expecting some form of hysterical reaction to break out, but there was nothing, just silent intent moving closer to the cloth.
Narin leant down and touched the pistol with her finger tips, closed her palm over it, not lifting it, just cradling it where it lay. Turning to Sam she asked a question of him; none of them could guess what, but all caught the interrogative inflexion. He looked at her dumbly, almost stricken. She repeated it, whatever it was. He shook his head miming his lack of comprehension. She stood up straight and pulled her hand away from it, went over to Sam and, very slowly and gently, kissed the top of his head, turned on her heel and went back into the kitchen. The others had been watching spellbound, unsure of what to do, a state that broke only slowly.
“I’m sorry, but I think she recognised that we used pistols like that in the house where we found her, I think she was trying to say thank you.”
Martha was the first to respond.
“Just pack them away my love, as quickly as possible, and you young man, come away into the kitchen.”
Later, when they were alone she confided to Sally.
“I’m frightened, by him and her, what may be growing between them, and within them as well.”
Eight o’clock, where was she? Better not be wasting my time. Seven minutes past, give it twenty, no more. A painfully thin, slightly unkempt girl approaches, hair lank from a few days without soap and water, clothes dirty and ageing fast, a small backpack under her right armpit, her eyes almost wild with suspicion, as if on the point of flight, expecting someone, something, to jump out on her. She smiled at the girl.
The girl nodded furtively, as if frightened to admit it.
“We spoke earlier. There’s a little eatery around the corner, is that ok?” She looks like she needed a few good meals. “We can talk there.”
Fifty minutes later she knew the full story, another young life out-of-control, a bad break of luck, a couple of wrong choices and here she was pleading for help from a stranger, losing what few shards of self-respect she had left, if any. Two or three things, that’s all it can take, the difference between her and I. Where would I be if I had made the same choices, not had a loving family behind me, urging me on? It was so frighteningly easy to fall between the cracks and so few seemed to care. Why did it always seem to afflict the prettier and brighter ones more? Too many opportunities to indulge their fantasies and their temptations perhaps; too easy when looks and brains make it simple, for a while anyway? This girl could have been not far short of stunning, she certainly wasn’t stupid, but life on the streets, mind and body abused, had harrowed her, aged her at least ten or fifteen years. If she got clean, happy and settled some of it would come back, but not all, some was burnt away forever. What a waste.
“So, what do you want to do? Why do you think I can help?”
“I don’t know… I just need to get away; start again… There’s nothing for me here, nothing back in the States. I don’t know where to go and haven’t anything to get there with if I did. I can’t spend the rest of my life moving from hostel to hostel, they’ll find me eventually.”
Fear was clouding her eyes now, hope just draining away, sensing that this woman was going to fall short, not be the miracle worker Matt had indicated.
“You haven’t told me why you think I can help?”
“Matt… Sam said… said you and your man friend sorted it for him anyway, never said how. He seemed different, happier, said he had found a family, a place to live, somewhere to feel wanted.”
“That’s true, he’s happy now, all those things, he’s respected; we helped but he made it happen, got clean, never looked back, walked away from everything behind him. That’s what making a new start means, leaving everything of your old life behind, even your name perhaps. Once you go, well, it’s a one-way ticket and no returns.”
“Matt came back, for a little while.”
“It’s rare, exceptional even; he could because of who he’s made himself. I’m not sure you’re ready yet, that I can help.”
Cruel, but this could go on for hours, hours I don’t have, and she isn’t there yet, not quite.
“He… You, said you could help, I don’t know what else to do…”
“Look, this is what I will do. But you need to think: do you want to go and leave it all behind? There’s a hotel room booked for the next two nights, just around the corner; it’s in your name, Lena James and it’s paid for. Breakfast and lunch as well. The address is in the overnight bag by my feet below the table. There’s a change of clothing in it as well, nothing fancy, but I think I guessed your size.”
Her secretary who had bought the bag and clothes for her that afternoon knew better than to ask questions; it was a little secret, her unspoken philanthropy, she didn’t want colleagues to think she was going soft.
“There’s also a little money, twenty pounds,” hopefully not enough to get into trouble with. “Rest, get clean, eat. Stay in. I’ll meet you in the lobby tomorrow at seven-thirty and we can have supper, and talk. You need to decide, by then, whether you want to be happy like Sam. It means you have to follow in his footsteps, give this life up, no drugs, forever. Go where he’s gone, try and get what he’s got. Don’t worry,” she smiled, “you won’t be trafficked, sold on, misused in anyway, but you will have to learn to work to support yourself, give more than you get. Do you believe me?”
The girl, Lena, was rapt now, looking at the last hand stretching towards her from the lifeboat before she was sucked under, her hardened distrust and cynicism acting like lead weights, pulling her down from that last despairing proffered grasp.
She nodded, uncertainly. Well at the least she had somewhere to stay and rest for a couple of days, a little money, new clothes, she’d see about the rest.
“Ok, see you tomorrow, I’ll settle up and leave when you’ve gone. Don’t forget the bag.”
© 1642again 2018