From lackey to liberty in one swift, courageous change of direction.
It was in the cold light of day when she finally decided to leave. She didn’t explode in a rage and fling a few things into an overnight bag and storm out. She mulled it over for several days. She knew her plan had to be waterproof and faultless. She was fearful that Harry would chase her down and, with a mix of cohesion and intimidation, force her to return. She knew she would have to disappear and eventually assume a new identity. So she plotted and schemed, she concocted a series of false trails and decoys, then false trails around the decoys, such was her degree of determination.
He had contacts and links all across town. He sold used cars, scrap metal and anything he could lay his hands on. He would sit in the conservatory during the evening, glass of whisky, speaking quietly on his mobile and making crooked deals. She knew not to trouble him or interfere in his affairs.
She had long wondered about the corner crease in the spare bedroom carpet. When she eventually mustered the courage to turn it back, she discovered a loose floorboard. She nervously removed it to discover two Tupperware boxes and neat bundles of twenty pound notes stacked inside. She had just found her passport to freedom.
He had discovered her working long hours in a newsagent’s. She had escaped a violent boyfriend in Sheffield and arrived in town six months earlier, desperate and near penniless. She spent a couple of weeks in a smelly and noisy refuge and eventually found a job in the newsagents and later, a room in a house share. Her days were long and lonely. Harry was a regular customer with an easy smile and a friendly word. He took her out for riverside walks and leisurely country pub lunches. He was kind and considerate; he made her laugh and feel safe. She was fragile and putty in his hands and moved in with him as soon as he asked, which was way too soon.
He gradually lost his charm and appeal. He chose her clothes and told her what to cook for dinner. He kept the purse strings very tight. She soon realised that she was less a girlfriend and more a housemaid and he was the unmistakeable master of the house. He was a big, strong, determined type, accustomed to having his own way. He was persuasive and feared by all. No one ever crossed him with impunity.
She called a cab just after 10 am “Railway station.” She told the cabbie.
“Going away, love?” he queried.
“Family illness, up north,” she responded, “just a few days.”
She paid him off and watched his reflection in the station window as he spoke on his mobile.
She wore a distinctive white raincoat and a red headscarf.
She bought a single ticket to Sheffield. She stood alone on the platform, glancing nervously at the platform clock and down the track as she waited. She noticed the railwayman on the opposite platform, watching her and speaking urgently on his phone. She was convinced that he was telling Harry that she was at the station. Her eyes darted anxiously here and there, suspicious of everyone around. The train pulled to a halt, her heart raced. The train arriving at platform one is the 10.42 to Sheffield, calling at ...”
She climbed on board and sat at the window facing the other platform. She could see the railwayman still watching her and speaking into his mobile phone. Please, she prayed, get moving.
Doors clanged shut, a whistle blew and the train moved slowly forward. She flicked her headscarf off and shook her short blond hair for the benefit of the railwayman.
When the train had cleared the town, she took her attaché case to the toilet and locked the door. She turned her coat inside out to reveal a plain brown interior, tossed her red headscarf into the bin and pulled on a long, auburn wig and a pair of rimless glasses.
She alighted at the next station and as she climbed to steps to cross the bridge, she chanced a backward glance and saw the guard frantically looking through the train windows, presumably for a woman in a white raincoat, and realised that Harry was already on to her.
The start of the journey with the ticket to Sheffield was a simple decoy. She had already bought a ticket to Bedford and knew the southbound train was scheduled to arrive in ten minutes.
The idea to escape had come to her one wet, lonely afternoon when she climbed into her library book and read a plausible tale of a young woman trapped in a loveless marriage and one day simply disappeared. It set her mind in motion, gave her a new purpose and hope for a new world of freedom. In her new life, she would become Sally Patterson, a school friend who had died twenty years ago, aged eight, in a boating accident in Malta.
She had made several phone calls to B&Bs in Sheffield, knowing they would appear on the monthly statement. She had jotted details of the same on scraps of paper which she left in a wicker basket in the spare room. She obtained a copy of the Sheffield Star and ringed advertisements for jobs in retail and shops and left it in the kitchen bin, along with a train timetable, knowing he would find them. She had deliberately not planned a destination and she had no idea where she would go after Bedford. If she didn’t know where she was going, nor would anyone else. She knew that he would eventually rumble the Sheffield decoy and broaden his search, but the decoys gave her a head start.
She stood patiently on the southbound platform, patted her shoulder bag to check that the money was safe, smiled inwardly and felt rather pleased with herself. The train on the opposite platform pulled away and suddenly there was a shout from across the track. She looked across and there was Harry, calling her name. She gasped and her heart sank. Then he was running towards the footbridge. The southbound express arrived and blocked their views and momentarily, her nerve faltered and she stood frozen to the platform, wracked with fear and uncertainty. The doors opened and she wondered if they would close before he arrived. She looked up towards the footbridge and saw him running across. She dithered, then glanced to the steps, saw him appear, then slip on the top step and tumble down several steps his arms and leg flailing wildly. On an impulse, she leapt forwards, boarded the train and seconds later the doors hissed shut.
There was a rap on the window and she turned and saw him. He frantically pressed the ‘doors open’ button but the doors remained locked. I will find you. I will find you, he mouthed and the train began to pull away. She relaxed and smiled, knowing she was finally safe and free of him. She held his stare and firmly held the bag containing the money from under the carpet.
The train cleared the gloomy station concourse and was plunged into the bright sunlight of a summer’s afternoon, and a new tomorrow, wherever that might be.