I wait for the hammering on the door that must come soon.
Sitting in my bedroom, shivering with fright, I fail to understand how it happened. Visions of hellfire and damnation surge into my mind. These are pushed out by imaginings of a prison cell, and abuse from fellow inmates and guards. I have read of such things and can see only an earthly hell stretching ahead of me. I will be excluded from all I have hoped and prayed for.
In an effort to calm myself, I think of the small village where I grew up, the fields, the streams and the hills I love so much. The nuns ran the village school, religion guided us, the parish priest oversaw the lives of all. I had been told I was bright and had done well at school. At eleven, I passed my 11 plus and won a place at the grammar school in the nearby town, where I travelled every day by bus.
The new school was run by monks. They were strict and beatings for misdemeanours were commonplace. I did well, the sciences were my best subjects. Told that if I worked hard, I could aim for medical school, and study hard I did. Visions of life as a doctor, perhaps a surgeon, kept me working every evening. Families were always moving away; the opportunities in the big cities must have been irresistible. And, with all the studying and living away from the town, I had few friends.
One day, gathered together for our evening meal, father announced we were moving to England. A skilled tradesman, he said the building boom in London offered the opportunity for us all to achieve a better life. Father went on ahead. A few months later, at the beginning of summer, I travelled with mother and my sisters to join father in a small flat in East London. He told me a place had been reserved for me at a nearby school when the autumn term began in September.
London was both exciting and strange. The area we moved to was old but bustling with people, many of nationalities I had never seen or languages I had never heard before. Mother and sisters spent much time looking for jobs and then long hours working. I was left alone and with no knowledge of what the demands of my new studies would require. So, I took the opportunity to join the library and to roam the local area when the weather is fine. A small park a few streets away is my favourite spot. It is run down and in need of the care it must once have enjoyed. But I don’t mind; this small grassy park provides memories of the country life we’d left behind.
I shiver with fright again, I can’t calm myself. It was in the little park I met the two lads one day.
They were older than me, probably at least sixteen, tough looking but they seemed friendly enough. With darker skin, I could tell that they weren’t English. They took an interest in me, insisted on buying me a coffee in the little Turkish café in the high street. Asked lots of questions about myself and my family, where I lived, what we all did. Said they would see me around. I saw them several times after that. Always the same routine; a wander around the park and the nearby streets, then the strong black coffee in the café. I wasn’t sure about them and don’t like the coffee but they always insist; they say “it will put lead in your pencil’. I was unsure about them but it was good to be treated like an adult.
My hands are shaking, I can’t seem to control them. I can’t blot out what has happened. Earlier today, I saw them; they seemed to be looking for me. Said they had something to do, needed my help, wanted my assurance that I would ‘stand by them’. Something made me hesitate, I didn’t really know them. The bigger of the two stepped right up close, inches from my face, stared into my eyes and asked –
‘Was I dissing them? Was this the way I was repaying their friendship, their hospitality?’
Something made me afraid but I quickly said I would go with them.
The bigger one then grabbed my arm and led me off. The other one was close behind. We walked quickly through the maze of alleyways behind the high street, past the stalls selling goods from many countries. They stopped outside a corner shop I recognised. I had been with mother who always chatted to the owner, an old Nepali, a kind man, who ran the shop with his daughter.
The bigger lad turned and, thrusting his face close again, told me I had to do whatever they said, stand by them, back them up. He said I would regret it if I didn’t. They then pulled up the scarves they always wore, to cover their lower faces. The bigger lad led the way. I felt a vicious shove in my back. There was no way out.
The next few minutes were a blur. I can only remember much shouting, a knife raised from below the counter, a deafeningly loud shot, blood pouring from the old man’s chest, his daughter screaming, an alarm sounding.
I manage to run out of the shop as the other two scramble for money and cigarettes. I can hear a siren and see blue lights flashing in the distance.
I can’t remember getting back to the flat, just ran as fast as I could.
I tell myself I had done nothing wrong myself. But I had been there with them. Nothing. …….that meant that I had done nothing to help the old man and his daughter.
Oh, God, how had it all gone so wrong, so quickly?